Losing weight can be pretty tough and unenjoyable.
Particularly when you think that you’re doing everything right and things just aren’t going well.
To speed things along, let’s first assume that you’re are doing or following a solid nutrition strategy to help you achieve our weight loss goals:
All things going well, this should lead us to a suitable rate of weight loss.
But what happens when things stall?
Why is it happening?
Join me as we delve a little deeper into some interesting areas…
As you lose weight, your body physically loses mass (duh). There is a cost to losing this mass though. As there is now less metabolically active tissue on your ’jack skellington’, the amount of energy you expend is now lower.
Yes, as you lose weight you no longer expend as much energy as you previously would have.
Along with that, a nice human survival mechanism is the resistance to HUGE changes in weight and body mass loss. Your body does ‘adapt’ to its new conditions somewhat. This isn’t so much a broken metabolism as much as it is a more efficient metabolism.
When you don’t have enough fuel, other processes will be deemed as ‘unimportant’. This concept relates to ‘NEAT’ and the amount of ‘other activity’ that you might do when you have the energy to do it. Your body is more efficient now (but in a bad way for your weight loss goals) and only prioritises essential energy involving processes - so no more walks with your pets, etc.
Also, would you believe that because you’re now eating less and that actually makes a difference too. A neat little thing known as the ‘thermic effect of food/feeding’ will be decreased due to the reduction in the volume of food you’re now eating1.
Pretty depressing, right?
Finally, you also might suffer from a reduction in the amount of energy you expend during exercise. This is related to the efficiency and reduction in mass outlined above. There’s less of you, you might not have as much ‘fuel’ for sessions so the amount of output is less than before.
How to combat this?
Actively engage in ‘doing more’. While step counts may seem a bit arbitrary, they may prove to be very useful at times when dieting is getting tougher.
Instead of further lowering your calories (perhaps to a point that just is no longer adherable), look at increasing your steps. No grand gestures, just something achievable that requires a little more focused effort.
Nothing dictates weight loss success quite like hunger. It’s not something that gets talked about too much either.
Along with feeling more hungry, the fact that you’re dieting in an environment that not set up for dieting, means that there is an increased ‘desire’ for higher calorie foods. Higher energy foods tend to be what the body wants in times of reduced energy so it’s a fairly tough uphill battle to manage those desires while still staying on track with your goals.
In a ridiculous turn of events, exercise intensity can be a modulator of hunger. There may be a more acute responses or more prolonged increases in perceived hunger levels that may influence energy intake2.
What’s even worse is the fact that labelling exercise as ‘fat burning’ or with a particular calorie expenditure can influence our decision making to eat more3.
How to combat this?
This one is admittedly a bit of a toughie.
There’s no hard or fast rules for managing hunger as it tends to affect people differently. While ‘flexible dieting’ is certainly a way to manage long term restriction, other ideas may be to schedule short term diet breaks.
These may not directly affect your physiological hunger but they may give you a bit of a headspace break and reduce the whole ‘dietary fatigue’ aspect.
I’ve also written a little bit about other ‘hunger hacks’ here..
We all lie. Or perhaps with food, we all unknowingly lie.
When it comes to dieting and losing weight there’s a pretty high likelihood that we overestimate how close we are sticking to our desired intake of food. Now, it’s no one’s fault. It just appears that we do it very often.
In case you’re wondering, it’s not ‘oh I had a cookie as well’ kind of mis-reporting. 'Snack-cidents' can range anywhere from 10% to 30% of extra energy intake being unaccounted for4.
Even nutrition professionals are guilty of it5.
If you factor this in along with everything else that I’ve mentioned above you can see how a nice little deficit of energy could become smaller and smaller and eventually non-existent.
How to combat this?
I’m not sure that there’s a one size fits all response to this. However, intermittently tracking how much food you’re eating can always be a good measure to see where you’re at.
Outside of that, it’s perhaps a case of being honest with yourself and lining up what your goals are, where you’re currently at and if what you’re doing aligns together. Often times, looking at things in this manner can help you get back on track with what you are hoping to achieve.
1.Müller, M., Enderle, J. and Bosy-Westphal, A. (2016). Changes in Energy Expenditure with Weight Gain and Weight Loss in Humans. Current Obesity Reports, 5(4), pp.413-423.
2 KING, J., DEIGHTON, K., BROOM, D., WASSE, L., DOUGLAS, J., BURNS, S., CORDERY, P., PETHERICK, E., BATTERHAM, R., GOLTZ, F., THACKRAY, A., YATES, T. and STENSEL, D. (2017). Individual Variation in Hunger, Energy Intake, and Ghrelin Responses to Acute Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 49(6), pp.1219-1228.
3.Fenzl, N., Bartsch, K. and Koenigstorfer, J. (2014). Labeling exercise fat-burning increases post-exercise food consumption in self-imposed exercisers. Appetite, 81, pp.1-7.
4.Burrows, T., Martin, R. and Collins, C. (2010). A Systematic Review of the Validity of Dietary Assessment Methods in Children when Compared with the Method of Doubly Labeled Water. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(10), pp.1501-1510.
5.Champagne CM, Bray GA, Kurtz AA, Monteiro JB, Tucjker E, Volaufova J, Delany JP. (2002). Energy intake and energy expenditure: a controlled study comparing dieticians and non-dieticians. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(10):1428-32