Every January, 49% of Britons vow to exercise more as part of their New Year’s resolutions.
That’s almost half of the population. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you did too? Maybe you bought some spanking new trainers that promise to cushion your feet like clouds or spent a small fortune on dumbbells on the black market because Argos hasn’t had any in stock since the first lockdown.
If you are in the exercise more camp, you might have expected the pounds to drop off by now, but what if they aren’t? Is exercise futile? Should you send the Peleton back and build a home cinema (it probably costs the same) instead?
Let’s find out. Don’t give up hope yet.
Exercising but not Losing Weight: 6 Reasons Why
It’s frustrating to change your habits and not see results.
And it’s easy to blame yourself, right? “Ugh, I’m a failure. I’m exercising but not losing weight. What’s the point? Where did I hide those cookies?”
While it’s essential to take responsibility for your actions or inaction, it serves you to have all the facts before you blame yourself. In this article, we’ll look at five reasons you’re not losing weight and how to navigate them for weight loss success.
#1. “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”
I’m ashamed to say I’ve uttered those words before. We often sacrifice sleep to accommodate something new on our schedule; how would we fit it in otherwise? In my younger days as a hungry entrepreneur, I’d work all the hours I could and sleep when I was finished, not when I needed to.
We have to find a way.
Lack of sleep contributes to weight gain, and poor sleep is one of the most significant risk factors for obesity. It also makes us cranky, irritable and confused–a perfect storm for poor food choices.
Solution: Sleep is More Important
If you’re exercising but not losing weight, make sleep a priority, not an afterthought, and build your life around it.
If you exercise late at night, you might be too wired to sleep. Equally, if you’re waking up earlier to exercise but not going to bed earlier the night before, you’re causing more problems than solutions.
If possible, go to bed at the same time, or at least in the same window of time, and wake up at the same time.
You might be screaming at the screen that you don’t have enough time to fit a workout in if you don’t make sacrifices. But remember, a workout doesn’t need to be an hour long. If you can find a 10-30 minute window in your day, that’s enough.
Start small and build your routine as time goes on.
#2. “I’ve Earned This!”
I used to think that I could eat more because I’d smashed a workout.
Firstly, ditch the sentiment. You don’t need to earn food. Eat when you’re hungry, and enjoy food because it’s food, not because you earned it.
Secondly, it’s rarely the case that I can consume more calories because I’ve worked out. Sure, if I run a marathon every day, I might be able to up my calories. But more often, I need to eat sensibly and fuel my workouts instead of overeating because I earned it.
Solution: Create a Separation Between Exercise and Food
Think of exercise as something that builds strength, character, fitness, and something to be enjoyed.
Don’t think of it as a punishment for something you’ve eaten.
Then focus on what you’re eating and how much. You can do that through macronutrient and calorie counting, but I’d prefer you do it through mindful eating practices outlined here or work with me to develop a personalised plan.
#3. “Cardio is the Best!”
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but 90 minutes of incline walking probably isn’t the best use of your time.
Cardio has many benefits. It keeps your heart healthy, it can be fun and rewarding (forest walks and hiking), but unless you combine it with resistance training, you’ll eat away at lean muscle and just getting good at cardio.
Don’t confuse strength training with intense training, though. Walking is so good because it doesn’t cause injury. Strength training builds muscle and requires proper fuelling. Intense exercise feels good in the moment but might lead to prolonged recovery times, it ramps up hunger, and it isn’t sustainable.
What are your goals?
Solution: Mix it up a Little
There is no best exercise for weight loss. If weight loss is the goal, you can’t go wrong with strength training mixed with walking. And you want to enjoy whatever you’re doing, so it’s sustainable.
But a mixture of cardio and strength training is the sweet spot for weight loss. Try adding three strength workouts a week to your routine and still enjoy walking or running.
P.S. strength training doesn’t require weights or gym time. You can build a bodyweight routine with press-ups and squats and graduate to weights when you’re comfortable.
#4. “I Feel Stressed all the Time”
I lead a pretty stressful lifestyle. I’ve got two kids, a mortgage, mainly work freelance, and travel a lot. Thankfully, I’m pretty good at noticing when I’m in a state of high stress, and I address it through sleep, rest, recovery, and mindfulness practices.
However, many people who lead stressful lifestyles don’t notice when things are going wrong internally. They aren’t aware of how stressed they are.
Stress releases fight or flight hormones, particularly Cortisol. Too much cortisol increases appetite and leads to cravings for comfort foods. It’s easier to reach for high reward foods when you’re overwhelmed and need a quick high.
Some types of exercise are also stressors. Though it can be thought of as good stress, an intense 30-minute workout on top of all that other stuff you have going on, is more likely detrimental.
So while exercise to relieve stress is a good idea, it might be adding to your woes.
Solution: Stress Management is Key
If you’ve been living under a cloud of stress for a long time, it might be worth working with someone to identify your stressors and learn how to manage them.
Holistic nutritionists factor sleep, exercise, food, and stress into your personalised program. Together, you can develop strategies to deal with chronic overwhelm and ramp up your weight loss efforts.
#5. “I’m Pretty Sure I Burned 800 Calories”
After finishing a workout and noticing you’ve burned 800 or even 1000 calories, there’s no better feeling. Unfortunately, this is often wildly inaccurate.
Eating less food and burning more calories can wreak havoc on beginners. Many people see their calorie burn and overindulge, which relates to earning food or food as a reward. You’re hungry and feel deprived. You might also retain water.
When you work out, especially in the early stages of your fitness drive, your body will retain water to ensure you don’t become dehydrated (it’s a good thing). Think of it as super hydration.
Solution: Ignore Calories Burned
OK, you don’t need to ignore calories burned; sometimes, it’s nice to see how hard you’re working, even if it’s inaccurate. But you shouldn’t put stock in the numbers.
Instead, focus on the other positives of exercise:
- Increased fitness and strength
- Better mindset
- Muscle definition
- Cardiovascular, bone, and overall health
Exercise is one piece of the puzzle, but not because you’re burning a certain number of calories.
#6. “I’m Hungry ALL THE TIME”
As described above, ramping up exercise frequency and intensity increases appetite. If you haven’t explored the right way to refuel after exercise, you might find yourself elbow-deep in a box of Pringles instead of promoting growth and recovery.
Strength training, muscle building, and fat loss require adequate protein and carbohydrates. If you’re feeling hungry all the time, perhaps your body isn’t getting what it needs.
Solution: Calculate How Much Protein You Need
Protein intake levels and needs vary from person to person. But there are loose guidelines for appropriate amounts.
There are also calculations to determine how many grams of protein are optimal per day. But we like to keep things simple here at Next Step Nutrition, using portion guides.
- If you’re male, include two palm-sized portions of lean protein in every meal.
- Include one palm-sized portion of lean protein in every meal if you’re female.
And that’s it! To start with anyway…
You Don’t Need to Figure This Out Alone
Even if you action two out of the six solutions above, they will affect your weight loss efforts. Exercising but not losing weight can lead to a lot of frustration, but you might not find the answers you’re looking for until you dig deeper.
Here at Next Step Nutrition, I guarantee that you’ll be working with a dedicated and collaborative coach who will guide you through implementing lasting change and arm you with the behaviours, habits, and tools to lose weight for good.