8 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Fat in a Calorie Deficit

Remember last year when I wrote this telling you the reason you weren’t losing fat was that you’re eating too damn much (even when you don’t think you are), and most of you were like:

Some were like:

And there were some of these:


Yeah?

Well, sometimes you can be eating in a calorie deficit and still not be losing fat.

But, wait, you said…

Yes, I know what I said. In that article, I was discussing the calories in half of the equation. But there’s also a calorie out half.

This is where it gets a bit tricky – 5000ish words worth of tricky to be exact. See, while the calories in are pretty simple: you eat food. The calories out is a bit more complicated and multifaceted.

Your body is pretty good at regulating your body weight, and while it’s ok with you getting fat, it doesn’t take too well to you losing fat. This is why even when you’re being diligent with your calorie deficit, you may find your fat loss has come to a standstill.

Don’t worry though, I got you. Here are 8 reasons you’re not losing fat even when eating in a calorie deficit.


Not Being Patient

Let me share with you a conversation I have all the time.


So, yeah. I have that conversation pretty much all the time. And it’s one of the biggest reasons why so many people don’t make any progress: a lack of patience.

This is why.

When you first start your fat loss diet you see fast results and are super motivated. These initial results give you a false sense of what the process will actually be like. Soon, progress slows down as you enter what I call “The Suck”: that period of time where you’re doing everything right but still no progress is, seemingly, being made.

This is where you freak out and have a similar conversation to the one above. And then you give up because you’re an asshole who doesn’t believe me when I tell you that you need to give it more time.

If you had given it time, this is what would’ve happened.

That’s right, progress.

Solution:

You can’t force fat loss. The only thing you can do is coax your body to drop fat by eating in calorie deficit and training. SO. Firstly:

Calm the fuck down and be patient. You didn’t get out of shape in a week, you’re not getting in shape in a week. The people who have this “fast fat loss” mentality are also the ones who tend to gain it back after the diet ends, or quit entirely after a few weeks. Not because aggressive dieting doesn’t work, but because this mentality encourages the use of fad diets that, a) won’t be sustainable in the long term, and b) doesn’t help you build the habits that allow you to maintain the loss in the long run.


Now that’s out the way, the second thing we should probably discuss is how fast you should be expecting to lose fat. This depends on how much fat you have to lose. The higher your starting levels of body fat, the faster you can expect to lose; conversely, the leaner you start, a slower rate of loss will be best to minimise muscle and strength loss.

With that in mind: set fat loss targets between 0.5 – 1% of your total bodyweight per week. The benefit of using percentages is the rate of loss automatically scales with your body weight.

For example, Someone who weighs 250 lbs can expect to lose~1.25 -2.5lbs per week. Conversely, someone who weighs 160 lbs, will aim to lose ~0.8 – 1.6lbs per week.

1bComparing Your Progress to Others

This leads to the previous point. And it’s when you do this.

Look. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you shouldn’t compare your progress to others because we all do it. Just know the more you look at other people and what they’re doing, the more likely you are to jump from programme to programme; diet to diet and never make any progress of your own.

You don’t know what someone else’s circumstances are. Maybe they’re genetically superior, and regardless of what they do they get results; maybe they’re on drugs; maybe they’ve been training every day for the past twenty years.

Solution:

Seek out advice and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to try things, but, ultimately, you need to pick something and give it time – remember that whole thing about patience? focus on what you’re doing and not what everyone else is.


Metabolic Adaptation

A major reason people’s fat loss comes to a halt even when eating in a calorie deficit is simply due to the adaptive component of the metabolism. While we refer to the metabolism as one entity, it consists of four separate components: BMR, NEAT, EAT, and TEF.

  • BMR: As you’re sat reading this there are a bunch of chemical processes occurring inside of you like, your brain using calories to process this article, your eyes flicking from the phone screen to the pretty girl sat opposite, simultaneously making your heart beat faster as she stares back. Believe it or not, all of this stuff burns calories and is your BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate. BMR makes up the chunk of your metabolism and accounts for around 60-70% in most people.

  • NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is all the activity that isn’t intentional exercise; fidgeting, walking, playing with your dog, etc. NEAT accounts for around 30% of total energy expenditure, but can be higher for certain people depending on how intensive their job is.

  • EAT: Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is intentional exercise. Depending on what sort of exercises you perform, the number of calories you burn can vary. For example, strength training would burn fewer calories than an hour of running. EAT accounts for around 10-15% of calorie expenditure for most people, which is why it’s almost impossible to out-train your diet.

  • TEF: Thermic Effect of Food is the number of calories you burn digesting food. Even though TEF accounts for only 5-10%, it still factors into energy expenditure.

Fat loss impacts each of these to some degree.

1. BMR: A smaller body burns fewer calories

Your BMR is dictated by your size: the bigger you are (weight, height, muscle, body fat, etc.), the higher your base calorie needs, conversely, the lighter you are the lower your calorie needs. This is why, on average, men require more calories than women.

As you lose fat and become leaner, you’re decreasing your body size and resultantly your calorie needs also decrease.

Solution:

You need to make adjustments to your calorie intake. This sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.

Firstly: you need data to track changes.

  • Weigh yourself daily, in the morning, after using the bathroom and before eating breakfast.

This will give you your most accurate weight. After you have a week’s worth of data, find the average weigh-in for the week. Like so: you weigh yourself every day for seven days:

Mon – 79.8kg

Tues – 79.2kg

Wed – 79kg

Thurs – 78.9kg

Fri – 78.9kg

Sat – 78.2kg

Sun – 79.5kg

The average weigh-in for the week is around 79.2kg

Why the weekly average?

Your weight will fluctuate day to day depending on a host of different factors as per the example below

Average weight week 1 - 91.2kg

Average weight week 2 - 90.5kg

Average weight week 3 - 90.1kg


The example above shows three weeks worth of the weekly averages. There will always be day-to-day fluctuations in weight, but also note that weekly averages should go down week on week. This is why it’s important to keep track of your weekly averages over time because they provide a much better picture of how your weight is trending.

  • Measurements.

Weigh-ins are only one piece of the puzzle and, as I illustrated above, are going to fluctuate. Thus, not always an accurate reflection of weight loss. Keeping track of your body measurements will help give you something to compare your weigh-ins to and help you decide if you should adjust or not. Take measurements once per week, under the same conditions as the weigh-in (in the morning, after using the bathroom and before eating breakfast).

  • Progress Photos

Keeping weekly progress photos will also provide objective data for you to base changes on. See this for how to take progress photos.

Secondly: On starting your diet don’t make any adjustments for the first 4 weeks.

The body takes some time to ‘catch up’ to the deficit. Waiting 4 weeks when you first set the deficit will allow enough time for you to really gauge what’s happening.

Alright. Let’s assume you’ve done all of the above, you’ve set the deficit, waited 4 weeks, and fat loss really has come to a halt. How do you make the adjustment?

Easy: Reduce calorie intake by 5-10%.

So, if you’re starting calorie intake was 2500 calories, you’d reduce this by 125-250 calories.

Where should the adjustments come from?

This is where people get confused: should you cut carbs, fats, or protein?

  • Don’t touch protein intake or you’ll die. Ok, you won’t but, seriously, leave protein as it is.

Carbs or fats?

This is going to be your call. But here are some suggestions:

  • If you’re following a higher carb diet, reduce carb intake. This reduction would be anywhere between 30 to 60 grams of carbs (1 gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories. 125/4 = 30, 250/4 = 60)

  • If you’re following a higher fat or Ketogenic diet, reduce fat intake. There are 9 calories in a gram of fat, so the reduction would be anywhere between 13 to 27 grams of fat.

  • If you are following a higher carb diet, don’t let your fat intake drop below 15% of total calories. Because of health.

After your first adjustment, keep an eye on your weekly average weight, measurements, and progress photos. Wait 2-3 weeks, If things look like they’re stalling, make another 5-10% reduction.

2. NEAT: People expend less energy

The second part of the metabolism that takes a hit with the length of the deficit is NEAT.

Quick aside: Note I’ve written ‘the length of the deficit’ and not ‘calorie intake’. Many people believe that low calories will affect their strength and energy, this is only true when you combine low-calorie intake with long periods of time.

Simply: people begin to move around less. Not surprising considering low calories will, inevitably, lead to decreased energy and increased lethargy, which leads to massive reductions in the number of calories expended.

Solution: