Why Am I Not Losing Weight In a Calorie Deficit?

Why am I not losing weight

Remaining in a calorie deficit over an extended period of time primarily results in a reduction in body tissue, which in turn, affects overall body weight. Now, when we discuss body tissue we’re mainly referring to muscle mass and body fat.

However, you aren’t just made of fat and muscle, right?

Your body weight actually includes other things too! In fact, 55 – 60% of your body weight is actually water! Then, of course, there are your bones, your tendons, your ligaments, your organs, and your blood which all come together to make everything (wonderful) that you are.

Not to mention, a little extra body weight is made up by temporary things that occupy your body, such as food and waste.

‘But this tells me nothing! I am in a calorie deficit and still not losing weight!’

Well, we’re very sorry to hear that!

However, the following 4 possibilities are likely to explain what is going on:

  1. You are retaining water
  2. Your diet lacks fibre
  3. You are gaining muscle mass
  4. You are not in a calorie deficit

Let’s dive into each and find out which one (or more) most applies to you.

You’re retaining water

Have you ever weighed yourself before and after a run? It’s more likely than not that your body weight will be much lower post-run; but don’t get your hopes up just yet! This is a clear example of how water can affect your body weight.

After running, or working out in general, your body is naturally depleted of things like water and glycogen (stored carbohydrates). This can be a little misleading when stepping onto the scale post sweat.

The same can work the other way around, step on the scale, and then drink a liter of water before stepping on again; you’ll have gained about a kilogram of weight, but this is purely water weight.

Our point is that your body will fluctuate in weight, but this doesn’t always accurately represent overall body composition.

Dehydration can play a large role in how heavy you are too!

You see, your body is on a constant endeavour to attain a healthy hydration balance. If adequate hydration is not achieved, the body counteracts this by retaining water to prevent water levels from becoming too low.

Which will consequently add some digits to the scale.

By maintaining correct hydration, your body will have no need to retain higher levels of water. You’ll also feel less bloated and more energetic as a result!

Salt/sodium levels are also a regular culprit for water retention. Again, your body is on that quest for perfect balance, and therefore tries to reach a sodium/water ratio that’s approximately the same as sea water.

Consuming more salt/sodium causes the body to retain more water.

According to the National Health Service, adults should not consume more than 6 grams of salt per day (2.4g sodium). That’s just 1 teaspoon of salt per day.

Here’s another fun fact for you:

Did you know that for every gram of carbohydrates you store, you also store about 3 grams of water?

Let’s say you decide to eat 2 potatoes; that equates to about 130 grams of carbohydrates in total (yam yam!).

Your body (being as awesome as it is) breaks down those carbohydrates and sends them into your bloodstream in the form of glucose (blood sugar). From here, your body rapidly uses 70 grams of those carbohydrates (in the form of glucose) to support bodily functions and physical activity.

But what of the remaining 60 grams of carbohydrates? Well, as your body is in no further need of carbohydrates right now, it goes through the process of storing them for later use. Insulin is released which helps the storage of glucose in cells found in your muscles and liver.

Once stored, it adopts the new name ‘glycogen’.

Carbohydrates in food > Glucose in blood > Glycogen in muscles and liver

But glycogen encourages water retention too! Consider it extra baggage when storing those carbs for a later date.

For every gram of carbohydrate stored as glycogen, you can expect to store 3 grams of water too.

Those 60 extra grams have now become 240g in total – or just over half a pound in body weight.

This doesn’t mean you should cut carbs!

In fact, this is one of the reasons carb-cutting diets such as ‘The Atkins Diet’ and ‘The Keto Diet’ (Atkins 2.0) are all the fad. That initial drop of body weight on the scale can seem as if the diet is working wonders, when in reality, it’s mostly water weight being lost, and only in the initial stages.

However, cutting things out of your diet such as added and refined sugars could help massively. Not only in reducing blood-sugar levels, but also in reducing daily caloric intakes overall.

Your menstrual cycle can also play a large role in water retention. In fact, women regularly report an average of 3 – 5 lbs of weight gain in the days leading up to, and during their period. Obviously this is a completely normal process, and shouldn’t be worried about.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that water gain and fat gain are two very different things. Yet, relying purely on what the scales say, can create heavy demotivation.

Your diet lacks fibre

Fiber. You may have heard of this once or twice before, and it’s pretty important! Specifically, dietary fiber.

Dietary fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that originates from plant-based foods.

Fiber helps to regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep hunger levels in check while feeding the body good bacteria, which is essential for optimal health and longevity.

Fiber is vital to the processes that help remove waste and various toxins from your body – which will in turn help that scale drop a little too.

But how can you get more of it?

Well, that’s pretty simple! Nuts, whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains all contain good amounts of fiber. So start there! Remember, because high-fiber foods are generally filling, they’ll help aid that weight-loss journey.

You’re gaining muscle mass

This is the dream!

You stand on the scale to find your weight hasn’t changed much, only to find that your body composition has. You now possess muscle mass where the body fat used to be.

Poems will be written about you.

However, in all truth, this isn’t actually that uncommon. The majority of exercise programs (should) contain an element of resistance training. And, contrary to common belief, you can lose fat and gain muscle at the same time.

The problem appears when you solely rely on what those digits on the scale tell you.

If you lost 8 lbs of fat but gained 5 lbs of muscle, does that mean you’ve only lost 3 lbs? Technically, yes, but there’s much more to the story than that.

Which brings us to our next point…

Losing inches but not weight?

You’re looking slimmer, you’re feeling slimmer, your friends have pointed out your progress on numerous occasions, your clothes are even feeling looser, and yet that number on the scale remains the same.

Give up? After all, what truly matters is body weight. That’s it!

Right?

Wrong.

Muscle occupies less space than fat! In fact, it can occupy up to 18% less space than its bouncy counterpart. Muscle tissue is denser, harder, and way more intricately formed than fat tissue.

Instead of using the scale to map your progress in its entirety, why not use a combination of body measurements, progress photos, and body composition tests to fully understand the ground covered on your fat-loss journey.

You’re not in a calorie deficit

Now we have covered various possibilities above as to why you may not be losing weight while in a calorie deficit, it’s time to discuss the elephant in the room.

Are you actually in a calorie deficit?

Take a few seconds to truly consider this as a possibility.

To not get too deep, our basic understanding of the universe is based upon something called ‘energy balance’.

Energy balance is an irrefutable truth in which we know, for a fact, that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only altered in form (this is known as the first law of thermodynamics).

Energy balance, in humans, in its simplest form can be represented with this basic equation:

Change in body’s macronutrient stores = Energy In minus Energy Out

For the purpose of this article we will equate ‘change in body stores’ as ‘change in body weight’.

Change in body weight = Energy In minus Energy Out

As you can see, changes in energy in vs energy out is required for a change in body weight.

There’s almost nothing else to it.

The Keto Diet, intermittent fasting, Slim Fast, Atkins; all only work because they create a disruption to energy balance (a negative energy balance). A disruption in which the body must rely on energy stores for fuel due to insufficient energy amounts being consumed through diet – otherwise known as a calorie deficit.

This is what must happen.

“So, if this is the truth, then why am I unable to lose body weight? I’m in a calorie deficit!”

Providing you have taken into account the possible short-term explanations discussed earlier on in this article, you must first accept that you are not consistently in a calorie deficit over a long enough period of time.

It may or may not be what you want to hear, but we hope that by accepting this as a fact you can become empowered by this information.

Empowered enough to analyse, reassess, and take action.

You share an ability which all humans have, and that is the ability to lose body weight.

7 reasons why you are not in a calorie deficit

If there is no change in your body weight after a sustained period of time, then it is safe to assume that your ‘energy in’ (food and drink) is equal to your ‘energy out’ (daily activity, exercise, basal metabolic rate).

This is an excellent starting point.

From here, we can work out exactly where you may be slipping up, and as a result, begin making the positive changes that impact your weight-loss progress, for the better.

1. Underestimating your food intake (energy in)

Did you know that pretty much everyone (yes, even professional coaches and nutritionists) reports inaccurate intakes when asked to track their daily calories.

The average person underestimates their food intake by 20-50%.

20-50%!

That’s the difference between a 1,500 calorie diet and a 2,250 calorie diet!

This kind of difference can easily erase the calorie deficit you thought you had created.

In many cases, our brain naturally finds a way to preserve our body weight. Consequently, we can end up eating more than we actually realise, and in most cases this is a good thing! Back in our hunter-gatherer days, this would have been the ideal situation, however, with 21st-century dieting it’s far from ideal…

What should I do?

Track your calorie intake

And be strict about it!

Calorie counting apps or meal planners that personalise your nutrition targets based on your requirements and goals are wonderful tools for progress.

Yes, you’ll have to spend a few weeks being meticulous with food weights and drink measurements, but it will pay off; and before you know it, it will become second nature.

Track everything! Remember, liquid calories can be consumed very easily and immediately forgotten.

How many tequila shots did you truly have on that night when you woke up inside a mechanical rhinoceros?

A golden rule, don’t drink your calories! Unless they’re part of a nutritious smoothie that replaces a meal, avoid any beverage that contains too many calories (coffee and tea are fine, just avoid all of the cream and sugar!).

2. Nutritional information is not always 100% accurate (energy in)

Yes! You read that right. All nutritional labels are based on estimates! Although the majority of these estimates may be accurate, keep in mind that there are still some lurking in the mix that have it slightly wrong.

Especially when it comes to serving sizes, as if anyone truly sticks to those anyway!

What should I do?

Choose the most reliable nutritional information source

If using a calorie tracker, keep in mind that there are plenty of unverified user-generated nutritional values that are way off; aim for only verified nutritional values.

4. TDEE calculations are only an estimate (energy out)

Like nutritional values, TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculations are only an estimate too.

Everybody is different and every body is different.

From your hormonal levels, to how much you fidget subconsciously, all comes into play when determining your true TDEE; and such factors are very difficult to calculate.

What should I do?

Adjust your calorie target

When losing weight, your calorie target will need to be periodically adjusted as your metabolism increases or decreases. Your body may require a level of calories when starting your plan, but may be slightly different once you’ve gained a little muscle and lost a little fat (thus, not displaying progress on the scale).

Your calorie deficit is a constantly moving target and must be adjusted regularly according to your progress.

5. Overestimating calories burned through exercise (energy out)

This is an extremely common factor, especially with the introduction of fitness trackers and smartwatches.

You look at your watch, it tells you that you’ve burned X amount of calories during your most recent workout, so it would be safe to assume that you’ve created a further deficit by that same number, right?

Sorry, we hate to burst the bubble of these otherwise incredible gadgets, but studies have shown the estimation of calories burned by smartwatches to be off by up to 80%.

Your workout may have burned 756 calories, or it might have just been 420 calories.

That’s a difference of 3 glasses of red wine, which is certainly worth noting…

What should I do?

Be more conservative with calories burned through exercise estimations

Keep in mind that with an hour of exercises, depending on the person, you can expect to burn anywhere between 400 – 600 calories. If running, you can expect to be in the higher range; if resistance training with plenty of seated rest, you can expect to be in the lower range.

If in doubt, base your workout calorie burn on the lower to mid range of your estimates, and try not to increase your energy intake too much based on this number.

6. Not consuming enough protein (energy out)

This may sound like an ‘energy in’ issue but it’s not.

Although not a direct reason, if your daily protein intake is low in relation to other macronutrients (carbohydrates and fat), your ‘energy out’ will be slightly reduced.

What should I do?

Follow a high protein diet

This doesn’t mean increasing your overall calorie intake.

Just an increase in the wonderful macronutrient of protein!

Due to its complex molecular structure, protein can be the hardest macronutrient to digest and assimilate for many. Thus, eating more protein increases the thermic effect of food (TEF).

TEF is essentially the increase in metabolism when digesting food.

An ideal level of protein intake when dieting appears to be around 1.6 – 2g of protein per kg of body weight, however, if you are very overweight, it may be better to calculate this based on per kg of lean body weight.

7. The weekends are letting you down

Finally, as we reach the end of the article we should bring up something that happens at the end of each week.

That’s it, the glorious weekend.
We’re all guilty of nailing workouts and nutrition from Monday morning until about Friday afternoon. Then, it’s as if calories no longer count from that point – but unfortunately they do, and in some cases, they count even more…

Let’s use Jessie as an example.
Jessie wants to lose weight and has learned that:

  • at 1,600 daily calories she loses about ½ a pound a week
  • at 1,800 daily calories she maintains weight
  • At 1,800+ daily calories she gains weight weekly

From Monday to Thursday Jessie rocks that solid deficit, consuming 1,600 calories per day (while working out and walking to and from work).

Monday to Thursday = 1,600 calories per day

Great! Well done, Jessie! But we can’t stop there.

On Friday, she holds strong until Friday evening, but then slips a little at after-work drinks, after all, it’s been a long week!

Friday = 2,200 Calories.

On Saturday, Jessie finds her feet for most of the day, but then slips up again by ordering dessert followed by a cheeky mojito.

Saturday = 2,220 Calories

Sunday is much better! Jessie manages to get her business together, and despite the family lunch at Red Lobster, she only goes over her maintenance amount by 50 calories.

Sunday = 1,850 Calories.

Now let’s do some math 🤓

Weekly target of 1,600 per day (to lose weight) = 11,200 Calories

Weekly maximum target of 1,800 per day (to maintain weight) = 12,600 Calories

Actual calories consumed in week = 12,670 Calories

As you can see, this works out to over 1,800 calories per day. Now, as much as we like to support taking a break at the weekend and treating yourself a little (that’s more than okay), it’s important to highlight that although Jessie believes she’s in a calorie deficit, she is, in fact, not.

Instead, if Jessie were to focus on reducing her calories to 1,450 from Monday to Thursday, those weekend treats can be enjoyed while maintaining a healthy deficit that correlates with her goals.

At Hit My Macros, we work by understanding that ‘cheeky treats’ can and should be a part of a healthy diet. If you feel the, completely normal, need for a couple of drinks at the weekend followed by the odd dessert, our meal planner takes that into account elsewhere to balance out your calories.

Ensuring you reach your goals, while not sacrificing the things to love.

Quite literally ‘having your cake and eating it’.

Summary

Weight loss can be a frustrating, dragged-out process. A process which feels very easy to give up altogether. Afterall, long-term results are easily clouded by short-term happiness.

But with small adjustments and the right information, it can be an extremely fulfilling, life-extending endeavour that leaves you happier, more-confident, and more self-empowered as a result.

Weight loss is not always perfectly linear. The traffic lights do not always align, and the odd speedbump is completely normal; but the journey is worth it.

When in doubt, reread through the points mentioned above and make the necessary adjustments in order for you to progress with continual momentum.

Now, more than ever, you’ve got this.