Why You’re Not Losing Weight Eating “Healthy” and How to Fix it
January 2012 journal entry:
I got SHUT DOWN by the girl of my dreams.
I was crushed. My teenage angst took over. I felt like my world was crumbling around me.
I hopped in my car and drove around for hours listening to Dashboard Confessional on repeat. Hormone response is off the chart.
"How the girls could turn to ghosts before your eyes And the very dreams that led to them are keeping them from dying"
...oh man... the feels....
Two weeks later, I was fine.
(as most high school love dramas go...)
But the whole ordeal did ignite a fire inside giving me the initial motivation to lose weight.
I dedicate myself to losing fat and getting "shredded" like the models on A&F advertisements.
Yeah, I wanted to feel healthier too... but let's be honest, I wanted to look attractive for girls!
I listened to everything bodybuilding.com said to do:
- I started eating "clean" (a.k.a. broccoli, rice, and chicken six times a day)
- I did hours and hours of cardio (I've climbed an obscene number of floors on the StairMaster)
- Consumed ZERO "dirty" foods (no more sleeves or Oreos as I was accustomed too)
I lost around 50 pounds...
But then my progress stalled for over three months. 🙁
What was wrong?
Why wasn't I losing weight when I was eating healthy foods and exercising?
If you've been eating healthy foods in an effort to lose weight and haven't had much success, then you know the frustration that I was feeling.
Unfortunately, eating "healthy" isn't always enough...
It's Human Nature
Humans LOVE when things are simple.
For example, We got fat from sitting around all day and eating too much, so intuition would say that simply moving more and eating healthy foods would reverse the damage.
Plus, we're besieged by marketing and advertisements of concerningly happy people running on mountains and drinking kale shakes.
(Seriously, no one has ever been that happy about kale...)
So why do so many people begin eating healthy but end up plateauing or fail to make any significant weight loss results?
In this article, you'll find out :).
- What Constitutes a "Healthy" Food
- The Good News About Eating Healthy Food
- Why Eating Healthy Isn't Always Enough to Lose Weight
- How to Use Healthy Eating to Lose Weight and Improve Your Health
First Off, What Constitutes a "Healthy" Food?
Ask ten fitness professionals what constitutes a "healthy" food and you'll get ten different answers.
In my opinion, healthy food is any food that has a high nutrient density compared to calorie density.
Broccoli = high nutrient density, low-calorie density
Oreos = low nutrient density, high-calorie density
Basically, any food consumed in its whole form is considered "healthy" in my eyes... (with some exceptions, of course.)
Here's a list of healthy food choices I give to my online coaching clients:
Healthy Carb sources:
All fruits, all vegetables, whole grains(avoid gluten if you're Celiac...obviously), oats, rice, potatoes, beans, quinoa
Healthy Protein Sources:
Grass-fed/pasteurized chicken, pork, steak & lamb, organ meat, gelatin, low-fat dairy (avoid high-sugar dairy products)
Healthy Fat Sources:
Fattier grass-fed meats, eggs, grass-fed butter, nuts, nut butters*, coconut oil*, olive oil*
*While not necessarily in their "whole" form, these are still considered healthy food choices in my eyes.
The Good News About Eating Healthy Whole Foods
Losing weight comes down to more than just adopting a healthy diet.
But before I go on to tell you why you may not be losing weight despite your dietary changes, I want to reinforce the good you've done so far.
There is more to health that body composition (a.k.a. how much sexy you havzz).
Our mental and physiological health is impacted more by WHAT we eat.
Yah, you can lose weight drinking protein shakes and eating twinkies, but the lack of nutrients will negatively impact your energy levels, hunger hormones, mood, libido, and sleep quality.
So although losing weight is your primary goal right now, know that you'll benefit from the healthier food choices you've been making.
So go ahead, give yourself a pat on the back from me ;).
Whole foods are also great for dieting because they help keep you full on fewer calories.
Note: This is actually why most people initially lose 10-30 pounds when they switched from their Standard American Diet of refined carbohydrates, added sugar, and processed meat. They replace their calorie-dense food with high-volume, low-calorie nutritious ones.
It's hard to overeat on potatoes and vegetables compared to cookies and hot dogs.
Just look at the difference between a 100-calorie apple and 100-calories from M&M's
Okay, those sizes are slightly exaggerated. But you get the point.
Apples (and other whole foods) contain a ton of water and fiber which create more volume for fewer total calories.
It would behoove you to make the majority of your diet come from whole food sources so that you optimize your vitamin & mineral levels and maximize satiety.
(did I just use the word "behoove"? Mrs. Foster would be so proud.)
Why Eating Healthy Isn't Always Enough to Lose Weight
When it comes to losing and gaining weight, it's all about the first law of thermodynamics.
Energy In (food) - Energy Out (metabolism, exercise, etc.) = Weight Gain/Lost
You could be eating exclusively healthy foods and still gain weight if you're eating too many calories.
And trust me, I've done it myself...
Granted, it's harder to overeat on healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean meat compared to donuts and ice cream - but definitely not impossible.
One problem is that most people tend to eat too many calorie-dense whole foods.
Things like nuts, nut butter, oils, grass-fed butter, and avocados are higher in fat and consequently, contain higher amounts of calories per serving.
(Remember, dietary fat contains 9 calories per gram compared to carbs and protein which only have 4 calories per gram)
Another problem is that most people are eating way more than they realize.
Studies have shown time and time again that we are terrible at guesstimating portion sizes and how much food we eat.
Remember that small handful of mixed nuts you grabbed for a snack (which you thought was 150 calories tops)?
Unless you are a seasoned calorie counter and fluent with visualizing portion sizes, it was probably more around 300-400 calories.
Do this a few times a day and all of a sudden you're eating 600-800 calories more than anticipated!
Finally, I've found that people don't realize just how little they need to eat to lose weight.
However, I've found this to be more popular in men.
Women tend to eat too few calories to lose weight.
Regardless, it's important to eat sufficient calories to support your health while also eating few enough to lose weight consistently.
I created this calculator to help you figure out a calorie number to shoot for that allows for weight loss without being too restrictive.
Though, there are better calculators out there... My personal favorite is Mike Vacanti's OnTheRegimen App. It's free and uses my favorite equation for guessing calorie needs.
iPhone/iOS users - Click Here to download
Android users - Click Here to download
Remember, it doesn't matter how "healthy" you eat...
If you eat too many calories, you won't lose weight.
How to Use Healthy Eating to Lose Weight and Improve Your Health
If you enjoy eating healthy whole foods, keep doing it.
We've already talked about how it is going to benefit your health.
If your goal is consistent weight loss, you'll likely need to start tracking your food and calorie intake too.
You could eat whole foods and accidently eat in a calorie deficit, but you will eventually plateau as your body adjusts to a new calorie intake by downregulating your metabolism.
When you track your intake, you know how many calories (and how much food) you need to eat daily to lose weight.
Plus, you'll know what to do when your progress stalls.
If you want to learn more about tracking your calories, check out this article I wrote.
Or you can download my Free Beginner Fitness Plan that outlines how to track your nutrition and workout for optimal fat loss results.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, I would love for you to share it with someone or on that Facebook place :).