It can seem like this is true when you are trying to do everything you can to lose weight and nothing seems to be happening. But is this really the case? The short answer is NO!
So what is going on when you are eating a lot less and still not losing weight? You have probably heard the phrase “calories in, calories out” many times but doubt its truth. In fact the balance of calories burned and taken in DOES determine bodyweight and there are no exceptions even though it can seem like this is not the case.
In every case when scientists tightly control or measure intake and output of calories – the balance between calories in and out DOES cause changes in bodyweight.
Factors that affect calories burned
There are many factors that affect how many calories you burn daily, and the tricky part is that your body is designed specifically to adjust calorie output based on environmental conditions. For example, prolonged low calorie intake WILL slow down your metabolic rate resulting in a significant drop in calorie burn.
By the same token if you are exposed to cold temperatures consistently your metabolic rate will increase in order to create heat necessary to keep your body functioning properly.
Another very important factor affecting your metabolic rate is your activity levels including exercise AND non-exercise movement or NEAT for short. NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis and refers to the fact that ALL movement requires caloric energy.
When scientists have studied people and used sophisticated techniques to monitor movement, they have discovered that the levels of NEAT vary considerably between people, and NEAT can make all the difference in the world between being fat or lean.
Factors that affect calories consumed
Calorie consumption is also affected by many factors including appetite which is very complicated in humans and strongly affected by psychological factors including stress and upbringing which influence our perception of hunger. Other factors include macronutrient percentages in the diet referring to the percentage of protein, fat, fiber, sugar and starch in the diet along with meal frequency and size.
Why does it seem like calories in and calories out does not work?
We are not very good at correctly judging how much we are eating and burning! Well-controlled studies show that people (even trained professionals!) consistently underestimate calorie intake and over-estimate calorie burn by up to 50%.
What about hormones?
Hormones like insulin, glucagon, growth hormone, testosterone, and others influence metabolism, lean mass, and fat mass they do not invalidate the energy balance equation.
So What Can You Do?
Measure your food intake – use whatever tools you like including scales, measuring spoons, pictures, food logs, portion estimating tools, etc. The key is getting a handle on what you are consuming by tracking EVERYTHING you are consume for a full week – the results will probably surprise you!
Track you daily activity levels – including exercise and non-exercise movement for a week using a movement tracker or app on your phone. While far from perfect this also gives you a window into what you are doing which most of us are completely unaware of consciously.
Choose whole, unprocessed foods – like eggs, meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. That is where all the micro-nutrients (Vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant chemicals!) you need come from, and if you follow through on this you may find yourself losing weight without so much effort.
Adjust your proportion of protein, carbs, and fat – some people respond better to more carbs and fewer fats while others may respond better to less carb and more fat and protein. There is no single diet that is best for everyone!
Get a Professional Coach – making consistent changes in your eating and activity habits can be very challenging – especially when you try to do it all by yourself. Seek out a qualified and compassionate coach who can help you navigate these tricky waters.