Calorie Deficit Not Losing Weight?

You have been tracking your calorie intake and are sure you have been in a calorie deficit for some time now. You expected to start seeing results, but you haven’t lost any weight at all! What could be the problem?

Losing weight is not just about having a calorie deficit. Other factors like hormones, metabolism, sleep, and stress levels can also affect how much weight you will lose.

In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into why your calorie deficit is helping you lose weight and provide tips on ensuring your efforts are paying off. Let’s get started!

Why am I Not Losing Weight in a Calorie Deficit? 

You have been tracking your food intake through a journal or an app like Cronometer, consuming fewer calories than your body needs. However, you haven’t seen any noticeable weight loss.

Unfortunately, the calories you eat are only one part of the equation. A vital part of the equation, but again only one aspect. 

Losing weight and losing body fat require several variables, including exercise, sleep, stress levels, and calories, all working together. Even when you have each of these dialed in, your body will resist losing weight and will begin to adapt. 

Once you understand that restricting calories causes your body to adapt, you can begin to make adjustments in other areas.

What Is a Calorie Deficit?

A calorie deficit is when you consume fewer calories than your body needs daily. Eating in a deficit causes your body to use stored fat for energy, leading to weight loss. (Study)

A calorie deficit is achieved through diet changes or by increasing physical activity. The main aim of a calorie deficit is weight loss which also brings health benefits, including better cholesterol levels, lowered risk of disease, and improved overall health.

How Weight Loss Works?

To lose weight, burn more calories than you consume. Excess calories are stored as fat, but a calorie deficit burns stored fat for energy. Keep a balanced diet and exercise routine to avoid losing muscle.

To lose weight, try reducing your calorie intake and increasing your physical activity. This will prompt your body to use fat as energy. Read more about Weight Loss 101.

Why Do Weight Loss Plateaus Happen?

The expectation for weight loss is a graph with a perfect straight line down. The reality is weight loss will be variable. The graph will not be a straight line.

At face value, weight loss is simple to eat fewer calories than you burn per day. However, hormone changes, body composition, and metabolic rate can all lead to weight loss plateaus. 

Hormonal Changes: Hormones like Insulin, Leptin, and Ghrelin regulate hunger and satiety (feeling of fullness). It is challenging to maintain a calorie deficit because hormones fluctuate when calories and weight decrease.

Body Composition: As weight is lost, the body may lose some muscle to compensate for the calorie deficit. You are causing a decrease in resting metabolic rate (how many calories you burn when you’re not doing anything), making it harder to maintain or continue losing weight. 

Metabolic Rate: As you lose weight, your metabolic rate may decrease due to reduced levels of physical activity and muscle mass, which helps conserve energy and prevent more weight loss.

When you are in a calorie deficit and have lost a significant amount of weight, these metabolic adaptations compound on one another and may make it difficult to continue losing weight. If you have adapted to your calorie deficit, then consider taking some time to maintain and build some muscle. Check out the dietitian guide to Lean Bulking, Diet Breaks and Refeed Days.

12 Reasons Why You Are Not Losing Weight

“Why am I not losing weight?” This is a question that I get on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there is not one straightforward answer, for that reason we’re gonna go through the top 12 reasons why you are not losing weight.

1. Eating Too Many Calories:

You need to pay more attention to the calories in a meal or snack to avoid overconsumption and weight gain. This is the most common issue I see as a dietitian; people, in general, are prone to underestimate their calorie intake.

2. Not Eating Enough Protein:

Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass which drives a large percentage of our metabolic rate. If you are not eating enough protein, your body may break down muscle tissue (amino acids) to compensate for the lack of calories. You might want to consider looking at your macronutrient intake to make sure you are meeting the requirements. Find out more by reading Macros for Cutting.

3. Not Strength Training:

Strength training is essential for signaling muscle growth and driving metabolic rate. Without strength training, you lack the signal to grow new muscle, and your body resorts to breaking the “unused muscle” down for energy. (Study)

4. Hormonal Imbalances:

Certain hormones, such as insulin, leptin, and ghrelin, can become imbalanced during a weight loss phase. This can lead to increased hunger and cravings, making it challenging to stick with the diet and maintain the deficit.

5. Not Sleeping Enough:

Sleeping 7-8 hours of quality sleep is essential for weight loss. In addition, lack of sleep can cause hormonal imbalances that affect your hunger signals and hinder compliance with your diet. (Study)

Research suggests that this is because a lack of sleep will disrupt the chemical messenger Ghrelin that is responsible for regulating our hunger and fullness. (Study)

6. Not Eating Enough Fiber:

Fiber is an essential nutrient that helps to control hunger and improve the health and diversity of your gut microbiome. By consuming adequate fiber intake from various sources, you can help to feel more satisfied and less likely to overeat. (Study)

7. Too Much Stress:

Stress and weight loss. Stress can prevent you from sleeping, increased hunger cues, slow metabolism, difficulty focusing on long-term goals, and hard to work out when you are tired.

High levels of stress hormones like cortisol can increase appetite and food cravings, leading to overeating or snacking on calorie-dense foods. Therefore, reducing stress should be a priority as it will help improve sleep, cravings, and diet compliance. (Study)

8. Medications:

Certain medications, such as antibiotics, contraceptives, antidepressants, and antipsychotics, can cause weight gain. If this is the case, speak to your doctor about your options. (Study)

9. Medical Conditions:

Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), can lead to difficulty losing weight. Speak to your doctor if any of these conditions are present. (Study)

10. Eating Too Many Processed and Packaged Foods:

Eating refined carbohydrates, foods with added sugar, and those high in fat can hinder weight loss. In addition, these foods can cause you to feel hungrier and have more food cravings while providing insufficient fiber and protein. (Article)

11. Not Moving Your Body Enough:

As you restrict energy and lose weight, your body will decrease daily movement to preserve energy. This is a form of adaptation to a lower calorie intake and must be avoided to continue losing weight. (Study)

12. Genetics:

Genetics plays an essential role in determining your body shape and size, so it is important to remember that weight loss may be more difficult for some people than others. Find a healthy diet and exercise routine that works best for you. (Study)

There could be several reasons you’re not losing weight, and it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or a dietitian, to determine them. However, the reasons mentioned above are some of the most typical ones.

Solutions

In a calorie deficit but not losing weight? Here are 7 things you can do about it: 

1. Weighing in and measuring progress 

It is important to measure and track your progress but in doing so it is important to:

  • Weigh in at the same time
  • Take progress pictures
  • Take body measurements 

This will give you a better idea of where you are at in terms of your progress.

For example, if you noticed that the scale is not moving but you have been taking progress pictures and noticed that your body fat is decreasing. 

This may be helpful especially when you are feeling frustrated with the journey.

Plus often times our weight is going to fluctuate. Normally do to how much water we drink and how much water retention we have.

So if you’re experiencing a weight loss plateau or even weight gain, know that it could potentially be water retention new muscle mass or undigested food.

2. Manage stress 

Being overly stressed is detrimental to your weight loss journey and your overall health. 

Finding stress management techniques will help mitigate the detrimental effects of stress on weight loss.

Stress management techniques

  • Meditation
  • Being physically active
  • Journaling 
  • Gratitude practice

Practicing stress management will have a domino effect on your health. 

3. Sleep

Getting enough sleep is just as important as consuming a healthy diet and engaging in physical activity. 

Improving your sleep includes:

  • Following a bedtime routine
  • Setting an alarm to go to bed 
  • Complete darkness 
  • Cool temperature 
  • Getting at least 7-9 hours per night

4. Hormones 

It is important to realize that your body is a complex system that works together. 

In order for the system to work like a well-performing orchestra, you want to ensure that you are maintaining healthy habits like getting enough sleep, being physically active, and regularly consuming a balanced diet.

5. Accurately Track

The only way to know exactly how many calories you’re consuming is to weigh, measure, and track everything you eat. This style of dieting is often referred to as flexible dieting.

You do not have to do this for the rest of your life. I personally like to use this tool once I have hit a weight loss plateau. When I do track my calories I use Cronometer Pro.

Instead using this method as a tool when you are trying to lose weight will provide you with feedback and will expose you to what a serving size really is.

If you are a beginner at tracking your macros, check out The Counting Macros for Beginners Guide and the How Long Does it Take to See Results post.

6. Move Your Body 

The current recommendation by the USDA is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. 

Getting in a 30-minute walk five days a week would sufficiently fulfill this recommendation.

7. Adjust Calories

After you have lost a percentage of your body weight and you were no longer losing weight on the same amount of calories, it might be Time to re-analyze your TDEE. 

When Should I Speak To a Dietitian?

There are several times to speak to a dietitian about your weight loss journey or plan, but the most important is if you are starting and need help developing a program or have had some success in that post but are stuck.

Significant evidence supports the idea of joining a weight loss support group. Often, individuals joining a support group have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off.

Get Expert Guidance

With an overwhelming amount of information available, it can be difficult to distinguish between truth and falsehood. However, I provide personalized weight loss coaching through a one-on-one approach that employs evidence-based tactics to help you effectively shed body fat and maintain it in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it possible to be in a calorie deficit and not lose weight?

No, being in a calorie deficit and not losing weight is impossible. Many factors can contribute to being unable to create a calorie deficit, such as hormonal imbalances, medications, medical conditions, genetics, etc. Consult a healthcare provider or dietitian for guidance if you are stuck in your weight loss journey.

How much weight will I lose with a 1500-calorie deficit?

Generally speaking, a 1500-calorie deficit is considered a low-calorie diet and should be supervised by a medical professional. The weight you lose depends on several factors, such as your current weight, activity level, and metabolic health. It is recommended to consult a dietitian or doctor for guidance and support in achieving a safe and effective rate of weight loss.

Why am I not losing weight on 1,000 calories a day?

It is possible not to lose weight on a 1,000-calorie diet. Factors such as age, activity level, and metabolic health can all affect your rate of weight loss. Additionally, certain medical conditions or medications may hinder weight loss. If you have yet to lose weight with a 1,000-calorie diet, consult your doctor or dietitian. It’s important to remember that weight loss should be achieved safely and healthily.

What are some good meal plans for a calorie deficit?

To find a meal plan that creates a calorie deficit, first determine your maintenance calories, then deduct 250-500 calories to determine your remaining calorie intake. I have created meal plans from 1500 calories to 3500 calories. With the most popular being the 1800, 1900, 2200 and 2700 calorie meal plan.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, you may not be losing weight for several reasons, such as eating too few/too many calories, consuming unhealthy foods, genetics, and not getting enough movement.

If you have lost some weight but have hit a plateau, consult a dietitian or doctor for guidance and support. It can be challenging to navigate the vast amount of information available, so having an expert opinion is invaluable.

Disclaimer

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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