Welcome back to this series in which we get to the root of why exactly you are not losing weight on your current low calorie diet. If you have not yet, check out Part 1 and Part 2 so that you are all caught up to speed.
Today we will be going through Reasons #3 and #4, keeping in mind we are gradually working our way down the list in descending order of likelihood (aka it is much more likely that Reason #1 is to blame than Reason #7).
Reason #3. You are not accurately measuring your portions
If you have gone through Reasons #1 and #2 and made sure your definition of “low calorie” is in fact based on something more substantial than subjective feelings, the next area to look would be your accuracy in measuring food portions. First and foremost, consider how you measure portions used when cooking or preparing a meal at home. Even if a small inaccuracy persists, this can amount to a large skewing of data in terms of caloric intake.
For example, if you have consistently been tracking what is actually 150 grams of avocado as 90 grams, you are looking at a caloric difference of 100 calories. If you eat this on a daily basis, that is 700 extra weekly calories totally unaccounted for. And that’s just for one food (and just one serving) out of maybe 15 or 20 foods you are eating in a given day!
Similarly, this presents a big problem when going out to eat. Restaurant chefs are concerned with making their food taste great, not fit your daily calorie allotment. As such, if drowning your grilled chicken in oils and sugary sauces is what it takes to keep you coming back, well, there goes any validity in tracking this as just “6 ounces of chicken breast.” You can expect a calorie difference in this example of 200, 500, even 700 or more.
How to accurately measure your portions:
For this reason, it might be beneficial to limit the amount of times you eat out and to be more mindful of what’s being eaten when you do go. I say this not to scare you, and I certainly would not advocate for bringing your food scale to the restaurant (there’s no quicker way to lose friends) or even pestering the waiter about what is going into the food, but to keep you mindful of why the calories eaten in a given week might not match up perfectly to the weight lost.
This could also have to do less with the measurements themselves but selection of the correct brand or type of that food. Almond milk will have significantly fewer calories than regular milk (although this difference comes almost entirely from lower protein), and one protein bar might have double the amount of calories of a similar protein bar. Fixing this would require making sure the brand names match, when possible, and being careful to choose the correct type of food.
Reason #4. You are not accurately measuring your weight
As we discussed at the beginning of this article, weight changes are indicative of more than just changes in body fat (our other nutrition coach Jenn wrote an awesome article that goes more in depth here!). This means that if we are only weighing ourselves once a week, we are not getting anywhere near an accurate picture as to how our food intake is affecting this.
As an example, imagine you weigh yourself weekly on Saturdays.
Let’s say this Saturday you weigh yourself the morning after an ethanol-heavy house party, and next Saturday you weigh yourself the morning after a “perfect” day of eating, and the Saturday after that you weigh yourself after a string of stressful days, and then the next Saturday you forget to weigh yourself and so have to do it after breakfast. Let’s also say that throughout that entire four-week period, you have been losing a pound of fat a week, consistently. However, your weight actually increases throughout this period… what gives!
The first Saturday you weighed yourself was after a night colored by the diuretic properties of alcohol (aka you peed a lot, so you weigh less). You weighed in at 160.
The following Saturday, we said you lost a pound of fat. So you should be 159. However, that change in water weight you experienced last week was no longer present. If you lost one pound of water that previous Saturday, and that is not a factor now, you would weigh in at 160 again. In fact, you weigh in at 160.3.
The Saturday after that, you weighed yourself after a bunch of stressful days. Stress can inappropriately raise cortisol, a “stress hormone" secreted by the adrenal glands. This hormone has a tendency to promote holding more water weight and even fat deposition. Because of this, a pound is added. So although you lost a pound of fat, it was made up for (either by water, fat, or both) by the end of the week. You weigh in at 160.5 today.
On the last Saturday in our example, you weigh yourself after eating breakfast. So although you have been losing fat consistently (with the exception of that three-day stress-induced bump that returned to normal), that is now masked by the weight of undigested food, and fluids, in your body. And the scale reads “161.”
But wait… those numbers don’t add up.
What’s with the 0.3 added pounds that first week, then 0.2 the second, and 0.5 the third? Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that throughout this period you’ve been doing resistance training for the first time in your life with one of our top notch trainers. Since you are brand new to training, even on a “low calorie” diet, your body is finding ways to build muscle, so those increases are coming from muscle, which is a good thing.
But the scale told you none of this… It didn’t tell you about the diuretic effects of alcohol, or the water-retaining effects of cortisol, or the fact that, believe it or not, you weigh more when there is food in your stomach. And it certainly did not differentiate between muscle and fat (bioimpedance scales might be able to do that, but even they are reliant on consistent water levels and are not perfect).
How to accurately measure your weight:
The easiest and most effective way to keep a close eye on your weight would be to weigh yourself every morning, in the same conditions (ideally having urinated already, being in the nude, and not having eaten breakfast yet). You would then take an average of these every week and could then start to get a more accurate idea of how your weight is responding to your caloric intake.
Of note, my connections with the eating disorder profession compel me to mention that your weight is not the be-all end-all of healthy living. If taking daily weight is starting to trouble you or cause some distorted thoughts, feel no shame in ditching it entirely. However, in my experience, this method of taking weight leads to a much healthier mentality and more congruent body image, since it reassures the individual that fluctuations are totally normal and not signals of fat gain or fat loss.
For next time
In the next installment, we will discuss two more reasons you may not be seeing weight loss on your low calorie diet. What you should take away from this piece is that in order to truly gauge objective weight loss on your low calorie diet, you must ensure you are accurately measuring food portions and your own body weight.
Stay tuned for more!