This is one of the biggest problems/concerns I receive from clients, especially during this time of year. Maybe your intentions are to remove that holiday bulge before summer, or are starting a brand-new exercise/diet program, yet the scale is either not moving, or moving in the wrong direction.
If what you're doing now isn't working, you need to do something different. Unfortunately for some, the belief is that if they then need to exercise even more than they are already, and that is usually not the case.
I will detail some of the key culprits when it comes to not meeting your weight loss goals.
1. Overestimating the amount of calories you are burning
This is very common. A gruelling, tough, hour-long workout gives you the ability to throw caution to the wind and have that "cheat" meal later, correct? Well, not exactly.
Take a well-conditioned athlete and put them to the test with an extremely tough hour-long workout. Chances are, that individual will burn somewhere in the ballpark of 800-1000 calories. The average person? Probably closer to 600-700 - and that will be even lower for females.
Now, how quickly do you think you can gain those calories back with one meal, or a dessert?
I've written about this pretty extensively in the past, but just keep this in mind. Yes, exercise is great for total health, and can certainly aid in weight loss over time, but consider exercise as a way of "fine-tuning" your body to be better at burning calories those other 23 hours of the day. You still need to eat well at least 90% of the time to either lose weight or maintain what you currently have.
2. Are you cutting enough calories?
Closely related to #1, make sure you are getting a solid estimate on not only how many calories you should be ingesting (with weight loss in mind) as well as how many calories you are actually ingesting.
The human brain is funny in this way, especially when it comes to rewarding itself. Don't kid yourself, the brain wants to trick you into eating - it is a survival mechanism for us. It is certainly ok to feel hungry some of the time, especially if your goal is to lose weight.
3. Are you cutting too many calories?
This falls under the same category as the exercise one. Most think that if weight isn't being lost eating "x" number of calories, then you must eat even less to get that weight loss started. Well, not exactly.
More often than not, the clients I deal with aren't optimizing their nutrition. They are generally eating too little, and eating the "wrong" things. Believe it or not, you don't need to completely starve yourself in order to see results. Aim for no more than about 500 calories under what you are probably burning for the day (eating at a deficit).
Eating too little can cause metabolic stress and can either slow, halt, or even reverse weight loss. Not only that, but not properly fuelling yourself can hinder the performance you have in the gym, having a vicious cycle on how much you are improving your body.
4. Are you sleep deprived/stressed?
Stress hormones can wreak havoc on weight loss. Evaluate when you are going to bed at night (try and stick to a schedule), and make sure you are getting adequate sleep. Not only that, but stress at work, in your personal life, etc., can not only cause you to make poorer food choices, but can hormonally cause you to gain weight as well.
Luckily enough, exercise is a fantastic way to manage stress. Staying consistent with an exercise program can help you better manage your stress, therefore ensuring your weight loss stays consistent.
5. Are you retaining water?
This is a common one for individuals just starting an exercise program - especially if it involves even a remote amount of resistance training. Muscles turn into sugar (see: glycogen) sponges, which in turn, retains water. This is why your muscles feel puffy and bloated after a tough workout.
It is entirely possible to gain a few pounds when starting a workout program via water retention. I encourage clients not to focus too much on the scale, and instead, give yourself some time to see the results in not only how you feel and perform, but how your clothes fit as well.
6. Are you watching for hidden calories (i.e. drinks)?
Additives to drinks, or simply the drinks themselves, can cause sugar and calories to add up fast. One of the first things I recommend a client do is to cut out unnecessary beverages or limit them to one day a week.
Stick to water, black coffee or teas, and milk.
Tyler Robbins B.Sc. CSCS
Director of Fitness
Head of CrossFit