8 things you believe are stopping weight loss... but they really aren't
Belfast PT and nutritionist Alan Waterman looks at foods and practices blamed for lack of weight loss - and why they're innocent.
When it comes to losing weight, you’d better have your wits about you.
Depending on who you ask, you may hear any number of reasons why you’re having difficulty losing weight - everything from the type of diet you’re following, to the food choices you make, to the timing of your meals.
Any wonder there’s confusion as to the right approach?
Check out my list of things you may have heard are preventing your weight loss, which really aren't.
For years, carbs have been suggested to be a major cause of weight gain, leading many to ditch carbs out of their diet and adopt a low/zero-carb approach instead.
Carbs, however, in and of themselves are not “fattening”, but consuming too many total calories is.
Regardless of where those calories come from (carbs, fats, or protein,) if we consume more than we need, we will have difficulty losing weight. Similarly, if we manage to achieve a calorie deficit, while even consuming a high carb intake, we will still successfully lose weight- carbs won’t prevent that.
Lower carb diets can work for some people, but it is not because they remove carbs, it is because they can often cause a person to consume fewer total calories. Carbs aren’t your enemy when it comes to weight-loss, overeating is.
Eating late at night
It’s long been believed by many that calories eaten at night will prevent us from losing weight, as we tend to be less active during this portion of the day and therefore will not burn off those calories. Instead, we run the risk of them just being stored as bodyfat.
However, the problem with this idea is that, in truth, the body never stops working at burning fuel across the course of a 24-hour period - it won’t suddenly stop or slow down once we reach a certain time of the day, because our body doesn’t recognize time as such, it just keeps constantly doing its thing.
With regards to losing or gaining weight, again it is our calorie balance which will determine what happens; regardless of what time those calories are taken in, provided we can achieve a calorie deficit across a full 24-hours we will lose weight - even if that means taking in a chunk of those calories in the evening.
Gluten in and of itself has not been shown to be an issue with regards to contributing to weight gain or preventing us from losing weight (in fact, unless you are Coeliac, gluten not been shown to really cause any problematic issues at all.)
So why do some people seem to lose weight when they stop eating bread or other gluten-containing products? Simple - they were overeating on those foods in the first place.
Many gluten-containing foods tend to be higher in calories and/or easier to overeat, so we end up having an increased likelihood of taking in too many calories when we consume them. When gluten is removed from the diet, any weight loss seen is not because we’ve stopped eating gluten, it’s just that our average daily calorie intake has been reduced.
Any change in our diet, or any diet approach which causes us to reduce our calories and put us in a calorie deficit will allow for weight-loss to happen. Gluten hasn’t stopped you losing weight, eating too many calories has.
Despite a host of supposed risks associated with consuming artificial sweeteners, none of them have ever been shown to occur in human studies - only in rats!
Although sweeteners did cause weight gain in animal studies, reaching the equivalent amount in humans would require us to consume hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tins of diet drinks DAILY to experience the negative consequences that have been seen in those studies in rats.
Artificial sweeteners in fact have minimal calorie value, so by using them as a substitute for calorie containing drinks in our diet, they can actually help reduce our total calorie intake, allowing us to lose weight, not gain it.
Despite having fantastic nutrition value, there are those who argue that fruit will contribute towards us gaining weight, due to its higher sugar content.
Whereas it is true that fruit is mostly made up of naturally occurring sugars, nobody ever got fat from eating an apple.
The sugar content itself wouldn’t prevent us from losing weight - as with anything else, if the calories from the fruit we consume pushes us over our calorie needs, then yes it will prevent us from losing weight, but if those calories are factored into our total daily needs, we will have no issue with seeing the weight-loss we want.
We could, in theory, eat nothing but fruit and still lose weight! Don’t needlessly drop fruit out of your diet, because you really have no reason to.
Eating fats makes you fat, right? That often-heard advice is part of the reason low-fat diet trends still run strong.
Our fat intake, however, does not relate directly to whether or not we lose weight, but our total calorie intake does.
It’s true that fats are more “energy dense” than protein and carbs (they contain 9 calories per gram compared to the 4 calorie in carbs and protein,) so a higher fat intake can cause our calories to add up quicker.
However, regardless of how much fat we choose to eat, if it doesn’t cause us to overshoot our calorie needs, we can still lose weight even when our fat intake is high. Fats, just like with carbs, shouldn’t be seen to be the bad guys when it comes to losing weight.
Eating too little
The idea of “Starvation Mode”, where the body prevents itself losing weight when we feed it too little, remains a popular explanation for those struggling with weight loss (and even a cause of weight gain.)
However, there’s no evidence to support it even exists. We actually NEED to be in a state of starvation in order to lose weight (i.e. by being in a calorie deficit.)
A greater deficit means greater weight loss, our bodies won’t prevent us losing weight by eating a low amount of calories - so long as we are in a calorie deficit, weight-loss will occur.
What we typically see happen at very low calorie intakes however is that people typically have a very difficult time sticking to them, so more frequently break from that intake, consume a higher amount, and cancel out whatever deficit they had achieved.
Combine that with the fact that people are notoriously bad at estimating their calorie intakes, meaning that they aren’t eating as little as they think, and what you have is less a case of “Starvation Mode”, more a case of “still eating too many calories.”
Still think breakfast is the most important meal of the day? As far as weight-loss goes, it actually really doesn’t matter.
As with eating into the evening, the timing of our calorie intake plays next to no role in our ability to lose weight.
If we eat breakfast and still consume too many calories across the rest of the day, we won’t see the weight-loss we want, whereas if we skip breakfast but finish the day in a calorie deficit, we’ll manage to lose weight.
It doesn’t even offer us the metabolic boost we’ve been told it does. Don’t force yourself to eat breakfast just because you’ve heard it’ll help you lose weight - focus on your calorie deficit across the entire day instead.
What most of these reasons tend to overlook is the main, most important factor when looking at weight-loss: energy balance. It’s a matter of calories in vs. calories out.
I know it sounds too simple: take in less calories than you need and you will lose weight.
But, it’s true! Any diet which has even caused weight loss has done so because it’s helped create a calorie deficit.
Download the first chapter of my book Fitness BS for free.
Belfast Telegraph Digital