“I’ve tried many diets and I keep gaining weight…. I’m barely eating, and nothing is working!”
Sounds familiar? You’ve tried several dieting techniques without shedding any weight? You’ve spent your days eating very small quantities and you’re still gaining a few pounds? Are you wondering if you’re doing something wrong? Are you starting to believe that you are destined to be overweight and will never be able to lose any weight?
No matter what diet you follow, the key to success is finding the right balance between your needs (calories burned) and your consumption (calories intake). However, the balance isn’t always a simple formula: it gets affected by many factors that can tip the balance in either direction, leading to weight gain or stagnation.
Eating very few calories over a prolonged period of time can cause stress and fatigue and lead to a loss of energy. An extreme restriction also increases the level of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. While cortisol stimulates your metabolism, it also increases your appetite and your cravings for sweet, fatty and salty foods. We recommend you always choose moderation and balanced diets even if they take a longer time to achieve the results you aim for.
Including snacks between meals may help you decrease your hunger and avoid overeating; it also keeps your metabolism fired up and burning. But it can lead to a higher calorie intake, especially if the wrong snacks are picked. Feel free to eat 6 times a day (3 main meals + 3 snacks) as long as you watch out for your total calorie intake and keep it below your expenditure. Prioritize proteins: fat free cheese, Greek yogurt, hummus, etc.
Low-Fat and “Healthy” Traps
It’s true that high fat foods usually contain more calories, but you need to keep in mind that fat has many health benefits, and it provides a feeling of satiety. Food that is marketed as low-fat can be misleading sometimes, leading to higher consumption and more calories. So be aware of the traps in the labels.
Many of us also fall into the trap of being reassured that we’re “eating healthy”. We don’t count the calories coming from healthy food, although some of them are highly caloric like avocados, nuts and seeds. Despite the need for eating these foods for their nutrients, moderation is always key!
Stress and Fatigue
Emotional eating is a very common reaction to stress. Providing a familiar comfort, food gives a sense of enjoyment that is much needed in periods of stress. However, it adds calories to the daily intake. If you feel this is what’s happening with you, try some relaxing activities like yoga or meditation.
Also, most of us have the habit of looking for food to recharge our energy when falling back in the afternoon. Continuous fatigue can cause an increase in the daily intake. Try taking a 20-minute power nap to recharge… taking a break or an outdoor walk to destress.
Workouts: Too Much or None!
Your exercise routine might be the reason you are not shedding off these extra pounds, and the reasons are many. For example, the workouts might be too intense for your body, leading to a quick muscle gain that tips the balance despite losing some fat pounds at the same time.
If your workouts are indeed too intense, they might lead to periods of non-activity after the workout with you sitting on the couch for several hours exhausted and resting. What you need to be doing is staying active all day long, taking the stairs, walking around every hour, doing house chores, walking to the grocery store, etc.
Lack of Sleep
Balanced sleep is very important for weight loss: if you don’t sleep enough; you might gain weight. And if you sleep too much; you might gain weight. That’s because sleeping too much or too little can cause hormonal changes that increase appetite, so you start accumulating more calories. Ideally you should sleep 7 to 8 hours per day to stay fit and energetic. Studies show that sleep-deprived people have a low level of leptin, the satiety hormone that makes you feel full, and a high level of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger.
Muscles burn more calories to sustain themselves. To increase your metabolism and the calories you spend per day, increase your muscle mass. Eat enough protein and add 2 or 3 strength training sessions every week to build a strong muscle mass and pump up your metabolism.
When we sit for hours at a time, our body burns less calories. And unfortunately, one hour at the gym doesn’t compensate for those long hours or inactivity! What we suggest is for you to get a fitness tracker as a reminder to hit your steps, and you will create time and new habits to hit those steps daily by not taking the elevator, quick walk between long meetings, team meetings standing up.
Not Enough Fat?
Avoiding fat totally might not be the smartest thing to do, and it might derail your diet plans. When people remove fat from their diet, they usually replace it with sugar (carbs) and salt. And it takes more time for the brain to process and signal satiety from sugar and salt than from fat, leading to more eating and more binging. In addition to that, good fat is good for the overall function of the body, and it helps you feel full longer… try adding avocados, eggs and nuts to your diet… with moderation of course!
Too Many Processed Foods!
Even if you’re counting your calories and restricting your overall intake, weight loss is impossible if you are eating too many processed carbs and sugars. In fact, they cause your body to release too much insulin and that makes you feel hungry quickly thereafter. To lose weight, choose your carbs carefully (whole wheat, brown rice, sweet potatoes, etc.) and cut your sugar intake.
Finally, keep in mind that the best diets are the ones that make you feel like you’re not dieting but adopting a new lifestyle… a lifestyle that you can maintain long-term. Remember: the best results are the ones that come slowly but stick around!