Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as stubborn body fat. You think you’re doing all the right things, you’re working out regularly, maybe even eating “clean” foods, but still it won’t budge.
What’s going on? Is it just that you’re getting older, and your body simply isn’t able to lose fat anymore like it used to? Is it genetics?
Age and genetics are certainly influencing factors in fat loss, but neither of these will prevent you from losing fat altogether. Rest assured that if you’re not managing to lose body fat, there’s a reason for it, and once you find that reason you can correct the problem and you’ll be on your way again.
Here are the 9 top possible reasons why you’re not able to lose fat. Think closely about these, and try to work out which (there may be several) apply to you.
1. You’re Overeating
This is an obvious one, I know, but it’s surprisingly common. Some people just eat too much. Even if you’re not going to the point of counting your calorie intake, some level of portion control is a good thing.
One common technique is to compare your servings to the size of your palm. Another is to get a sense of how much room each portion takes up on your plate. By simply eyeballing your portion sizes in some way you lessen your chances of gradually increasing your serving sizes over time without realizing it.
And of course if you find that you’re still not losing fat even so, you at least have a baseline from which to start for reducing your portion sizes. If you never take the time to even get a sense of how much food you’re taking in, then you’re really flying blind.
The mistake a lot of people make in deciding how much to eat is that they go by how full they feel. This is notoriously dangerous, for two reasons. Firstly, eating until you feel “full”, or “satisfied”, will almost always lead you to eating more and more over time. And secondly, it’s very unreliable because how full you feel depends on many factors such as what type of food you’re eating, what you’re wearing, your mood, how much water you drank, etc.
If you’re going to base your food intake off how you feel, the best approach is to eat until you’re not really sure whether or not you’ve had enough. That’s normally plenty.
2. You’ve Starved Yourself Into a Plateau
We’ve all heard of dieter’s plateau. This occurs when you try to lose weight too quickly by restricting your calorie intake too aggressively (starving yourself), causing your metabolism to slow. This leads to your body expending far fewer calories each day, thereby preventing you from losing weight, or at very least making it very difficult for you.
How serious can this get? It’s not uncommon to hear about stage competitors (with poor coaches) eating as little as 600-800 calories a day and still not managing to lose any body fat, even when doing two hours of cardio each day. Dieter’s plateau is at also the heart of why people find themselves yo-yo dieting.
So what can you do once you’ve experienced metabolic damage? Just one thing – reverse dieting. You need to very slowly and methodically increase your calorie intake over time to nurse your metabolism back to health, while taking care not to gain body fat in the process, or at least as little as possible.
3. You’re Experiencing “Dieter’s Karma”
This is a carry-on from the previous point.
Just as your body will adapt metabolically to your attempts to underfeed it, it also does so in response to a history of improper dieting. What that means is that if you have a history of crash dieting followed by weight re-gain, much as chronic yo-yo dieters do, then your body will be more reluctant to shed fat.
It’s almost as if your body actually has a medium- to long-term memory. This is why the first time you lose weight is often the easiest, and if you continue to gain back the weight and diet down again it gets progressively more and more difficult each time. This “memory”, or “karma”, as I like to call it, can even last as long as several years.
So how do you overcome this? One word – patience. It’s like when your credit rating is damaged, it takes time to prove that you’re responsible enough to be trusted again.
Trying to bully your body into shedding fat never ends well. You just need to take the time to restore your metabolism (and your body’s trust) over time through reverse dieting, and once you’re back to peak health you can take another shot at losing fat . . . slowly and patiently!
4. You’re Drinking More Calories Than You Think
While everyone’s focus for calorie control is on the food they eat, a lot of people make the mistake of overlooking the calories they drink. These can be fairly substantial.
Without a doubt soft drinks (sodas) are the worst offenders because of the sheer amount that people consume. A small 250ml can of Coke contains 26g of sugar and 108 calories. Not a huge amount, sure, but when you drink it as a regular daily beverage, as some people do, it certainly adds up pretty quickly.
And what about other drinks? Here are a few examples:
- A 250ml can of Red Bull – 114 calories
- A 248g cup of fresh orange juice – 112 calories
- A 147g glass of red table wine – 125 calories
- A 591ml bottle of lemon-lime Gatorade – 130 calories
- A Starbucks tall (340g) café late with whole milk– 204 calories
- A Starbucks tall (340g) hot chocolate with whole milk and no cream – 270 calories
As you can see, liquid sources of calories can be just as significant as those from solid foods, and they can’t be ignored. If you’re watching your calorie intake yet struggling to lose fat, be sure to keep these in check as well.
5. You’re a Victim of “Ninja” Calories
What are ninja calories? Ninja calories are those stealthy, sneaky little calories that find their way into your belly without you even noticing them!
You’ll find these cunning little animals in things like sauces, gravies, dressings, toppings and other condiments. Because these foods are generally used in fairly small quantities, it’s very easy to ignore them when considering your calorie intake. But they do matter and they do add up.
A lot of dressings and sauces can be quite high in sugar and/or fat and so can contain a substantial amount of calories. A single tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkled over a Greek salad for example, contains 120 calories. A tablespoon of Subway mayonnaise contains 110 calories. Two tablespoons of barbeque sauce contain about 55 calories.
You get the idea. These seemingly harmless little additives to your food can really make a sizeable difference to your calorie intake and therefore your fat loss. If you’re struggling to lose fat you certainly can’t afford to ignore them.
6. You Believe Healthy Food Can’t Make You Fat
Anything that contains calories, and all foods do, have the potential to make you fat. That includes any food that’s healthy, natural, unprocessed, organic, grass fed, hand-grown, whatever.
Some people are under the false impression that as long as they stick to the so-called “clean” foods, then quantity isn’t an issue and they can have as much as they like. Not so, quantity is always an issue.
There are two food types that can especially catch you out in this regard.
The first is fruit. Fruit is a wonderful, nutritious, healthy food that should be a part of every diet. But it does contain sugar, and it therefore does have a reasonable amount of calories. For example, a little earlier I mentioned that a 250ml can of Coke contains 108 calories. Well, a medium banana contains 118 calories. A medium apple contains 95 calories. So if you can get fat from Coke, you can certainly get fat from bananas and apples.
The other type of food is anything that is nut or seed based. Even though nuts and seeds are very healthy and contain healthy fats, they contain quite a lot of them, which means they’re high in calories. Just one tablespoon of peanut butter contains 94 calories (I know, peanuts aren’t nuts, they’re legumes, but they’re close enough!) Just 20g of almonds contain 115 calories.
All foods make a difference to your calorie intake and therefore affect your fat loss, even vegetables. Oh, and in case you were wondering, there’s no such thing as negative calorie foods (foods that cause you to burn more calories digesting them than they actually provide), that’s just a myth!
7. You’re Not Eating Enough Protein
Protein is a very important macronutrient in your diet, especially when you’re in the process of either losing weight or gaining muscle. Its benefits for muscle gain are fairly obvious – muscle, like all tissue in your body, is built from protein so you need enough of it to feed the growth.
But what about for fat loss? Well, it’s just as important, for several reasons.
Firstly, protein is very thermogenic, which means it stimulates your metabolism to burn energy. This is because of the three macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) protein requires the most energy for your body to process (it has the highest thermic effect, or TEF).
Secondly, protein foods generally have a high level of satiety. In other words, they make you feel full and satisfied.
And thirdly, proteins (as well as fats) act to reduce the GI (Glycemic Index) of any carbohydrates eaten as part of the same meal, by slowing down their energy absorption into your bloodstream. This helps to create a more stable blood sugar level, which is also important for good health and fat loss.
8. You’re a Cardio Bunny
This one may come as a surprise to you, after all, cardio burns calories and burning calories is good for fat loss, right?
Well, yes, sort of . . . Here’s the problem.
When you make a habit of doing a lot of low-intensity, steady-state cardio exercise, your body adapts to it rather quickly. In other words, it becomes more efficient at handling all the internal processes involved in performing the activity, so that the activity gradually becomes easier and easier to manage.
That’s great from a performance point of view, but not so good for fat loss. Because the more your body adapts, the fewer calories it burns in performing the exercise, so the less fat gets burned. By continuing to do the same amount of cardio therefore, you get less and less benefit over time.
The optimal form of cardio for fat loss has been shown to be high intensity training, such as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). It leads to the greatest amount of fat loss and doesn’t trigger anywhere near the level of adaptation that low intensity cardio does, in fact it increases your body’s fat-burning efficiency.
Keep your cardio sessions shorter and intense – you’ll burn more fat long term and also save time.
9. You Don’t Unwind
Because life can be quite hectic nowadays, stress is something that can affect many people. Stress leads to an elevation of the level of a hormone called Cortisol in your body. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and when its level is chronically high it tends to promote the storage of fat in your body. This can naturally interfere with your efforts to lose fat.
Yet another thing that can lead to high Cortisol levels is lack of sleep.
It’s very important therefore, particularly if your goal is to lose fat, that you get sufficient sleep each night, and also take the time to relax and unwind at the end of each day. There are a variety of activities you can participate in to help you do that, such as Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, or even simply soaking in a relaxing bath.
If you lead a hectic, busy lifestyle you’ll be at an increased risk of stress and should therefore maintain a level of awareness as to whether it’s affecting you negatively.