You or people you know have tried to lose some weight and cut some fat before — OR they actually did but gained it right back. The numbers paint an obvious picture, you or people you know have tried and it hasn’t worked.
I never want to hide the fact I know how confusing the fitness industry is. I know the stuff hitting your eyes most often is probably garbage. And I know regardless of how intelligent you are, the messages you’ve repeatedly taken in about diet and exercise throughout your life has shaped certain opinions. Consciously or unconsciously.
There’s plenty of reasons your dieting efforts – or the one’s of those around you – have failed before. Today, I’ll dig into as many of them as I can think of.
1. You Aren’t Eating Less Calories Than You Burn
*drops the mic*
You know what, I actually do think there’d be at least some value to ditching the entire article right there.
My bet is there’s a massive portion of dieting failures out there involving a person convinced they did everything right to burn more calories than they ate, but didn’t see the result they wanted – then gave up and started looking for other answers. Or thought there were NO answer.
The only way you can consistently see weight drop is to eat less calories than you burn.
If you didn’t lose weight, you didn’t do this. Even if you’re convinced you did, you still didn’t. That’s okay, most people who got weight loss and nutrition right failed several times before they got it. You got it wrong before?
You’re on the right path, just try again.
For the rest of the article, I’m going to give you as many possible reasons why it didn’t work (or it’s not working). And if you have questions, reach out.
2. You’re leaving too many trigger foods in the house
I don’t keep chips, cookies, highly processed foods in the house – rarely at least. I almost never even have salted nuts just because I know the temptation to grab at them every time I pass is there. And nuts can be a troublesome food for those looking to get a handle on their weight.
Hell, I don’t even keep a box of protein bars in the house because I have tendency to eat more than 2 at a time.
If you find you can’t help but eat the snack food sitting in your cupboard and it’s getting in the way of you feeling good and dropping some weight, get rid of it. And don’t feel like it’s a loss on your part not be able to handle having that stuff in the house, it’s more a demonstration of self-awareness. Gotta be self-aware.
There was, after all, a time in the world where a lot of these foods weren’t available. And even further, there was a time in the world any food you ate had to be found.
Make calorie dense foods, snacks, and highly processed stuff harder to get to. Keep it off the grocery list if you need too.
3. You’re eating out too much
You definitely can eat out on a daily basis and be perfectly healthy, control your weight and lose as much of it as you want, but you’ll probably have to dial back at other times during the day. Some people do this naturally, but others get to Friday night having eaten a normal days worth of food only to take on another 2000+ calories with a shared appetizer, a meal, and a couple drinks.
Only a couple drinks? Maybe on a boring night 😉
Most restaurant main courses come in around 800-1200 cals and I imagine the homemade comparable is always at least 200-400 calories less. The differences short-term are minor, but if you’re holding an extra 5, 10, or 15 pounds and you’ve been eating out 3 or 4 times a week or more for years, it may be a good place to look.
Couple things you can do:
- Go with salad over fries or other calorie heavy fries – ask for half the dressing.
- Generally opt for stuff that isn’t pasta or filled with cheese
- Prepare more meals from home so you don’t have to eat out as much
- Prepare in advance. Eat less otherwise on days you know you’ll be taking in significant calories. I tend to eat quite a bit less on Friday and Saturdays during the day because I always know something could come up at night.
- Consider not finishing the meal. Yes, there are kids starving in Africa, but we know that meal is heading straight to the garbage. Over-consuming food isn’t exactly compassionate to starving kids either, so if you’re trying to control your weight, I wouldn’t worry about leaving some food on the plate.
Eat out, just know it’s more calories than it looks like.
4. You forget
People do quit diets because they think it should be working and it isn’t.
Main reason? They forget.
Not my opinion either, people are proven to be poor at estimating how much they ate.
Even for me, I just weighed in at 195 this morning (it’s Wednesday), which is the lowest I’ve seen so far – but I saw it about 6-7 days ago. I feel like I should’ve probably seen lower by now. The last 3 days I’ve done everything right, so what gives?
Friday night out late with a client, drinks, capped with poutine. A 3000+ calorie day.
Saturday night, I leave the bookstore to head home to have a quiet night. I get a random call about a birthday party, it happens to be on my way home. Out late, snacks, drinks. Probably another 3000+ calorie day.
We tend to have short memories when forcing changes. But if you’re not seeing the results you want, trust me, there’s an answer if you look for it. My math teachers always told me math wasn’t stupid, there’s always an answer – I just hadn’t gotten it yet.
5. You think all you have to do is “eat healthier”.
First off, for some “eating healthier” will lead to weight loss because it leads to eating less calories. It’s not always the case though.
Nuts, healthy oils (like olive oil) and dried fruits all have health benefits but can be troublesome foods if you’re looking to get a handle on your weight and lose fat. Why?
They’re calorie dense.
And even worse, you’ve been led to believe the health claims on foods that come in bags and boxes like “low sugar”, “high fiber”, “low fat”, “low calorie”, “non-GMO” and “NOW WITH OMEGA 3”. Honestly, in most, if not all cases, a food company needs to convince you their food is healthy, it’s probably something bare of nutrients and calorie dense. And it won’t keep you full.
You can definitely eat these foods, do whatever you want with your weight, and lose as much fat as you want. You’ll just have to be careful to control how much, the examples I listed above add up.
In some cases, they provide nutritional value. In others, they don’t (or barely do), despite claims. In all cases the calories tend to add up before you’ve had enough.
Definitely eat healthy, but it’s how much of any food in the end.
6. You’re missing the big picture
It’s the whole thing.
You might beat yourself up because you overate on a Saturday, but it’s the week that matters more.
You get kinda stressed because you’re traveling for work (or pleasure) for a week with no gym and chances are you won’t eat well. It’s the whole month that matters more.
Your life got fuckin crazy in February, your job was crazy stressful or you had a break up. Maybe you got sick – or maybe someone close to you did. Or it was just a shitty month in general. It’s the whole year that matters more.
Start thinking about how your decisions add up and not focusing so much on individual moments. Don’t focus on the specific exercise you see someone fit doing, or the specific food they eat. It’s what they did over time and collectively that mattered most.
Big picture. Be patient. Build a body of work.
(No pun intended, but that’s a good one)
7. You beat yourself up
I capped Saturday night off with 12 inch from Subway after 5 drinks that weren’t planned at all.
Brush yourself off and get back to habits (or building habits).
Get really good at bouncing back to a better normal.
Be nicer to yourself. It’s normal to have a slice of cake at a birthday party. And if it was that good, it’s normal to have another.
You can get away with a lot more than you think – as long as you don’t beat yourself into turning a speed bump worth of pizza and cake into a mountain of poor choices after the fact.
8. You don’t have structure
One of my best friends calls me every now and then to throw around ideas on what he’s doing for fitness. Not long ago, he was heading away to Spain and wanted to get leaner, he’s already like “in shape” but wanted a little more tone.
I suggested he count calories but he wasn’t having it. So I asked him what his grocery list looks like, what his meals are, yadda yadda yadda. The guy’s day-to-day eating habits could be strung off in a few minutes. His grocery list is filled with quality proteins, vegetables, fruits and otherwise mostly whole foods. He eats a lot of the same things daily and, admittedly, lets loose a bit on the weekends.
Sometimes more than a bit, I bet.
“Keep doing that. And that. Drop the snack. Clean up your weekends a little more”.
In 8 weeks he dropped about 10 pounds and he went from lean to leaner.
The structure, the grocery list. Those simple meals he makes around protein and vegetables and clean foods otherwise. That’s why he was lean to begin with (he wasn’t always that way).
And that’s why making a change on a whim was that easy.
Build some structure. Put the right foods on your grocery list. Know that people that eat a lot of the same foods do better. Find a way to make healthy meals (with lots of protein) meals you look forward to.
Proper eating habits are boring. But it really helps. And boring doesn’t mean bland – make good food.
9. You’re too focused on tricks and not enough on strategies
Can’t eat passed 8pm. No carbs. This supplement. Or that supplement. Special workout programs.
You need to focus on strategies. Here’s a few:
Meal Prep (it ain’t just for the hardcores):
It’s just smart to package some time on a Sunday and make 5-7 meals that cover the hardest meal for you to get right. And if you wanna cover the two hardest ones for the week, go for it.
Meal prep’s a bit of a drag because you may have to take an extra hour on a lazy Sunday, but it’s always worth it when you have tasty lunches ready to go in the fridge already made throughout the week.
Admittedly, I rarely meal prep. But if needed tastier meals and wasn’t pretty good at making most of my meals under 10 minutes I would be. But when I do…
It’s always worth it.
I’ll tell ya, I eat very very little during the day on Friday and Saturdays. It’s not punishment or anything. And it doesn’t come near starvation. It usually just feels like an empty stomach. If I get that hungry, I’ll try and make I eat something protein-based.
Why do I eat less?
Because I know that chances are high that I can take in anywhere from 2000-4000 calories between 6pm and 2am on any weekend night. The fact that I often get to 6pm taking in 600 calories or less can keep me right on track. Or it significantly minimizes damage.
Know yourself and plan accordingly.
I don’t know if this is really a strategy but with 2 scoops of protein, the option of greek yogurt, you can get anywhere from 40-60 grams of protein in a delicious shake that takes about 2-3 minutes to make. And it’s portable.
Throw whatever fruits in there. Consider some vegetables blended as well. And in limited amounts, flax and chia seed, coconut oil, nuts, and whatever else can work in for some added nutrition.
Strategize to make it easier. Because it isn’t easy.
10. You bend way too often
If you’ve ever tried to diet some weight off or make a lifestyle change, your friends all know. You pass on the extra drink – or don’t drink at all. Or you don’t want to order pizza. Whatever it is.
“Come on just this once”. Your friend asks you to bend just this once.
Your friend doesn’t care that you were served a heavy pasta at a work lunch yesterday that you chose to eat all of. Your friend doesn’t know you and your significant other ordered tacos the other night and had a few extra.
If “just this once” becomes just this 4th time this week, don’t expect much to happen. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but you know the opportunities to get pizza and drinks and whatever else will come, often enough, more than just twice a week.
Either get really good at #9 or accept bending too often is how you slowly add 10-20 pounds over a year or two. Or get to the end of the month feeling like you made an effort – and you actually did! – but nothing happened.
Definitely know how to bend. But have some limits too. And make your own decisions.
11. Your environment
Last summer, I made several trips up North to native reserves in Quebec running sports clinics. In most cases, the grocery store was half an hour away and the only place to get food was the canteen at the hockey rink. Fries, poutine, hotdogs – that sort of stuff.
I went down there for a week and came back 7 pounds heavier. And obesity was clearly an issue in these parts.
That’s a pretty extreme example but I hope the point it makes is it doesn’t really matter how much you know if you’re living in a sea of fries and gravy with little alternatives nearby.
If everyone you hang around is overweight, chances are you’ll be on your way. If your significant other orders takeout 4 days a week, chances are you’ll be along for the ride. If all your friends do on the weekends is binge drink and eat nachos, you probably will too.
And, on a much simpler level, sometimes people lose or gain weight after they move. It may even be a move in the same neighbourhood or city. The difference? Did they get closer or farther from the fast food restaurants. Sometime’s it’s that easy.
Sometimes environment is the hardest to change. Get new friends? Try and change your partner — or break up? Yikes.
But you know what, if this stuff is that important to you, and a serious conversation with someone who may be making it harder (or impossible) doesn’t result in anything, how much do you need these people?
Audit your environment and try and make it “healthier”. And if it’s people making it harder? Communicate.
A lot of the times it’s what’s around you that’s making it hard.
12. You’re always tired and stressed
Research is pretty clear, in these states, people eat more.
You’re not gonna have much success cutting fat and working at solid eating habits if you’re sleeping 5 hours a night. And if you’re life is so stressful you’re constantly overwhelmed and out of order than it’s just gonna flat out be a lot harder.
You may have to give your life a look here. Is there too much clutter in your life? Too much TV? Not enough organization or planning in general?
Like, do you actually need all that shit.
I always find a few minutes of meditation can sort out my day if my mind is tangled. I prioritize sleep. At the moment, I don’t own a TV and aside from my hockey team, I’m not even sure what I’d watch.
Periods of fatigue and stress are normal. Life definitely does happen and it makes progress and change harder. But chronic fatigue and stress needs to be dealt with.
Take a look at your life, what can you subtract? And learn to slow down and breathe.
13. You smoke pot
Ever had the munchies?
But seriously, have you? Could cause problems.
14. You’re too fixated on the exercise part
The exercise matters. Having a smart program you follow, which allows you to maintain strength is gonna be key in making sure the metabolism gets pushed in the right direction on top of making sure the muscle stays – on top of all the other benefits. But if you’re having trouble getting rid of the fat, I’d bet it’s the food.
The exercise is important. The food is importanter.
15. You’re flip floppin’, program hoppin’.
The endless amount of fitness information out there is enough to confuse the hell out of anyone. There’s enough information out there, much of it conflicting – and it’s often backed by “experts” – to confuse even savvy fitness and health professionals.
And then there’s your friends and family weighing in.
And all of a sudden a plan that may have worked because it got these things right is over with because someone or something convinced you there was a better way.
The best way is sticking to the plan. (hint: that link tells you what you need to get right – you choose how)
16. You’re still ignoring #1
In the end, that’s what matters.
Get more comfortable with having an empty stomach. And avoid overeating when you eat.
And if that’s too unclear – count em.
17. You’re too rigid.
The research is really clear on it: really strict dieting just doesn’t work well. It’s pretty easy to see why – your life probably doesn’t allow for 100% perfect eating. You’re on the move, your family and friends like to go to restaurants and drink on the weekend and work functions take you into buffets or catering. You’re pressured to just eat what’s given to you, eat like everyone else, and dammit some of it tastes so good you end up eating too much.
And for god sakes, maybe you just like chocolate or a bag a chips.
It’s not really the problem.
In the end, it’s how much you eat from these foods that matters. And yeah, processed foods and items typically known as “unhealthy” are usually easier to overeat – partly because of taste but partly because they’re dense with calories.
You have to acknowledge your needs as far as food goes – while acknowledging reality. Work those into the plan.
18. You think losing fat is a magic trick
I say this a little tongue-in-cheek. Like, I’m kiiinda joking – but kinda not.
With all the special creams, tricks and diets marketed out there I think it’d only be natural for you to think there’s some sort of magic to getting leaner. I see it in some cases when I’ve given clients calorie numbers – they treat those numbers like they’re special.
They treat those numbers like I actually have access to some sort of special calculator.
I don’t. The calculation I make is a simple multiplication the average 3rd grader could make. I may take into account a few other things like how fast they want it to happen, the actual skill of the client, how lean they are, and height (a shorter person will go lower than a tall one). But the calculation, *if *I give them calorie numbers, is simple.
Whatever numbers I come up with is just meant to guide the client into a calorie deficit.
Avoid thinking it’s this complex and tricky thing. Losing fat is a simple process, it’s kinda boring. Doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it only gets easier.
If you’re having trouble changing eating habits or dropping weight – regardless of what stage of the process you’re in, I’d be bet one or more of the above is at play. If you have any questions you’re always welcome to reach out HERE, HERE, or HERE.