Weight loss can sometimes be very elusive, even for a foodist. You already know that dieting will never give you the long term results you want, so you focus on eating real food and going to the gym.
So why are you still overweight?
There could be any number of reasons you aren’t reaching your goals and the best way to troubleshoot is to tackle it like a scientist. Generate a hypothesis, collect data on yourself, and test different solutions until you find what works, because the answer will be slightly different for everyone.
The good news is that there are several common (but easily overlooked) mistakes that may be holding you back. Start here and your issues may resolve more easily than you think.
Whatever you do, resist the temptation to go back to restrictive dieting, which makes it harder––not easier––to achieve your goals.
10 Reasons You Still Aren’t Losing Weight
1. You’re still sedentary
This one has been difficult for me in the past, despite the fact that I’ve been working out regularly since I was 12 years old. If your job involves sitting at a desk or using a computer all day, chances are that even if you go to the gym daily you are still leading a sedentary life.
Solution: Use a pedometer
Fortunately the solution doesn’t require more gym time, just a bit more standing and walking. Making sure that you reach 10,000 steps per day is a simple way to burn more calories without noticing. Track your activity with a pedometer like a Fitbit to be sure you’re hitting your daily goal.
2. You’re misjudging your portion sizes
Humans, especially dieters, are notorious for misjudging portion sizes––specifically large portion sizes. Research has shown that while we are decent at judging the calories in smaller dishes, we vastly underestimate the number of calories in larger portions and as a result overeat much more than we realize.
Solution: Keep a food journal
With practice you can get better at judging portion sizes. Even if you think you know how much you are eating take two weeks to track your food intake with a food journal and measure out and document your portion sizes. While I don’t recommend keeping this up forever (life is too short to be so neurotic), it is a great way to recalibrate your expectations of what appropriate portion sizes should look like.
Most of us can feel completely satisfied eating 20% less food, and some of us can eat less than even that without noticing. Using smaller plates can help as well, but with the huge portions of food most of us are served outside the home it is better to get good at judging portions without relying on your personal dishware.
3. You aren’t tracking your habits
Despite our best intentions, it is surprisingly difficult for us to be honest with ourselves about our behaviors. You may believe you don’t eat much bread every week, cook nutritious and diverse foods at home on a regular basis, and stick to a reasonable number of cocktails when you go out on weekends, but it is easier than you think to slip into a rut and neglect your home court habits for days or even weeks on end.
Solution: Use the Lift app
The more I track my habits using the Lift app, the more I realize how fluid my regular habits can be. What is scary is that even though I am well aware of how important habits are to my health, without regular tracking I would honestly have no idea how my habits evolve and wouldn’t be able to adjust as rapidly when mindlessness gets the better of me.
What’s nice about Lift is that it doesn’t feel obsessive, like calorie counting or portion measuring. I’ve created dozens of interesting habits I try to maintain in my healthstyle including trying new foods, eating fermented foods, meditation and shopping at the farmers market. Simply checking them off my list each day has been an incredibly powerful way to stay on track. Lift has also made me more mindful of healthy habits I didn’t realize I have and wish to continue to cultivate. Why is it so easy for me to forget that mushrooms are awesome? Turns out there’s an app for that.
4. You’re insulin resistant
If you have more than 20 pounds to lose and have not had much success despite eating relatively healthfully, you may have some degree of insulin resistance or even metabolic syndrome. When you are insulin resistant your body is more inclined to store the calories you eat as fat rather than burn them as fuel. This means you can gain weight eating types and amounts of food that a person with a healthy metabolism could eat without consequence. Such a bummer.
Solution: Try the foodist recalibration
Fortunately, insulin resistance can usually be improved with a low-carbohydrate diet and exercise. Though I do not recommend restrictive dieting as a long term solution for weight control, the temporary foodist recalibration for 2-8 weeks can help restore insulin sensitivity and improve metabolism. I’ve even created a special group in the Lift app to help. For the full explanation of the recalibration and how to transition to life-long weight maintenance check out my book, Foodist.
5. You’re working out too much
Back in the day before I became a foodist, I had a serious working out problem. I’d wake up at 5am every school day and go to they gym for two hours before heading to class, then I’d spend countless hours on “long runs” every weekend trying to burn more calories. The problem is that while exercise definitely improves health, it also promotes hunger. Too much exercise can therefore be a barrier to weight loss for some people, because it makes it nearly impossible to control your appetite.
Solution: Chill out
I absolutely recommend making time for exercise, even formal gym time and weight training, as part of your regular healthstyle. However, if exercise is taking up a huge amount of your time and you still aren’t losing weight, try chilling out a bit and focusing more on walking 10-15K steps per day rather than spending more time in the gym. I imagine you will enjoy it.
6. You don’t chew
Practicing mindful eating is still the best way I’ve found to slow down, eat less, and enjoy my food more. The problem is that it’s really hard to do. One way to address this issue is to focus on something concrete that forces you to pay attention to the food in your mouth. This is where chewing can help.
Solution: Count your chews
Counting your chews for each bite is an easy way to refocus your attention on your eating and consciously slow down. I recommend chewing each bite 20 times or more before swallowing. If you have trouble remembering to chew, try putting your fork down between each bite. I have a rule that if I am in the process of stabbing food with my fork to prepare another bite I ask myself if there is food in my mouth already. If there is, I am reminded to set down my fork and focus on what I’m already eating. This practice alone could change your life, and has already done so for many of my readers.
7. You aren’t sleeping enough
Our brains and bodies rely tremendously on a variety of hormones that regulate when we eat and sleep. Because of these circadian rhythms, we function optimally when we eat our meals, sleep and wake at the same time each day. Similarly, too little sleep has been associated with weight gain.
Solution: Prioritize sleep
Getting on a regular schedule and getting enough sleep is a key component of your healthstyle. Developing good sleep habits and prioritizing sleep may help you get back on track.
8. Your diet is too strict
Telling yourself you can’t eat this or that particular food is one of the most effective ways to guarantee you’ll overeat it in the future. Not even Adam and Eve could handle the pressure.
Solution: Have it later
Research has shown that telling yourself you can eat something later is far more effective than outright denying yourself a pleasure. To your brain, having it later is almost as good as having it now. Try it, it works.
9. Your diet is too limited
As powerful as psychological cravings can be, biological cravings are still a real thing. Eating a nutrient dense and diverse diet helps ensure that your body is receiving a wide range of micronutrients and has everything it needs to function optimally.
Solution: Eat new foods
One of my favorite healthstyle habits is regularly trying new foods and building diversity into my meals. Not only is this incredibly fun, it has also helped me reduce cravings for sugar, flour and other less-than-healthy foods that used to plague me.
10. You believe health claims on food labels
Yes, foods that tend to be higher in fiber, protein, vitamins, calcium, omega-3s and other trendy nutrients tend to be better for you, but that doesn’t mean that artificially adding these things to junk turns them into health food. Even worse, health claims on foods create what is known as a “health halo” that encourages people to think foods are healthier and less filling, unintentionally convincing us to eat more.
Solution: Focus on ingredients
Avoid the hype by ignoring health claims and turning directly to the ingredient list. Focus on real food and real ingredients to avoid being duped.
Did you solve a weight loss plateau? Tell us how in the comments.
Originally published June 17, 2013.