When it comes to weight loss, many women have been grossly misinformed.
If you’ve read any part of my website, you know that I do not consider myself to be a “weight loss expert” — that is on purpose. It’s no secret that I do not believe weight loss is the key to a better life or higher self-esteem the way that the fitness industry/diet culture has tried to convince us of. I believe that we should be measuring health + happiness by things other than the scale, BMI & body fat %. I believe that we’re all here to do more than fixate on flat bellies or never gaining weight. I believe the legacy you’re meant to leave in this world is so much bigger than your jeans size or what the scale said.
I also don’t believe that wanting to lose fat is inherently bad or never something worth pursuing.
Autonomy is very important to me and remains at the core of my coaching. It’s not my place to bash people’s goals. I’m a coach and an educator – not a judge.
My role, as I see it, is to provide accurate information to help people make educated decisions, and take action in ways that are effective & sustainable.
So let’s talk about the top 5 reasons I see women struggling to lose body fat:
1️⃣ You really don’t know how much you’re actually eating. To lose fat (or any weight for that matter), you have to eat fewer calories than your body uses. This is called a calorie deficit and it forces your body to pull from and draw down on its long-term energy stores in your adipose (body fat) tissue in order to meet its energy needs each day. All diets that work work because they create a calorie deficit –this is well documented in scientific research. There is no magic in any diet.
Many people are totally unaware of how much they eat each day, which is especially challenging when you realize how calorically dense all our favorite foods are. AWARENESS is the first step. I have my new clients who want to pursue fat loss precisely track a few typical days of eating so they have a sense of how much they are eating each day. Most are totally shocked because they were unaware of how it all adds up.
And even if they are tracking what they eat, some people fail to account for all the licks, bites, and tastes they take in all day long which count toward your total caloric intake for the day whether you plug them into your calorie tracker or not.
No, you don’t have to track calories and macros to lose fat. But it’s the most reliable way. The research continues to show a significant correlation between food journaling and weight loss (Burke, Wang, & Sevick, 2011). Self-monitoring through food tracking can be the key to consistency – which you’ll definitely need no matter what your goals are – but also provides historical data to look back on to see what’s working and what’s not working. It also helps people focus on the process of eating to support their goals instead of fixating on the resulting change in the scale.
If you’re just starting out, you might not need to track meticulously and a nutrition coach can help you improve your nutrition to some degree without tracking every day. But ultimately, the more precise your goals are, the more precise your methods of calculating, measuring, and tracking must be. More general goals will allow for more flexible methods.
2️⃣ You’re trying to restrict calories too much. This one goes hand-in-hand with the first reason above. When we get super-motivated, we have a tendency to go a bit nuts with the calorie cut and end up cutting back so much that we’re ravenous all the time, we can’t stop thinking about food, and eventually can’t take it anymore, so we binge and blow right past the numbers we set for ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong, to some degree you will be hungry when you’re in a calorie deficit — it’s designed that way. Your body is wired for absolute self-preservation. It will scream loudly and on repeat if it doesn’t have enough food coming in to keep you alive long-term. Hunger is a genius feature, not a design flaw.
That said, if your hunger is too much, if it’s overpowering, then your body will make it damn near impossible for you to not shove any available food into your mouth. Remember, its goal is to keep you alive. It doesn’t care about being thinner or fitting into your old pair of jeans.
It doesn’t matter how deep your calorie deficit is on paper, if you can’t follow it because you can’t stop thinking about and shoving brownies into your mouth, then it won’t lead to fat loss. The “trick” is to find a calorie deficit where the hunger levels you’re experiencing are totally manageable and allow you to stick to your numbers regularly and consistently.
And there are also ways to help manage hunger by making better food choices when working toward fat loss — like eating more lean protein since protein contributes to more satiety and choosing higher volume foods with lower calorie density like adding more colorful veggies to your plate. For a list of foods that fit the bill and more ideas on this, check out my Fuel Your Awesome Nutrition Guide.
3️⃣ You think healthy eating is enough. I hear it all the time “I eat healthy, why am I not losing body fat?” and “I don’t understand why I’m gaining weight, I eat clean.” First, it’s important to know that “healthy” or “clean” eating is subjective. There is no agreed definition of what constitutes healthy or clean eating. There is no way to measure the “true healthiness or cleanliness” of your eating habits. In other words, what you think is “healthy eating” might not be.
Second, and most importantly, the amount of food and the quality of food are DIFFERENT THINGS. Both matter … but they do different things for us.
👉🏼 The QUALITY of your food (ie. how “healthy” you eat as determined by vitamin and mineral density) plays the biggest nutrition-related role in the quality of your overall health.
👉🏼 The AMOUNT of calories you eat plays the biggest nutrition-related role in how much you weigh.
👉🏼 The specific make-up of the calories you eat each day (carbs vs. fat vs. protein) plays the biggest nutrition-related role in your hunger levels, energy levels, and body composition (which is how much muscle vs. fat you have on your body).
So, if your goal is to lose body fat, focusing on broad things like “eating healthy or clean” isn’t enough. You can absolutely eat healthy and gain body fat—because increases in body fat come from eating MORE calories (specifically from carbs and fat) than your body uses each day. This happens regardless of whether those calories come from “healthy, clean” foods or so-called “junk” foods. If you want to lose body fat, you need to eat LESS than you are currently. There is no way around that.
4️⃣ You’re not giving it enough time. In this day and age of quick fixes and same-day delivery, it’s not easy to play the long-game. We want results and we want them YES-TER-DAY. Most people aren’t willing to be patient with weight loss. Often, here’s how I see it play out: there’s this one emotionally-charged moment where the scale shows you a number you’ve deemed “totally unacceptable” or something doesn’t fit you anymore, and you swear to lose weight no matter what, and that spark of self-loathing is the motivation that leads you to take drastic action. The problem is that drastic actions are not sustainable unless your life is in imminent danger.
Just as it takes time to gain fat, it takes time to lose it. And that goes doubly if you want to be able to keep it off.
The reality is that it takes very little skill to lose body fat. But it takes a ton of skills (plural) to keep it off. If your method for losing body fat isn’t something you can do for very long before cashing out, then you’re not doing it long enough to learn any of the skills you’ll need to keep it off — like mind management and obstacle anticipation.
Fat loss can be successful with the right plan — one that is sustainable long enough to be effective and teaches you the skills you need to keep it off.
5️⃣ You’ve been under eating and restricting calories for too long. Now this may sound odd given that the reason above was not waiting long enough, but the thing about calorie deficits is that our extremely intelligent bodies adapt to them. Again, this is an ingenious trait, not a design flaw. Think about it this way: in periods of famine, our bodies are capable of using less energy in order to keep us alive when food is scarce.
It’s called metabolic adaptation or adaptive thermogenesis. That’s what happens when your total daily calorie expenditure is lower than what would otherwise be predicted based on your body composition. Just like every other part of your body, you can train your metabolism to adapt to what you do most often.
When you spend enough time not eating enough calories to meet your body’s needs each day, your metabolism can self-adjust to become more efficient and, in doing so, will reduce your metabolism so that you end up maintaining your weight even while you’re eating fewer calories. Essentially, our bodies were designed to try to keep us from losing weight because weight loss – from an evolutionary perspective – could become life-threatening. So our bodies have adapted to keep that from happening.
Sometimes you might hear this described as a “weight loss plateau”. Once your metabolism adapts and you’re living on fewer calories than is optimal, in order to lose weight, you’ll have to make your calorie intake even lower. If your weight-loss effort started with a high calorie intake, the extra reduction in calories to break through that plateau might not be a big deal. However, if you’ve spent most of your life dieting and under eating and are already living on a low calorie intake, reducing your calories further can create a really bad and very uncomfortable situation. So you may find yourself physically unable to eat few enough calories to lose weight because your metabolism is so low.
It’s also worth mentioning that with prolonged metabolic adaptation comes an increased risk of injury and persistent/chronic illness. This happens because your body has to divert energy away from certain internal functions like digestion, recovery, healing, and reproduction in order to continue to support critical life-preserving functions like breathing, circulating blood, and brain function. So, while you do survive in the short-term, it’s not a great long-term strategy for thriving. Fat loss at any cost should NOT be the goal and attempting that will likely lead you FURTHER from health, not closer.
Bottom line: there are sustainable ways to lose body fat without losing your mind or compromising your health. The problem is that we’ve been so badly misinformed that we’re not trying the right things.
That ends here with this virtual webinar recording filmed on January 19, 2023. In it, I cover the science behind losing body fat in a way that’s sustainable & enhances your overall health rather than degrading it in the pursuit of some unattainable, totally made-up ideal.
I’ll help you sift through what’s true vs. what’s BS and outline action items you can take from a place of self-compassion in ways that are grounded in science.
Check it out and save your sanity while you reach your fat loss goals.