Top 4 Reasons You’re Not Losing Body Fat (And Keeping It Off For Good)
The vast majority of people who come to me for help are in the business of trying to optimize fat loss. They have tried “everything” but just can’t seem to figure it out.
Do I have what it takes to lose fat? Yes, you do.
What does it take to look the way I want to look? Consistency and effort over a lifetime.
What does it take to be fit and healthy for life? Consistency and effort over a lifetime.
Am I just not motivated enough? You won’t always be motivated. Motivation isn’t the key for fat loss progress.
Do I need to push harder? Nope. Probably the opposite.
Is it because of my age? Absolutely not.
These are very common questions that I get from everyday folks like you who just want to look and feel their best. There are some common reasons right out of the gate that I talk to people about that are imperative for being able to lose body fat AND keep it off for good.
Here are the 4 biggest reasons you’re not losing body fat!
1. No Tracking or Awareness Around What You’re Eating
This is number one for a very important reason. In order to lose body fat, there are a number of factors that have to be considered. Lifestyle and stress definitely have to be taken into consideration, but we’ll get to that a little more later. The very first thing that we have to consider is to be able to lose body fat, we have to be in a calorie deficit. This means we have to eat less food than we would need to maintain our current body weight. In order to know how much that is, we have to figure out what and how much we are eating in the first place.
Enter in tracking calories and macronutrients. “But Ben, you said calories… what are macronutrients and why are they important?”
Macronutrients make up the calories that we consume… these are: proteins (4 calories per gram), carbohydrates (4 calories per gram) and fats (9 calories per gram). If you’re reading this article, you’re looking for FAT LOSS, not just WEIGHT LOSS. Fat loss is what happens when you are in a slight caloric deficit, you are strength training, eating in the correct range of each macronutrient (especially protein, because it is muscle sparing) and maintaining as much lean body mass as possible. Weight loss is what happens when you restrict calories, do zero strength training to stimulate muscle growth and pay no attention to the macronutrient breakdown of the calories you’re eating.
You can eat McDonald’s every single day and still lose weight. Shoot, you can eat nothing but Twinkie’s and still lose weight (Google it, it’s true). But if you want to be healthy, strong, look good naked and have positive mood, good sex drive and energy to play with your kids – you should consider the macronutrient breakdown of the foods you’re consuming.
“So, how do I figure out the calories and macronutrient breakdown for me?” It all starts by building awareness. Typically, when clients come to me I have them do an initial “tracking period” that lasts anywhere from 7-14 days. The instructions are quite simple:
- Don’t try to impress me
- Don’t try to lose or gain weight
- Just eat how you would normally eat
This allows me find out roughly what the persons “maintenance” calories are, meaning the calories they need to eat to maintain their current body weight, how much of each macronutrient they are consuming AND the quality of food they are leaning towards.
From here, there is typically a combination of things that need to start happening. Many people are severely deficient in vital macronutrients and micronutrients that are found in food that grows and walks on the Earth. Things like protein, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin D and other vital nutrients are typically missing from people’s normal diet when they come to me. So, adding in a serving or two of veggies and fruit per day is something I suggest every client does after our initial tracking period. Food quality is very important for health and longevity, but calories are ultimately king when it comes to body fat reduction. With that being said, some people (MOST people) that come to me are not ready for calorie restriction. They simply are not ready for a diet. There are one of two things that I see:
a. After the initial tracking period, the person is only eating 1,200-1,500 calories. This is because of inaccurate tracking OR some sort of metabolic adaptation from years of fad dieting that has led to a low maintenance calorie set point.
b. The person has a very poor relationship with food – eating purely for taste or starving themselves through fasting techniques to eat calorie dense highly palatable foods.
*If a person has or has had an eating disorder, or I believe the patterns they are showing are of disordered eating, I refer them out. It is not in my scope of practice to deal with true psychological problems surrounding food.
If it is metabolic adaptation, a reverse dieting process is started. This is when we actually raise calories on a weekly basis (this varies person to person) to help “reverse” the adverse effects of the chronic low-calorie dieting. We do this slowly, so the person doesn’t gain an unhealthy amount of fat, but a little fat gain is to be expected during this process. Realizing that this is normal is a big mind game for some folks. But, if they are working with me and following one of my training programs, they will see strength and muscle gains as well that will negate the little bit of fat they gain during the process. Once they are at a healthy maintenance calorie set point, they have a good relationship with food and exercise, and they’re eating good quality foods for the majority of their diet, then we can go into a dieting phase.
The bottom line is this: if you are not aware of what and how much you are eating, you will constantly yo-yo diet and see your weight go up and down and all around. The first step in losing fat is becoming aware of your food intake
2. Poor Tracking
I touched on this briefly in the previous section but it’s so true. Once you have begun to track, you must do your best (especially from the outset) to be accurate.
What does this mean?
It means putting in some work. Unfortunately, this means weighing and measuring out food. As challenging as this can be for some people, the reality is if you want to lose body fat, and you are consistently inaccurate with your tracking, you could be off by 300-500 calories per day. In fact, there have been studies done on this with obese patients who were inaccurate with their self-reporting. Only 53% of the patients were accurate with their logging… this makes fat loss hard to come by.
The leaner you truly want to be, the tighter you have to be with weighing, measuring and tracking. But the reality is that most of you reading this just want to lose some fat, look better without clothes on and feel really damn good. So being extremely accurate ALL THE TIME, might not be as important to you. Being dogmatic about tracking can lead to a poor relationship with food as well… and that ain’t healthy. When it comes to veggies for example (leafy greens and fibrous veggies especially) you can pretty much get away with not tracking these. However, the butter or oil you use to cook them in is a completely different story. Fat has 9 calories per gram, so next time you think you have a tablespoon of peanut butter, measure it out to see EXACTLY what that looks like.
This FAQ section on James Krieger’s site is the perfect resource for someone who has just began tracking and is looking to lose fat and be healthier.
The point here is that you need to be as accurate as you can be relative to your goals. Calorie and macro tracking shouldn’t run your life, BUT it should be used properly as a tool to build awareness and help gain the clarity you need to make the best decisions for your body and overall health and wellbeing.
3. Too Much Cardio and/or Program Hopping
Let’s first start with the people who are coming in and hopping on the elliptical just mindlessly spinning your wheels. The very first thing to address is the fact that 90% of the people I talk to, can’t stand doing this anyway. They hate the fact that they feel like they have to sweat their ass off doing cardio for 45 minutes and never see any results.
Why aren’t you seeing results?
Mind numbing elliptical cardio doesn’t build muscle. If done too often it has a negative impact on metabolism (actually slowing it down) and makes it even harder to lose fat because you can’t eat as much food. Not to mention it can negatively impact hormones and make you have more cravings, worse sleep and less energy. Check out this video for more info on why too much cardio is terrible for fat loss.
Instead, you should focus on building strength and muscle through proper resistance training. Following something like my program “Strength Basics” is a damn good place to start. This program has everything you need to see optimal fat loss. No matter the program, you want something that is properly phased, has a mobility/warm-up component and is structured in a way to help you build strength, muscle and speed your metabolism. The program also has a cardio component, but if you are someone who is a beginner, I typically just recommend getting in more steps and activity in your daily life before we start doing any cardio. This is more of an intermediate program so if you’re reading this and need some guidance, click here and I’d be happy to step in and help.
The other issue I see with lack of fat loss (or weight loss and weight re-gain) is program hopping. The absolute worst thing you can do with any health and fitness goal is to hop all over the place from training program to training program, diet to diet. Finding something that is sustainable that you can do for the rest of your life is the biggest key for any goal. Consistency trumps everything. This is why we build awareness around our nutritional habits and don’t fall into the fad dieting trends. This is also why it is important to not buy into the “beast mode” “no days off” attitude towards training. This leads to burnout and working out as a method of torture and despair. Just working out to “burn calories”. Instead, find a strength training routine 3-4x per week (what fits YOUR lifestyle) and add in some daily movement. This is the formula for most of the clients I work with and they see great results AND the results last a lifetime because fitness has just become part of their daily lives.
4. Poor Lifestyle Habits
Let’s face it, going out 2-3x per week drinking and eating poor quality foods isn’t going to help your fat loss efforts. No matter how dialed in you are on the other days with your training and your nutrition, if you’re throwing it all out the window for nights of binge drinking and partying, you’ll never achieve the body you want, and you probably will have some health issues down the line – including a poor relationship with food and alcohol. These nights will throw you over your caloric maintenance for the week and is a sure-fire way to negate the effort you’ve put in on other days.
Oh, and did I mention sleep? Just ONE NIGHT of poor sleep can impair insulin sensitivity. When your body has to produce more insulin, you are at risk for type II diabetes along with many other health concerns. Not to mention one night of poor sleep leads to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. I think it goes without saying that sleep is imperative not only for fat loss, but for health and longevity. Everything works synergistically, and if you aren’t sleeping you aren’t going to be healthy. Period.
So, can I go out with my friends, drink alcohol, and lose fat?
Sure. In moderation. You can have anything you want really (remember, calories in vs. calories out). The message I want to portray is to always keep health in mind. Without health, you won’t have sustainable fat loss.
And if you are hanging around people who are judging you because of your decisions to drink less, eat less poor-quality food, exercise, sleep more and better – maybe it’s time to evaluate who you’re surrounding yourself with. And that’s on you. It isn’t my place or anyone else’s to tell you how to live your life. If you’re reading this, you’re probably an adult. This means you can make your own decisions. But you have to own your health. Whether it is great, poor or somewhere in between.
“A ship is designed to take you places. So, if your friendship, partnership, companionship or relationship isn’t taking you anywhere… abandon ship!”
For lifestyle habits for fat loss, I’ll simplify into a few bullets:
- Aim for 7-8 hours of QUALITY sleep per night – not waking up in the middle of the night 5 times, sleeping all the way through
- Surround yourself with people who are supportive of your goals
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Limit processed foods – don’t have “trigger foods” (foods you know you’ll mindlessly consume) in the house
- Drink plenty of water – and MOSTLY water
- Make sure to de-stress and take time to do things you enjoy
- Strength train 3-5x per week
- Aim to get around 8-10k steps per day – MOVE YOUR DAMN BODY
Well, there it is. The 4 most common reasons that people aren’t losing body fat. If you implement anything from this article, tag me on Instagram and let me know how this article has helped your fat loss progress in any way!
If you want my help individually, shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org so I can help you reach your fitness and health goals!