Fat Loss Expectations Vs Reality #1 I’m eating healthier but I’m not losing weight

by Alicja Poprawa in Education | Nutrition

The fitness industry has done a lot of great things, hasn’t it? 

Like you and I wouldn’t be here right now and you would never be reading this fantastic article if Lizzie has never started Griffin Fit and bought us all together!

But, perhaps one not so great thing that came about from the fitness industry is that it gave us unrealistic expectations of what fat loss should look like and how long it actually takes.

Think back to the early 2000’s celebrity endorsed weight loss cd’s, or tv shows like the biggest loser and many others. 

While the cd’s may not have been super problematic, they did give you the false impression that if you do these workouts with the celebrity then you too will look like them. Does the cd come with a private gym and a team of personal trainers, nutritionists and personal chefs? Didn’t think so.

With shows like the Biggest loser, the contestants were not only shamed throughout but the trainers put them through gruelling workouts with intense and restrictive diets. And even if the contestants have lost a lot of weight, did you know that post show most of them have put it back on?

Then came the super restrictive diets. The Dukan diet, The Atkins diet, The Zone diet. Even if you did manage to stick to it and lose some weight, it would be no surprise if you end up going back to your old diet and put the weight back on. If you swing the pendulum into one extreme it will eventually swing back the other way.

There’s also demonising food groups like carbs (hello devil is that you?). Whoever started this hate carbs train can just exit society. Unless you have an actual gluten intolerance or other conditions that require you to cut them out, why would you?

No wonder then since the media endorses these types of things it has affected our perception of what weight loss, working out and lifestyle change should look like. 

If you’re not sweating like a pig and close to tears when working out, are you really working hard enough? As if exercise should be a punishment.

Eating salad for every meal as if that’s supposed to be nourishing and filling.

And if you’re not starving or suffering maybe you just don’t want it enough? 

These are the types of messages a lot of the media, tv programs and self proclaimed fitness gurus have spread to us.

It gave us the perception that weight loss is meant to be hard and you’re meant to suffer because that’s just the way it is. 

Now that we’re in 2022, I think we have learned a lot and I’m hoping that we can start changing our perception of weight loss and what it should look like. If you’re still holding on to some of those old beliefs then hopefully this series of articles will help dismantle them. 

I want you to know that weight loss does not have to look like that. At Griffin Fit we want you to feel good all around, which means we don’t do restrictive diet plans and we will never scream at you if you can’t do something in the gym. Can you imagine?

We want to help you get to your goal with your health in mind so that you can get long lasting results and feel fantastic whilst you’re doing it!

And health is not just what you eat or how much you exercise. It’s also about how you feel on a day to day basis. 

Are you sleeping well and keeping stress under control? 

What is your relationship with food like and how do you view yourself? 

This is not to say there won’t be challenges along the way or sacrifices you will have to make but you have a great team of coaches to support you and cheer you on.

This article is the start of a series I’m doing to break down the expectations that the media has created when it comes to weight loss and give you the scientific truth. Some of these might be surprising and some annoying but it will help you better understand your fat loss journey and why things happen they way they do and not the way we have been made to believe they should.

Expectation #1 I’m eating healthier but I’m not losing weight

One of the big misconceptions that we have when it comes to losing weight is that eating healthier will lead to weight loss. But these two things, while they can go hand in hand, are actually not mutually exclusive. 

You can eat healthier and not lose weight because eating healthier doesn’t account for portion control or energy balance. 

This is not to discourage you from becoming healthier and making better choices because even if you don’t lose weight, you will still lower your risks of disease and improve your quality of life. 

However, in order to lose weight we need to be in a calorie deficit. And while not all calories are equal as long as you’re in that deficit you should lose weight. 

Let this release you from the shackles of ‘you have to eat salads and suffer with plain boring food if you want to lose weight’ because it’s simply not true. 

There is no magic food, salad or supplement that will lead to weight loss. It’s all down to energy balance.

The only reason that salads would work for weight loss is because they are super low in calories. Depending on what you have in your salad let’s say there’s 300 calories in your salad of some mixed leaves, cucumbers and other veg with some plain chicken. Eat that 3 times, that’s 900 calories per day.

An average person depending on their energy expenditure (that is how many calories they burn by existing and exercising) might need around 2000 calories just to maintain their bodyweight. Eating just 900 calories is a massive deficit, and for most people would be incredibly unsustainable.

Some restriction will obviously be necessary if our goal is weight loss. However, from the years of being a personal trainer it is the over restriction such as dropping your calories too low or eating foods that are not enjoyable to you that will inevitably lead you to over eat elsewhere and therefore eliminate the deficit you’ve created.

So if you are one of those people who have been trying to ‘eat healthier’ but you’re not seeing results, not accounting for energy balance or being too restrictive could be the reason why. 

So what is Energy Balance?

We’ll get into some science bits so you can better understand how weight loss happens in the body and then we will go into some strategies for creating an energy deficit for weight loss.

Energy balance is the relationship between energy coming in from food we consume and energy coming out of your body through movement and exercise.

If you are eating less calories than what your body is expending then you will lose weight.

Or, if we are consistently eating more calories than our body is expending then you will gain weight.

Digram: I want to help you visualise what the deficit, maintenance and surplus looks like. The diagram shows us an average person who maintains their weight at 2000 calories. That means they eat around 2000 calories daily and their body expends 2000 calories daily through just existing, movement and exercise. If this person wanted to lose weight we would create a deficit by lowering their intake to around 1500 calories. If this person would want to gain weight, like muscle we would slowly over time start increasing their intake above that maintenance. 

As you can see there are two components of the energy balance equation.

  1. The calories going in (food we consume)
  2. The calories going out (energy we expend)


Now that we know there are two sides to the equation, it tells us that in order to create the deficit we need to either:

  1. Increase how much energy our bodies are expending (increasing activity, exercise)
  2. Decrease how many calories we are eating (portion control, reducing take aways, reducing alcohol)
  3. Or do both and this is usually what we would do.

Of course it’s not that simple and there are many factors that affect either side of the equation.

However, now that you understand how fat loss occurs in the body, you can see why there is no special diet food like people claim online or secret exercsie that will make you lose fat because that’s just not how the body works.

The only reason why certain diets would work in the sense that you would lose weight on them is because they would put you in a deficit. Have you heard of the soup diet? Or the cabbage diet? I know many of my friends and family have fallen victim to these types of diets in the past. And of course they ‘worked’ short term. All because they only ate soup 3 times a day. Do you know how little calories that is! That creates again a massive and unsustainable deficit.

Hopefully now you will understand why you don’t have to do those types of diets to lose weight!

So What affects energy balance?

All those things above have an effect on how much food we consume and how much energy our body expends. Which is why at Griffin Fit we stress so much about your daily habits like eating more fruit and veg, sleep, de-stress activities and general activity.

Let me explain these in a bit more detail.

What are ‘Calories in’ affected by?

The types of food you eat and what your meals are made up of can have an impact on your energy balance.

For example, if I gave you a plate with a seasoned grilled chicken breast, a handful of roast potatoes (that’s like 2 potatoes) half an avocado and a big veggie salad, how long would that take you to eat? And would you finish your plate?

Compare that to a dominoes pizza or your favourite take away. How long would that take you to eat and would you also finish your plate?

Usually when we eat more nutritious and less proccessed meals its easier to listen to our hunger and satiety cues so that we can stop eating when we’re full. But if we’re eating a lot of processed meals they’re usually a lot lower in protein, so less satiating and, higher in carbs and fats, so we end up eating more calories. And they’re yummier so we don’t think twice before finishing our plate.

The types of foods you eat also matter because when you eat your body absorbs the calories from the food it digests. However, it’s actually been shown that our bodies absorb less calories from less processed food and it absorbs more of the available calories from the more processed foods. So if I gave you two meals that had the same calories but one was highly proccessed and the other was a low proccessed meal, your body would absorb less of those calories from the less proccessed meal. Interesting right.

Your emotional state can impact your food intake. You might find yourself raiding the cupboards when you’re struggling with a lot of stress in your life. In this case we need to find a way to either eliminate or find better ways to cope with stress.

Your sleep can impact how much you eat. Sleep helps our bodies to regulate our hormones. If we don’t get enough sleep then your hunger hormones will be out of whack and you might find yourself snacking more than usual.

Our environment is also super important. Not just our physical environment but also the people around us as they impact our decisions. For example if we have friends that always want to go out every weekend then it might be hard to let go of that and start our fitness journey because we might have to sacrifice some of those nights out.

As you can see creating a calorie deficit is only the first step of the journey. Making sure you are eating the right foods, sleeping well, and managing stress also play a big part in the results that you get because of the impact that they have on the ‘energy in’ part of the energy balance equation.

I’ll go into what affects the ‘calories out’ portion of energy balance in the next article so we can also understand how that affects weight loss.

So what now?

What is a healthy meal? If you’d ask 5 different people, you’d probably get 5 different answers. 

I personally think this is also because of the media and how it has shaped our perception of what eating healthy is. And now a lot of people struggle with over restricting because of the type of content that we have basically grown up with.

I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t eat healthy at all so please do not take this article out of context. All I am saying is that eating healthier alone may not help you lose weight if we don’t account for energy balance.

And I’m mentioning this because I have noticed a lot of clients who think they are doing all the right things because they’ve cut out all processed food and now only eat healthy food and yet the scales don’t budge.

And I also want to mention this because this perfectionist, all or nothing mindset we have when it comes to eating healthy such as ‘you can’t even have a bit of chocolate or cake’ is what often causes us to go off track.

We restrict ourselves so much because we think that’s what we have to do to lose weight and then we wonder why we ‘mess up’ or end up in this binge restrict cycle when we don’t even have to do this in the first place!

You can have your cake and lose weight at the same time.

Just not the whole cake.

We can maybe use the 80/20 rule where 80% of your food comes from nutritious foods and the other 20% gives you wiggle room for some more ‘fun foods’. This way you can not only enjoy your diet more but have peace of mind that you are staying on track to achieve your goals.

Again as long as we’re controlling energy balance then you will achieve your goal.

Strategies For Controlling Energy Balance

There are different strategies to controlling energy balance and we can help you find one that will help you get to your goal.

Let’s dive into a few strategies that we could use.

#1 Calorie Counting – There are calculators that can help us find our starting calories based on how active you are and your age, sex, height ect. They’re not always accurate that’s why you should treat the number you get as a starting point. This number will be your deficit. For some it’s an easy way to keep track of what they eat and allow some flexibility with food choices because they can still eat out or drink as long as it’s within their calorie target.

Where most people go wrong is they want results fast so obviously we set those calorie targets super low and then struggle to stick to it. If you are that person increase your calories and find a number that you can stick to consistently and I promise the results will come.

Also remember that calorie tracking can be inaccurate. Food labels can be up to 25% inaccurate and so can the apps we use to track our calories on. So if you are tracking, try not to stress about being perfect, just do your best.

This option might not be suitable for everyone but there are others!

#2 Portion Control – This could be an easy way of reducing calories without tracking. For example having 1 piece of toast for breakfast instead of our usual 2.

Aim to reduce portions of carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta) or fats (oils, nuts, butter) in this case rather than protein as those two macronutrients are easier to overeat.

#3 Build You Meals Around Protein – Why protein? Protein is good for fat loss for a few reasons. Eating enough protein helps us keep the muscle that we already have and lose weight from our fat stores. When we lose weight your body can take it from not only fat but also your muscles. Ensuring we are eating enough protein and resistance training tells your body that you’re using your muscles so it won’t break them down.

Also protein is more satiating than carbohydrates and fats. So eating enough protein when in a deficit will ensure you are fuller for longer which is important when you are losing weight as you are literally eating less than what your body is used to.

And it takes your body more energy to break down protein than any other macronutrient so you will burn a few extra calories. Every little helps right!

So when planning your meals try to pick a protein source and build your meal around that. For example, for lunch you want some chicken, that’s your protein. We’ll make it in a tortilla wrap. That’s our carbs. Fill it up with veg and some mayo for our fats.

#4 Reduce Take Aways – If you’re someone who eats out a lot then simply aiming to reduce over time how much you order out can help you lose weight. Maybe looking into why it is that you order out so much. Is it just a bad habit? Is it that you need to maybe plan ahead and meal prep on the weekend so that you have meals ready instead of ordering out?

Is it that you’ve never cooked for yourself so you don’t even know where to start. Learning how to cook simple meals would be the go to here.

#5 Eat to 80% full – This strategy might not work for everyone but it can be effective for helping us control how much food we consume. Whenever you eat try to focus on your satiety cues. So how ‘full’ you feel and eating to just 80% full. It might be hard to determine at the beginning where your 80% fullness is, but overtime it will get easier. For most of us the hurdle will probably be with not being able to leave the plate empty because we don’t want to waste food.

This is by no means an extensive list and which strategy that you use is completely dependent on you and your lifestyle. There is no better or worse just what works for you and what you can stick to consistently. Track what you do and your results. You will need to tweak things as you go but that’s all part of the journey.

In the next article I will be going into the ‘energy out’ portion of the energy balance equation and how to manipulate it for weight loss.

See you then!

Alicja Poprawa

Personal Trainer