Am I broken?
“I’m in a calorie deficit but I’m not losing weight” is one of the most common phrases I hear, and I GET IT.
That’s super frustrating.
But I can help ???? Have a listen to this, and you’re sure to find a few points that resonate with you, that help you trouble shoot exactly what’s going on!
Welcome back to the Bite Me nutrition podcast. Today it's just me. It's just Jono. Sorry to disappoint, but I'm going to be going through a topic that comes up a lot both in in practice with clients and also lots of questions I get on social media. And it's the question is, typically I'm in a calorie deficit, but I'm not losing fat. What's wrong with me? What or what am I doing wrong? Or see, I knew this this wasn't going to work. I want to take you through, A, what a calorie deficit is, and then B, a number of ways that I would look to troubleshoot that with people. Some questions you can ask yourself to identify what's potentially getting in the way of the results that you want. And so we're going to be talking about body fat, body weight, and weight loss, calorie deficits and things today. So if that's not of interest of you interest to you, or you don't want to be listening to that sort of stuff, switch off. We've got lots of other episodes that talk about other things. But if that is something that's of interest of you, interest of you, that's the second time of interest to you. Please stick around. We need to start with defining what a calorie deficit is, right? Essentially, it's where you're providing your body with less energy than it needs. So a calorie or a kilojoule, they're the same thing. They're just different units of measurement of energy. Okay? Kind of like feet and inches and meters and centimeters are still just units of distance, right? They're both distance. They're just different units. So calories, kilojoules, energy kind of use those all fairly interchangeably, right? So if you are in a calorie or an energy deficit, that means you're providing your body with less energy than it needs to complete all of the tasks that it needs, which means it needs to find that extra little bit of energy that you didn't give it somewhere else. Typically, it finds that by breaking down your stores of energy, aka your body fat, that's probably the primary source that it will break down. And so if you maintain that deficit, over time, your body will consistently dip into those stores of body fat, break down that stored energy, and slowly but surely, your energy intake will sorry. Your body fat will reduce over time. So this is a fundamental, undeniable rule of not just physiology, but physics, right? Based on the first law of thermodynamics, if you want to nerd out, matter can't be created or destroyed, only converted. And so for that reason, a calorie deficit, if you are in a calorie deficit, you will be losing body fat. And so if you are not losing body fat, you are not in a calorie deficit. That's not meant to be an attack on you at all. What I want you to hear instead is, I mustn't be in a deficit. Then what's getting in the way of that rather than I think I'm breaking the first law of thermodynamics. So don't take it personally. Like I said, many, many people have said this phrase to me, but I think it's better if we reframe that as, okay, I'm not in a deficit because I'm not losing body fat. What gives? What's stopping that? And that's what I want to take you through now. Okay? So hopefully we've navigated that first personal attack, and now we can jump into the next personal attack. You're probably eating more than you think. In the literature, we see 18% to 50% of people under report. Basically, they incorrectly recall how much they've eaten over the past few days. Sometimes even up to 70% of people can underreport. Now, that is a wild statistic, okay? And that underreporting can be intentional. It could be unintentional. Not here to dive into the nuance of that, but ultimately, human beings are pretty bad at remembering what they've eaten over the past few days, okay? And stack that up over the weeks and weeks of your attempts to lose body fat. It's quite likely that you're eating more than you think. Now, like I said, I'm not saying that you're intentionally doing this. Things like extra sauces that you're forgetting to account for the dressings, the nibble here, the finishing off of your kids dinner, eating the crust of their sandwich from their lunchbox, finishing off your partner's chips at dinner. All of those things that we don't really think about are the extra coffee, the extra glass of juice, the three favorite chocolates that you took from the little bowl at work. All of these things which in isolation don't add up to much. But when we stack three or four of these different things across the day, each and every day, they can significantly add up and cause you to be eating more than you think you are and can mean that you're not actually in the deficit that you think you are in. So what I would do is I would track your intake for a couple of weeks. You do not need to calorie track. Right? So if you like myfitness Power or apps like that and tracking your calories, awesome, do that. If you don't like those, there's an amazing photo app called U Eight, or I think it might just be eight, as in ate. You take photos of everything that you eat. You can just do that on your phone, or you can write down or record in your notes section just with the written word what you've eaten. But you need to record everything. Every single meal and beverage that you have consumed goes in there. So you can reflect accurately on what you've consumed over the past two weeks. Say that is a really, really good exercise. If you have not done that, I strongly suggest that you do that. The next big issue that I see is that people's average calorie intake is too high. And so they're swinging back and forth between days of low calories and days of quite high calories and forgetting that it's not about what you do on one individual day, it's what we do as an average over time. And so this is typically the pattern of eating low calories during the week and eating high calories over the weekend. Right? And just to put that in context, if you are eating 1500 calories a day Monday through Friday and on the weekend, you're eating 2600 calories on Friday or Saturday, which is nowhere near as hard to do as it might sound. It's quite easy to do that if you're not careful. You're actually eating a little over 1800 calories a day. That's what it averages out to across the seven days. And so you might be tracking 1500 calories or mentally thinking that you're eating 1500 calories, but you're actually consuming a little over 1800 calories. And that could very quickly slow or stop that fat loss. So make sure that you're paying attention to what you're doing both during the week and on the weekend. I've recorded another podcast about how to approach the weekend because you don't need to make it look exactly the same as your week, but you do probably need to approach it with a bit of a plan. So make sure you go and have a listen to that one as well if you're interested. The next thing, and this is probably a podcast in its own right, to be honest, but your maintenance calories aren't what you think they are. This is particularly relevant if you've used a calculator to calculate your maintenance calories. We need to remember that these calculators are just purely an estimate. They're a scientific evidence based guess. They pull data from hundreds and thousands of people so they give you a good frame of reference. But you need to remember that they represent the average and by definition, pretty much all of us are above or below average. Okay? And so that means that if you have punched your details into a calorie calculator, and it has said that your maintenance calories are 2100, they might be 2100, but they could be 22, they could be 19, they could be 17. And so if you have taken 2100 calories as your maintenance and you've dropped down to 1700 calories as a deficit, it might be that the calculator doesn't reflect your individual requirements. So just because that has happened doesn't mean you're broken. It just means that maybe that calorie calculator, the starting point of 2100 was incorrect for you. The other thing that the calorie calculators can't really account for is your genetic variability in the way that your metabolism is going to adapt to you reducing your food metabolisms. Do adapt. It's called metabolic adaptation, thermal regulation. There's a number of different ways in which your body can reduce the amount of energy that it expends each day and so it's an analogy I use a lot with clients is imagine that you take a 15% pay cut or a 20% pay cut. It would probably suck, don't get me wrong, but hopefully you'd be able to survive. You'd have to cut back on certain costs. You maybe wouldn't go out as much. You couldn't buy the takeaway coffees, you couldn't go to the movies. But you'd get by. That's similar to what your body can do if you reduce your food by a certain percentage. And the reality is everyone's percentage is a bit different. We've seen studies where some people, they reduce their calorie intake by 20%, some people lose up to four kilos, and other people lose nothing, okay? And that's just based on everyone's genetic variability when it comes to their metabolism. So if your calorie calculator has told you 2100 and you've dropped down to 1700, it might be that your metabolism can cope with anything over 1600. So you actually need to go from 2100 to 1500 or to 1600. And so just because you've gone from 2100 to 1700 doesn't mean you're in a deficit. You're still not providing your body with less than it needs. It's been able to adjust to that. It's not going to be able to adjust forever. Similar to your pay cut, you probably couldn't survive a 50% pay cut or an 80% pay cut. I'm certainly not suggesting that you cut your food by 80%. But what I am saying is sometimes the deficit might need to be a little bit more aggressive than the calculator initially says. Not always, but sometimes, and this is a horrible not attempt at a plug, but that's why working with a nutrition professional can be helpful, because they can give you that context and they can give you a clearer answer around, is this what you're currently dealing with? The next thing that I would say is, I guess somewhat linked to your eating more than you think. You are grazing. Grazing kills so many people's goals. That's generally because you have no context around how much you've eaten. If you've grazed, if you've started snacking at 01:00 and finished at 05:00, you can't think back to I have eaten this, this, this, and this. You're sort of I've sort of eaten a bunch of things over the past few hours. I can't really remember. It impacts your ability to recall what you've eaten and it impacts your kind of appetite regulation. So you don't really feel hungry or full, so you just kind of keep snacking. So I would try extra hard to not graze where you can. So the other thing that I would do is look at are you eating big enough meals? Right? Typically if you're eating a big meal, like a proper balanced breakfast, a proper balanced lunch, maybe an intentional balanced snack in the afternoon, you don't need to graze. Grazing is often a symptom of you're not eating bigger, big enough, satisfying balanced meals. So I'm not just saying stop grazing, focus instead on getting those main meals in and keeping them balanced and you'll probably find that the grazing will take care of itself. The one other thing that I can think of off the top of my head is alcohol. It's a big one that can absolutely slow or stop people's goals. Now, I know for a lot of people it's a complex issue and you absolutely can drink alcohol and lose body fat again if you're still in that calorie deficit. But the reality is it can often be sneaky calories that we don't account for. Six glasses of wine across your week is an extra 900 calories. That is significant. Six decent IPAs across the course of your week is 900 calories. That is significant. And if you're not accounting for that elsewhere in your food, that's going to slow your progress big time. Okay? And this is we're ignoring the other effects of health that alcohol has. But like I said, you can still drink alcohol and lose body fat. But it's also, if we're not careful, one way that can kind of wipe out that deficit. If we're not careful, because we typically don't give the calories from alcohol the same attention that we do. The calories from food, like 900 calories is close to a block of chocolate. If you'd have, let's say that you had six glasses of wine across Friday, Saturday night, or you'd eaten half a block of chocolate Friday, half a block of chocolate Saturday, I feel like you'd be more aware of that amount of chocolate consumption versus that amount of wine consumption. And then the next thing is potentially you're doing both of those things. Because we know that alcohol impacts our food choices, it lowers our inhibitions, it makes us more likely to over consume things and consume certain foods. And so maybe it's the six glasses of wine that then is also leading to excess cheese and crackers or more chocolate. And this is causing your weekend calories to be higher, much, much higher than your weekday calories, which is causing your average calorie intake to be much higher than we think it is. But we're not thinking, we're not remembering the amount of cheese and wine that we grazed on. Oh man, I think I've just linked all of those points. So anyway, you can also see how all of these points don't just live in isolation, right? You can be under reporting because you are grazing, so you've forgotten what you've eaten. And then that could be causing you to over consume calories and the average across your week. So you may not be doing that every day, but you are doing it enough days that it's throwing it out. And then maybe you're having a bit too much alcohol, which is just kind of exacerbating that whole scenario.So if you felt attacked by any of those points, I love you. I say this with love, but often one or more of these points is the that's stopping people from making progress. So please have a good listen. Have a good think about it. Maybe get you know, if you've got someone close in your life that you're comfortable with, get them to listen to it and ask, like, hey, am I doing any of these things? Or alternatively, like I said, work with a health practitioner. It doesn't have to be me, but work with someone who can work through these things with you as an impartial third party, and you can get to the bottom of it. See you next time. Bye.