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9 reasons why you are not losing weight in a calorie deficit

The consuming fewer calories and increased physical exercise equation doesn't always work.

9 Reasons Why You Are Not Losing Weight In a Calorie Deficit | Juniper

The equation seems simple enough: consuming fewer calories and increased physical exercise should result in weight loss. But sometimes it feels like that just isn't working.

There are a few things that may be tilting the scales in the upwards direction, from underlying health issues to stress, and even hormonal imbalances.

Let's take a look at some of the reasons you may not be achieving weight loss even when in a calorie deficit and what you can do to turn things around.

How does a calorie deficit work?

When starting your weight loss journey, one of the first places to look is your calorie intake. The simplest (and science-backed) formula to lose weight is to pair exercise with a calorie deficit diet.

The equation looks a bit like this: lower your calorie intake and increase how much energy you're burning through exercise.

While a calorie deficit can be achieved by adapting your diet or exercise routine alone, it's most effective when small changes are applied to both. Strength training exercises combined with a diet rich in unprocessed foods can help lose body fat [1].

Why am I not losing weight after reducing my calories?

A calorie-deficit diet is all about consuming fewer calories than your total daily energy expenditure. While this seems easy enough, as anyone whose ever tried to lose weight knows, the reality can be a little more challenging.

If you've reduced your calorie intake without seeing any results there are a few common culprits that may be at work.

1. Your calorie deficit is imbalanced

Not sure how to figure out your calorie intake? Let's start by looking at energy balance. This is the difference between your energy input (number of calories consumed) and energy output (number of calories burned). Remember, an imbalanced or negative energy balance is needed to lose weight.

It can be hard to count calories accurately, we often underestimate our food intake, focusing on our healthier meals and discounting 'cheat meals,' and forget about our liquid calories. Starting a journal or using a calorie tracker can help get a more accurate reading of daily caloric intake.

To calculate energy expenditure, start with calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the rate at which your body burns calories while at rest. This accounts for 60-75% of the total calories burned per day.

2. You have reached a weight loss plateau

Has your weight loss stalled? Don't worry, this happens to everyone. But what causes this weight loss plateau?

This happens when the calories you burn equal the number of calories you eat. Losing fat also means muscle loss, which can reduce your BMR, meaning as you lose weight your metabolism slows and you burn fewer calories.

Even if your diet and exercise stay the same, your weight loss progress will stall and you'll need to increase physical activity or consume fewer calories. If you're already eating fewer calories, you can try increasing the intensity of your workouts will help you break through the plateau.

3. Retention of water

We all know fat can be stubborn to lose, and that's because your body holds on to fat cells as a form of energy reserve. As you lose fat, your body tries to fill the empty cells with water hoping to be filled with fat again. Luckily, this water weight gain is temporary.

While you might not want to see the scales stand still if you keep a balanced diet and exercise regime, these cells will eventually give up and shrink and the numbers on the scale will go down. Jumping into the sauna or working up a sweat with some HIIT exercises can also help, but remember to stay hydrated as this has been shown to help overall fat loss [2].

4. Poor sleeping habits

Poor sleep habits are linked to higher rates of excess weight, but why? Sleep deprivation can lead to increased appetite and a higher daily food intake and can alter the reward centre of the brain [3][4]. This affects self-control and can leave us reaching for chocolates and sweets.

Jumping into bed a little earlier may help avoid those late-night snacks and getting more sleep will provide the mental clarity to make the best food choices during the day.

5. Menstrual cycle

While age and genetics play a part in your ability to maintain weight, so does the hormone-metabolism connection. Throughout our menstrual cycles, weight fluctuations are normal and as we enter menopause, our metabolism slows making it harder to keep the kilos off.

Think menopause might be the culprit? The average weight gain during menopause can reach 5 kilos but this isn't necessarily a symptom [5].

The associated menopause symptoms of hot flashes, poor sleep, and low mood might make it difficult to eat well and stay active. Certain exercises like lifting weights can help restore muscle mass and bone density, and improve metabolic rates [6].

6. You're working out too much

Increased your workouts but still having trouble losing weight? Overexerting yourself may lead to inflammation which can cause weight gain, particularly long sessions of cardio.

While some cardio is important, it's great for burning belly fat but too much of it can eat away your lean muscle mass which can actually decrease your basal metabolic rate [7].

That's not to say you should cut cardio out completely, but striking the right balance is important here. Your weight loss journey should be about sustainable weight loss as well as improved mental health. It's important to give yourself time for some R&R and practice slower movements like yoga and Pilates.

7. It takes time, don't focus on a specific number

While we're all about setting goals and going for them, sometimes it's best to take a step back and appreciate your progress so far, big or small, and remember that our bodies make changes that can't always be seen on a scale.

While your main objective may be trying to lose weight, your weight loss journey should focus on overall improved well-being and letting the number on the scale get you down is counterintuitive to feeling good. Remember, good things take time!

8. Increased stress levels

We all experience stress sometimes, and unfortunately, increased stress levels can affect more than just our mental well-being. Increased stress can make it difficult to maintain weight loss by increasing cortisol levels, which is an appetite stimulant.

That's why you might find yourself engaging in emotional eating and reaching for comfort food during stressful times. To make things worse, our metabolic rates slow during times of stress [8]. If stress is causing you to gain weight, it might be time to slow down and practice more mindful movements like yoga.

9. You weigh yourself at different times each day

It can be disheartening to see the scales change from day to day, but it's normal for body weight to fluctuate throughout the day and the culprit is usually food or water. If you aren't consistently weighing yourself at the same time, expect to see a different number on the scale.

Consuming any food or beverage adds weight, even the healthiest options, but foods high in sodium and carbs especially cause weight spikes. What's most important is consistency, particularly time and condition. Remember, if this is causing stress, it's okay to ditch the scale altogether and focus on feeling healthier!

Burning more calories than eating but not losing weight, why?

Losing weight can be daunting, and sometimes it can feel like you're doing everything right but still not seeing results — even when your energy output is greater than your caloric intake. Addressing the common culprit that is wreaking havoc on our attempts to lose weight is key.

There are a few small daily habits we can take on to help promote a healthier lifestyle:

  • Exercise helps boost metabolic rates, particularly during your menstrual cycle or post-menopause. A healthy balance of cardio, weight training, and slower movements is key.
  • Get a good night's rest. Not only does it help you recover from exercise, but it'll also help you make better food choices too.
  • Make sure you're being honest about your calorie intake, or use a tracking app to get an accurate sense of what you're eating.
  • Stay hydrated! Water can flush our bodies of toxins, help reduce appetite, and helps the body metabolise fat and carbohydrates.
  • Surround yourself with a like-minded community, supportive clinicians and health coaches, and scientifically backed medication to improve metabolic rates like Juniper's Weight Reset Programme.

I'm gaining weight after cutting calories, what does this mean for my body?

There are a few reasons this might be happening: maybe you're not accurately tracking calories, or maybe your calorie intake needs to be adapted.

Remember, as you lose weight, you'll need to adjust your energy balance to keep it in the negative, your body quickly adapts to new routines and diets, so starting slow means you'll have more room to grow as your journey progresses.

Weight or the number on the scale doesn't always correlate with fat. It's possible to have gained weight and lost fat because muscle tissue is denser than fat tissue.

If you continue to decrease calories and increase physical activity but still don't see a reduction in body fat, it might be time to talk to someone. Our Weight Reset Programme offers medical advice, health coaching and access to accredited UK clinicians, all on-hand to support you with tailored guidance.

How long does it take to see results in a calorie deficit?

While any weight loss journey should have a focus on overall increased well-being, you may be wondering when you can expect to see physical changes in your body.

There are 2 stages of weight loss that you can expect, the first stage is rapid weight loss when you lose the most weight the fastest and this generally occurs within the first 4-6 weeks of lifestyle and dietary changes.

The next is slower weight loss which can be challenging. You may see a plateau or feel like your progress is slowing down too much but as long as your new diet and exercise routine is sustainable, making it through this challenging time will leave you looking and feeling healthier in the long run.

Remember: there are so many reasons why you might not be losing weight, even in a calorie deficit. Make sure to consider what other factors might be at play and work with a professional to figure out the right course of action for you.