The science of weight loss couldn’t be simpler. You create an energy deficit forcing your body to use its energy reserves, a.k.a body fat stores, as a source of energy. This can be achieved through restricting caloric intake (diet) or increasing physical activity (exercise) but most commonly best results are seen when you combine both. We may even be able to predict how much you might lose based on 1lb of fat roughly equalling 3,500 calories, meaning you only have to create a small deficit of 500 calories a day to lose 1lb a week.
So why is it so difficult to translate this science in to practice? Why are you not seeing the results you deserve for your hard work and dedication? Maybe the science is true and you are just being lazy or gluttonous and not maintaining that energy deficit. Or maybe like millions of other people in the world you are frustrated, tired and hungry. Your strict eating and hours in the gym are not showing rewards and you are questioning this new lifestyle.
One key explanation that much of the science has neglected is that creating an energy deficit is NOT a simple process even for the most determined individual and that other factors beyond your conscious control may be holding back your progress. Let’s explore all the factors that influence energy balance and weight loss to see what we are overlooking.
- Calories (Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats and Alcohol)
- Basal Metabolism
- Thermic Effect of Food
- Physical Activity
Since the “physical activity” component of energy output is most influenced by lifestyle we will focus here. Physical activity can be divided in to 2 subdivisions of “exercise” and “daily activity”. As discussed above increasing total physical activity can be a great strategy to increasing energy output, switching energy balance to weight loss. This assumes that daily activity levels remain constant, and exercise physical activity increases leading to an overall physical activity increase.
However this is often not the case and we may in fact decrease our daily activity to account for an increase in exercise, meaning overall physical activity remains unaffected. Sometimes this happens consciously, maybe you decide to take the escalator instead of the stairs because your legs are sore from the previous days workout or instead your other half cooks dinner whilst you are at the gym. These reductions in daily activity may sound small but they soon add up reducing your energy deficit and slowling weight loss progress. Instead of losing 1lb a week as expected you may only lose 1/2lb, in fact you may reduce daily activity to such a level that you completely negate weight loss all together!
Here are my top tips to prevent this from happening
- Invest in a ‘fitbit’ to track information such as your daily steps, distance travelled, floors climbed and calories burnt. Over a few weeks of wearing your ‘fitbit’ you will begin to paint a picture of what a typical working/weekend day looks like for you. Once you’ve established this you can set yourself daily targets such as “I want to hit 9,000 steps on a working day and 12,000 on the weekends” or “Every day I will aim to expend 500 calories”. Sticking to these daily activity goals alongside physical activity helps ensure you maintain the energy deficit required for fat loss.
- Find your staircase, make small daily commitments to yourself and stick to them. For example, I live on the top floor of a block of flats with 68 stairs separating the ground floor to my flat (yes, I’ve counted). I made the small commitment to myself that I would never take the lift, no matter how sore my legs are or how tired I am in general I always take the stairs. In fact, sometimes I like to race the lift as a little game to keep me amused.
Find your staircase and own it. Whether it be parking on the furthest side of the car park, always walking the dog to a certain tree in the park or always walking to the shops find your own staircase.
- Exercise like Goldilocks A smart way to exercise for weight loss is to find the right amount that burns enough calories for weight loss without going overboard and fatiguing yourself to the point that you can’t maintain daily activity. This can take a lot of trial and error. I recommend starting off with 2 workouts a week and seeing how you feel before increasing to 3 or 4. All too often people start off keen and exercise for 7 days in a row and then they crash, their bodies just can’t handle it and they feel demotivated. Find the amount that’s just right for you and stick to it.