Why You’re In A ‘Calorie Deficit’ But Not Losing Weight

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Why You’re In A ‘Calorie Deficit’ But Not Losing Weight

If you’re in a calorie deficit, you will (eventually) lose weight.

This is a fact.

You are not special and your body is not exempt from the laws of thermodynamics.

Now we’ve got that slightly passive aggressive intro out of the way, let’s look at a few explanations as to why you might be in a calorie deficit (or so you think) bit not losing weight.

1. You’re not actually in a calorie deficit

This is the most common scenario, and will be the situation for 99% of people that think they’re in a calorie deficit.

Let’s put it this way – your body will tell you if you’re in a deficit, not the other way around; i.e. if the scale is going down consistently, it means you’re in a calorie deficit, if it’s not, then you’re not.

It’s that simple.

If you start eating fewer calories, your metabolism may adjust slightly to compensate, but not to the degree that it would actually stop you losing weight.

If you’re not losing weight, you either need to drop your average daily calorie intake, increase your activity, or both until you start losing weight – as soon as that starts happening you KNOW you’re in a calorie deficit.

So why might you don’t actually be in a calorie deficit, even though you think you are?

You’re Not Tracking Your Food Correctly

If you’re so damned sure that you’re in a deficit, your tracking had better be on point. There are many mistakes people making with tracking; including

  • Not tracking everything – if you’re going to track, track EVERYTHING. That includes coffees (yes your Starbucks triple twatachino does have calories in – and lots of them), mayonnaise, that cheeky Fanta; all of it.
  • Tracking cooked weight instead of raw weight – 100g of raw pasta is very different from 100g of cooked pasta – you can see the differences below. Don’t make this mistake
100g of cooked vs 100g of uncooked rice
  • Not tracking at weekends – contrary to what Karen in accounts says, weekend calories do count – your body doesn’t acknowledge that you deserve a ‘treat, so make sure you’re tracking every day

You’re Overestimating Your TDEE

TDEE stands for total daily energy expenditure, i.e. the total amount of calories you burn on average per day – you can work it out here.

The problem is, many people take their TDEE estimation for granted – just because the calculator says you burn 2000 calories per day doesn’t mean you do.

This is the estimated TDEE for a 90kg, 55 year old male. It may not be 100% accurate so don’y take it as gospel truth.

How do you know how many calories you burn each day? You don’t.

Pick a calorie amount that you’ll stick to each day -if you lose weight, you’ll know that this is less than your TDEE, if you maintain your weight, you’ll know that calorie amount is roughly your TDEE, if you gain weight, you’ll know that that calorie amount is more than your TDEE.

The other thing to be aware of is that if you lose a lot of weight, your TDEE will change because as you get lighter, your metabolism will come down so you’ll need to reassess your calorie intake at regular intervals.

2. You’re losing fat but gaining muscle

This is quite hard to achieve, and quite a rare scenario.

It is possible to build muscle in a calorie deficit, which could mean that your weight remains static or even goes up slightly.

Unfortunately, measuring your body fat percentage is a very time-consuming and expensive task. A DEXA scan is the most accurate way to get this data, but you’re looking at £150 a pop, and even this isn’t totally accurate.

What is means is that your probably won’t be able to objectively measure if you actually building muscle in a deficit, but you can eyeball it in the mirror – and if you’re looking better, who cares what the numbers say?

It is normally complete beginners that can build muscle in a deficit, so it may be common for people who start lifting at the same time as they start their diet to experience slower or even no *weight loss* – in reality what’s happening is they’re losing some fat, and building some muscle.

Both of those things add up to a better physique.

3. You’re weighing yourself at different times everyday

Weighing yourself everyday is a really good idea, regardless of whether your goal is weight loss, gain, or maintenance.

You should however do this at the same time everyday.

This is because eating and drinking throughout the day will make you heavier simply because the liquid and food is in your gut.

If you weighed yourself, drank a litre of water, then weighed yourself again, you’d be roughly 1kg heavier (1 litre = 1Kg).

This means that if you weighed yourself on Monday morning, lost some fat (it would only be a tiny amount over the course of a day – but this is for demonstrative purposes), then weighed yourself again on Tuesday evening, you’d likely be quite a bit heavier than you were despite losing some fat.

weight fluctuations
Body weight can fluctuate wildly at the best of times, if you weigh yourself at different times each day, it’ll be even more confusing

4. You’re retaining water (stress, sleep)

High stress levels can have both an indirect and direct efect on your weight.

Indirectly, stress can lead to overeating as a coping mechanism. This study looked at the relationship between perceived stress levels and body weight in two groups. One group was subjected to intervention methods which included breathing and relaxation techniques. The intervention group reduced their BMI by twice as much on average compared the control group.

The study suggests….

“The reduction in perceived stress levels in the intervention group, could have led to the adoption of healthier dietary habits and subsequent weight loss”

Xenaki et al, 2018

Stress management could therefore indirectly lead to more wieght loss since there is less temptation to overeat.

From a direct point of view, increased water retention can happen if you’re stressed, or haven’t slept well (which can in itself create stress). Water retention can of course increase bodyweight and while it may not be fat, it can give you a bloated look.

5. Your menstrual cycle

For women, the menstrual cycle can also play a part in weight fluctuations. Again this is usually down to water retention, so take this into account if your weight increases on or around your period.

There are very few reasons why weight may not decrease despite being in a calorie deficit, and those reasons are quite rare – so if you think you’re in a calorie deficit, check all of the above first.

And yes, for most people, a 1,000 calorie per day diet WILL result in weight loss, even if you’re inactive.

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