I’ve heard it time and time again: “I’m doing all of the right things but I just cannot seem to lose weight in a calorie deficit.”
I get it. I’ve been there and it’s frustrating as hell. What gives? Is your metabolism too slow? Your hormones broken? Should your calories be lower? Are you not working out enough?
Why the heck are you not losing weight in a calorie deficit.
In this article I’m going to break down exactly why you’re not losing weight in a calorie deficit and how to fix it.
Before we continue it’s important to clarify one really important point….If you’re not losing weight in a calorie deficit it’s because you’re not really in a calorie deficit.
Before you click out of this article in total frustration, hear me out. Energy balance is science. If you’re eating less than your body burns during the day(aka a calorie deficit) you will lose fat. If you eat more than your body burns throughout the day you will gain weight(a calorie surplus).
It is not possible to not lose weight while you’re in a calorie deficit. This may be frustrating to hear but it’s actually good news! It means if we can identify why you might not be in a calorie deficit and how we can get you into one and finally see the results you’ve been looking for.
So let's dive in.
Why Am I not losing weight in a calorie deficit: You’re focusing on eating healthy foods but not portion sizes.
At the end of the day healthy foods have calories too. Many of you might feel like you’re doing all the right things and eating all of the “right” foods. But if your portion sizes aren’t on point, none of that matters. In fact, some healthy foods can actually be pretty high in calories.
For example: Those acai bowls that are branded as a really healthy breakfast option are often 600-900 calories a bowl. Which for some of you, might be about half of your daily calorie target. It may be “healthy” but it can also easily put you over your calorie deficit calories for the day.
How to fix this? Try counting calories for 3 days. Use a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal and write down every single thing you eat & drink over the next 3 days. Everything! Even the little handfuls of foods, oils you cook with and kombucha’s you drink.
Once these 3 days are up you should have a pretty clear understanding and picture of if you’re actually in a calorie deficit or not.
Now let me be clear: I’m not telling you not to eat healthy or higher calorie foods like acai bowls, avocado, nuts, etc. But it is important to be aware of(and mindful of) portion sizes of ALL foods.
Having awareness of how many calories you’re eating during the day is the only way to know for sure if you are or aren’t in a calorie deficit.
Another reason you’re not losing weight even though you think you’re in a calorie deficit: You’re trying to control weight loss through your workouts
I’ve been there too. I used to be a cardio queen. I thought that if I just worked out enough I could eat whatever the heck I wanted. I saw how many calories I was burning during a really good HIIT workout class and figured I HAD to be in a calorie deficit.
I was royally effing up my progress by doing this.
Truth is: the calories we burn through exercise are a very small % of our total calories burned throughout the day(typically less than 5-10%). MOST of the calories your body burns throughout the day comes from your BMR. Aka just living and existing as a human. Things like blinking, your heart pumping blood, your eyes reading this page, and so on.
Because of this, it can be pretty dang difficult to increase your body's total number of calories burned. And if you can’t really control how much your body burns during the day then we can’t really control being in a calorie deficit through workouts.
Nutrition matters at the end of the day. Period. That means the old adage is true. You can’t out train a bad diet.
Why you’re not losing weight in a calorie deficit: You’re not tracking your consistency….especially the weekends.
This is a conversation that happens in my DMs almost daily:
“I’m eating 1200 calories/day but I’m not losing any weight.” - Woman in my DMs
“How consistent have you been?” - Me
“No really I’m hardly eating anything and I just cannot get the scale to go down.” -DM Woman
“How many days have you been consistent in hitting your calories?” - Me
“Like so many, I’m SUPER consistent.” - DM Women
“Ok! But how many exact days? Are you tracking your consistency?” - Me
I get it. Tracking consistency and doing the same things over and over again on repeat isn’t sexy. But tracking your consistency is the only way to know for sure with full certainty that you’re actually being consistent enough to hit your goals.
We’re human. And as a human, of course you’re going to remember all the days that you ate the salad and hit your calories and things felt really hard. You’re probably also going to forget about all the days you said screw it, ate takeout for every meal and had multiple glasses of wine.
This is normal. But…it could be why you’re not losing weight.
In order to make sure you don’t forget and are extremely honest during this process….you need to track consistency.
How to do it:
Get out a calendar. Everyday you hit your calories, give yourself an X. Everyday you don’t hit your calories, leave it blank. At the end of a 30 day month you should only have 6 blank spaces. That’s 80% consistency for the month.
You need to be 80%(or more!) consistent in order to lose weight in a calorie deficit. If you’re not being 80% or more consistent…you won’t actually be in a calorie deficit enough to make progress. Even if you feel like you are.
Another reason why you aren’t losing weight in a calorie deficit: You’re not tracking accurately(not weighing your food, forgetting about bites, licks. tastes).
Ok so you’re hitting your calories AND doing so consistently according to your tracking but you’re STILL not losing weight? Wtf gives?!
Take a closer look at how you’re tracking.
-Are you weighing out your food on a food scale in grams as often as you can?
-Are you tracking all of the sauces, oils & butters you’re using?
-Are you remembering that extra handful of chips you had? The chicken finger off your kids plate? That extra little bit of wine you poured?
These may seem like small things but over the course of a week…they really add up.
This is why it’s very important to make sure you’re tracking as accurately & diligently as possible, especially if you’re feeling stuck in your weight loss journey.
Will this feel harder than just half a*ssed tracking? Yes.
But you know what else is really hard? Constantly spinning your wheels wondering why the heck you aren’t making any progress. Feeling “stuck” and not sure what the solution is.
So instead…stop feeling so stuck. Change the narrative. Do the hard work and put in the little bit of extra effort to make sure you are still making progress towards your goals.
Why you’re not losing weight in a calorie deficit: You’ve reached a plateau
If you’re doing all of the above correctly, you’re months into your weight loss journey, and at one point you WERE seeing phenomenal weight loss progress…it’s possible you’ve reached a plateau.
Over time your body will adjust to the level of calories you’ve been eating and you may need to lower your calories just slightly to remain in a deficit.
(If you want more info on how to know for sure if you’re in a plateau, check out this podcast episode.)
If you find yourself in a plateau try lowering your calories by 200-300 calories a day to start. This will get you out of a plateau and back into making weight loss progress again.
The final reason you aren’t losing weight in a calorie deficit: You’re gaining muscle and/or recomping.
If the ONLY way you’re measuring progress is through the scale, you may not be seeing all the fat you’re actually losing.
Fat loss & weight loss are 2 different things. Fat loss only comes from losing fat vs your total weight is comprised of fat, muscle & water(lots of water). So if you swear up and down you’re doing all of the above correctly it’s very possible you ARE losing fat…the scale just isn’t showing it.
Make sure you’re measuring progress in other ways besides the scale. Take measurements of your waist, hips, quads, chest & arms every 2 weeks. Take progress photos from the front, side & back every 4 weeks.
Measurements & progress photos will help you see if you’re losing fat even if the scale isn’t budging.
Remember, muscle takes up space in your body as well. I’ve worked with many online coaching clients who hardly see any scale movement BUT their body looks drastically different. They lose fat & gain muscle which makes the weight on the scale even out. They still lost a lot of fat in a calorie deficit, it’s just not weight loss.
Now if you’ve gone through this whole list and still none of these seem right…it’s possible you have an underlying health condition that is impacting your weight loss. Talk with your Dr about getting bloodwork done so you can confirm(or rule out!) any underlying conditions like a hormone imbalance or thyroid condition.
I hope this helped you understand why you may not be losing fat and gave you some actionable next steps to take. If you’ve got questions on any of the above please send me an email or a DM. My inbox is always open!
If you are still confused as to what you’re doing wrong let me take all of the guesswork out of this for you. In my 1:1 coaching program I’ll create a personalized nutrition & workout plan to ensure you’re doing the right thing to see results and never have to second guess if what you’re doing is really working.