Your diet isn’t working! But in theory it should be simple. Calories are just food energy. Your body uses energy from the calories you consume to do all the general staying alive stuff a body has to do, and stores the excess energy as fat.
When you diet you’re trying to consume fewer calories than you’re actually using day to day. To cover the shortfall between what you’re consuming and what your body needs to not be dead, you have to start converting some of that stored fat back into energy… which means you’ll lose weight.
The only real reason your diet isn’t working is if you’re somehow still taking in as many – or even more – calories than you’re actually using.
But how can this be true when you’re sticking to your diet?!?
1) Your Diet Isn’t Working Because… You Didn’t Calculate Your TDEE Properly
It’s amazing how many people start trying to diet without ever finding out how much less they actually need to eat in order to lose weight.
Your TDEE is you Total Daily Energy Expenditure. That’s all the energy you use in a day. It includes the energy you use in exercise, as well as the energy you use to do everything else your body needs to do to be alive, like keeping a normal temperature, fighting viruses and bacteria, growing new cells, even digesting food!
Many people assume that their TDEE is 2000 kcal per day if they’re a woman, and 2500 kcal if they’re a man, because these tend to be the reference values given on food packaging in many countries.
But TDEE is effected by many factors – including level of physical activity, body size and age. It’s different for everyone and changes over the course of your life.
To lose weight you need to consistently eat less than your TDEE over a period of time. In general to lose 1 lb of body weight a person needs to use 3500 kcal of energy more than they’ve taken in.
For example, if your TDEE really is 2000 kcal, you could lose 1lb a week by eating 1500 kcal per day. But if you are a petite middle-aged woman, with an office job your TDEE may only be 1500 kcal to begin with. In that case you would stay the same weight by eating 1500 kcal. Et voila… your diet isn’t working!
Find out your TDEE using this tool, and adjust your energy intake from there.
2) Your Diet Isn’t Working Because… You’re Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Or liquid calories in general! Even savvy dieters sometimes forget that what they drink also counts towards their overall calorie consumption.
Alcohol itself is extremely calorie dense and can lower inhibitions, which is why a snack that was easy to resist sober becomes much more appealing after a couple of drinks. 2 pints of lager and a packet of crisps can easily wipe out the calorie deficit that you need to lose weight, even after a day of good choices and now your diet isn’t working.
If you’re drinking to excess (aka standard Friday night) you may also find that you crave carbs to help soak up the hangover, or that your good intentions for a weekend of fresh veg and moderate exercise go out the window when you wake up on a Saturday feeling like something scraped off the bottom of a bar stool.
If you’re not prepared to give up the booze altogether, then you need to budget your drink of choice into your week’s calories. Try to alternate alcoholic drinks with water and if you think you won’t be able to resist the greasy kebab at the end of a night out, then it might be better not to drink on empty stomach.
3) Your Diet Isn’t Working Because… You’re Getting Too Hungry and Then You’re Binging… Or Grazing… Or Eating And Forgetting
You’re hungry almost all the time, so why aren’t you losing weight?
No, it’s not ‘starvation mode’.
But it might be the fact that if you’re following an overly restrictive diet most of the time, that when you do eat you eat more than you intend to.
The body is a stupid type of clever. It relies on constant input from the senses to know what’s happening and how it should respond, but it does this by putting together lots and lots of little bits of information to make the bigger picture.
If you are eating tiny little manicured meals and always leaving the table (or your desk) feeling hungry, then even if those tiny little meals actually add up to more than your overall all energy needs for the day, your body may still be sending out the hunger signals that are telling you to EAT MORE FOOD even when you’ve had enough…. and now your diet isn’t working anymore.
Even worse, if you are eating tiny little manicured meals that you hate and you hate your job and you hate your boss and your desk and you’re stressed all the time, your caveman brain (which doesn’t realize you have a job or a boss or a desk or that you’re stressed by your student loans, not huge caveman-eating tigers) may interpret your overall stress as a sign that you are suffering food scarcity and should go forage a mars bar.
There’s no short answer to these issues. But the good news is that there are ways to work with your body, even during weight loss, to get around some of the ways in which our psychology and physiology work to conserve rather than to shed body weight.
Dieting should not involve the sensation of ravenous hunger! There are countless ways to limit calories responsibly for weight loss, but eating filling, hearty, healthy meals should be part of any sustainable diet plan.