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April 14, 2013

4 Reasons You’re NOT Losing Weight

by alive

A significant number of people consult with me not because they want to start losing weight but because they’ve already tried to, but aren’t successful. By unsuccessful, I mean they have either lost no weight, or have had some weight loss which plateaued before they reached their goals.

weight loss plateau 

Justifiably, they want to know WHY.


Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with many goal-oriented and intelligent clients. These are people who want to learn not just the WHATs, but also the WHYs. This agrees with me since my focus is on education, empowerment and independence. Working together, I’ve developed an understanding of what the commonest reasons for weight loss failure are. Here are 4 might apply to YOU right now.



1. You Fantasize What You Eat, Rather Than Eat What You Fantasize

In other words, many times you think you’re following the healthy diet you planned, but you’re actually not. People notoriously overestimate how much they exercise, but underestimate how much they eat. They might not even be aware of it. True, they may be keeping to three main courses a day, but often take multiple mini morsels throughout.  They may also be unaware that the ‘low fat’, ‘low carb’ or ‘low anything’ foods they choose to eat are actually still laden with calories and very unhealthy.


What you wish you’d eaten…


potato crisps

What you really ate


Food diaryThe quickest screen I use to test this is a food diary. I simply have a client write down everything they eat, and be as descriptive as possible. By everything I mean EVERYTHING. Popped a couple of grapes from the refrigerator, had half a kit kat for a morning snack, added extra teaspoon of sugar to coffee at 3pm. It’s surprisng how many hidden calories people who claim they “don’t eat much” manage to find.



Ah, but what if people are tempted to ‘fake’ their diaries? Be less than honest? In fact I find most successful people refreshingly honest. They know they have to be, if they expect any real results.

Keep a food diary. It will stimulate thought and give you hints and tips. You may be tempted to fill out a food diary to look good, but as you are doing it, you’ll realize where you haven’t been doing the right thing. You now have the information and can act on it.  Having to keep a food diary can help when reach for the opportunistic snack and realize it will have to go in the food diary. Most likely you’ll stop yourself. That’s a good thing! So, keep a food diary for one week, recording all that you eat faithfully, and then have a look and see where calories might be slipping in.


2. You’re Too Sedentary

Now wait a minute! I exercise 3-5 times a week, for a total of at least 150 minutes a week. I do cardio at a level 13 on the RPE scale. What do you mean I’m not active enough?


Many people think they’re in the clear when they exercise regularly. Don’t get me wrong: exercise is great, that’s why I teach it and that’s why this blog exists!


However when it comes to losing weight, it isn’t all there is.


Think about it. Most of us are awake about 16-18 hours a day. If we exercised an hour a day, minus about an hour each for lunch and dinner, that still leaves a total waking time of 13-15 hours. What are YOU doing most of that time? Chances are, many of us work in offices, sitting on our butts. Or watching TV or using the computer, sitting on our butts. And when we do, the energy expenditure is minimal! Compare this to what our earlier generations had to do with less technological conveniences like escalators, elevators and cars. Lots more walking, cycling, lifting, moving. It’s one contributing reason why we’re a lot fatter today.

 Sitting down   office work

One idea to combat this super slow pace of calorie use is to increase NEPA (Non-Exercise Physical Activity).  This simply means increasing your movement and level of physical activity throughout the day. An obvious idea is increasing your walking. To the shops, to talk to your colleague in the next cubicle, around your office building before and after work, using the stairs when you can. Stand up periodically to stretch during work,  calisthenics while watching TV and carrying your groceries in a basket instead of pushing the trolley are other ideas.

grocery shopping Ex during TV  office stretch 



3. Singapore Stress Sia!

 Are you stressed? I don’t mean in terms of trying to lose weight by a certain time. I mean OUTSIDE of that. At work, in your relationships, with your finances, maybe?


Stress of living, working, and studying is very high in Singapore. That’s a fact we learn to deal with from the age we went through Primary 3 streaming. Most of the time we accept it as part and parcel of Life and achieving big things, but when it comes to your fat loss efforts, stress can be a major impediment.


When you are feeling stress, your body’s stress response system kicks in… by flooding your body with cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone. Cortisol has many useful functions. In our context its most important use is stimulating our metabolic systems for fast energy, necessary in a sudden life and death situation. It does this by promoting gluconeogenesis, a process whereby protein is converted into glucose. The problem is, too much glucose floating about has the tendency to be stored… as FAT.


Millenia ago, this hormone kicked in when a saber toothed tiger sprang out from the bushes. Today, this hormone still kicks in when a stack of paperwork springs up on your work desk.

 sabretooth cat Paperwork

And if this stress is prolonged, cortisol can lead to weight gain, with studies suggesting that this fat actually goes to the stomach region. Definitely NOT what most weight loss questers need!


In fact, it doesn’t even have to be something unhappy or negative. It might even be something major happening, such as getting married, going overseas for a holiday, or a free shopping spree.

 getting married winning lottery

Why? Because your body cannot differentiate between stress that makes you happy, and stress that makes you happy! Stress is stress is stress.


In addition, when people are stressed, they tend to engage in comforting behavior. For many people, this means EATING. And when stressed, people have a tendency to eat even more than usual. Everyone has their own favourite comfort food! Imagine the accumulative effect this has on your fat stores… just like that accumulating pile of paperwork!

Chocolate strawberries.

Therefore, you need to think about stress management strategies. Assess your current situation: are there stresses you can eliminate by more effective planning or better work habits? And regardless, are there stress management technique you can employ? Investigate possibilities like yoga or meditation, and even pamper yourself with the occasional massage.


4. Not Enough Sleep

 As if stress wasn’t enough, many of us have to contend with lack of sleep. Burning the midnight oil isn’t unusual in our culture, and while the immediate effects might be simply feeling tired, general crankiness and a terrible struggle to wake up the next day, lack of sleep has a whammy on your fat loss efforts.


It’s all about hormones.


First, remember our friend cortisol? Lack of sleep raises cortisol levels, which can contribute to fat gain as explained above. Getting sleep helps decrease cortisol levels and hence, the glucose release and potential for that glucose to be stored as fat.  


Sleep also affects the levels of other important hormones with quite opposite roles. Leptin is a satiety hormone, which tells your brain that you’ve eaten enough and suppresses hunger. Ghrelin on the other hand, stimulates your appetite. As you’ve probably guessed, insufficient sleep lowers leptin levels and increases ghrelin levels. The converse is true; hence the desirability of getting plenty of sleep.

 ghrelin    midnight snacking

One final point: the longer you are awake, the more feeding opportunities you have. And when you’re staying up late doing work or watching TV, you’re going to feel hungry. What do you think the natural reaction would be?


What this means is that if you want to maximize your fat loss efforts, you have to make getting enough sleep a priority. I’d say that if you cannot meet the recommended 8 hours a night, then anything more is a step in the right direction. If you currently sleep only 6, aim for 7. And if youre sleeping only 5 hours or less, you’re going to seriously think through how to maximize your work day, either through better time management or delegation.


To conclude, weight/ fat loss is a complex process and its success if multifactorial. Yes, in general the calories in vs calories out simplification does hold true for many people, especially in the initial stages of weight loss. However there comes a point where many people stagnate. When that happens, it’s time to analyse the situation and ascertain if there are any roadblocks preventing you from accomplishing your goals. This article looked at 4 of some of the commonest, in my experience. I hope it helps you too!





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