Have you ever been so close to your weight loss goal when suddenly it all seems to stop?
It becomes impossible to lose that last bit of weight?
Here’s some ideas on what you’re up against and what you can do about it.
You’ve already lost tons of weight. So why won’t those last 5 lbs. just go away?!
Here’s a brief primer on calories and weight loss
First off, we have to talk about calories. Because you can’t talk about weight loss without talking about calories. It does get more complicated than what I get into in this talk, but for all practical purposes, here’s what you need to know.
A calorie is a unit of energy.
The First Law of Thermodynamics tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred.
This means that if you eat more calories than you expend, that energy has to get transferred to somewhere. So, it gets transferred to fat stores or to muscle (depending on whether or not you lift weights). Either way the result is weight gain.
Now, if you eat less calories than you expend, your body has to take that extra energy from somewhere. So, it takes that energy from fat and muscle stores, again depending on your training, and results in weight loss.
Most of the calories you burn throughout the day aren’t actually from exercise; they get burned for the basic bodily functions that keep you alive. The number of calories used to keep you alive is called your basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate is how many calories you’d burn if you literally did nothing all day.
This is important to know because the more you weigh, the higher your basal metabolic rate is. This makes sense. A larger body will require more energy to sustain it.
When you gain weight, you can eat more calories without additional weight gain because your basal metabolic rate is higher.
The flip side of this explains why losing those last 5 lbs. is so difficult. If weighing more means you can eat more calories, without further weight gain…
The less you weigh, the less you can eat without gaining weight.
It’s physically harder to lose additional weight the leaner you get.
It’s like this, if you can eat 3,000 calories a day without gaining weight, you could cut out 1,000 calories a day and lose weight healthily. If a pound is about 3,500 calories, that’s a pound every few days!
Now, if you can only eat 2,000 calories per day without gaining weight and you cut out 1,000 calories, you’d only be eating 1,000 calories a day! This is way too little to stay healthy and be sustainable.
The latter example will have to maintain a smaller daily calorie deficit than the former. This means the pounds will come off slower.
When you can only under eat by 250 calories each day, there’s simply less wiggle room. A single stress induced snacking session can easily undo a week’s work and prevent weight loss.
The leaner you get, the more precise and consistent you need to be in order to keep the scale going down. Even if you’re doing everything right you simply won’t be able to lose a pound as fast as you used to, because you’re leaner now.
Underestimating calories and overestimating exercise
This next point also plays a huge role in why weight loss can plateau.
People tend to overestimate how many calories they burn from exercise by 3 or 4 times (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21178922). And, people also underestimate how many calories they consume by up to 50%. (https://med.news.am/eng/news/11566/people-underestimate-how-much-they-eat-by-up-to-50.html). This is huge.
(You’ll find the links for the research on this from the show notes on the website.)
If you already have very little wiggle room in terms of achieving that consistent daily calorie deficit, misjudging how many calories you ate and how many you burned can lead to decisions that don’t help you with your goal.
For example, if you think you burned 600 calories in spin class, it’ll be easier to justify that brownie or extra glass of wine. All the while greatly underestimating how many calories those things actually contain.
What should you do instead
Get really detailed about tracking your food, at least for a week or so. This will give you an idea of what’s going on.
Now when people start recording their food they often immediately start eating better because they “don’t want to have to write down” any junk food in their journal. I encourage you to just eat “normal” for the week because the goal for the food log right now is to find out what’s going on, to find out what you’re doing consistently that’s stalling your weight loss.
Then after that, you can choose whether or not to keep tracking to make sure you’re:
– Under your calorie count,
– Using good judgment,
– And practicing mindfulness around food.
An alternative is to keep a less detailed food journal to keep you honest but it’ll help you not obsess about calories. This is my personal recommendation.
The idea is to be honest and objective about your nutrition. Because something as simple as cutting out your daily glass of wine could get your weight loss moving again. But you won’t know this until you record everything you consume throughout the week.
And I mean everything. From the bite of ice cream to the few French fries you stole from your partner’s lunch.
Doing this should clearly show you what needs to change to get those last few pounds off for good.