Before we can answer why you are not losing weight, we first need to learn our weight. Our body is made up of muscle, water, fat, bones, organs, and tissue. All this makes up our body weight. We typically categorize them into two major groups – fat mass and fat-free mass. Another term we use more frequently is lean body mass, a total of muscle, and body water. A percent-body-fat is a measure that tells us what is your fat to lean body mass ratio. It is important to follow this number than weight. Read this to learn why?
What is “losing weight” means?
Losing weight could involve losing any of the body’s components. When we talk about weight loss, we need to know if you are losing fat, muscle, or water. Now let’s take a look at two scenarios:
- Losing fat and gaining muscle. This is the best combination. If this combination occurs, you will lose inches off your waist. You will look skinny. However, your weight may not change much or may even go up if you gain a good amount of muscle. This muscle gain will increase your basal metabolic rate and indirectly boost your metabolism (my book describes this concept well and provide tips to achieve it). This way, you have a better chance of maintaining your look.
- Losing muscle and gaining fat. This is the worst combination. Your weight will remain the same, but your cloth size will get bigger. Your basal metabolic rate and hence metabolism will go down. It is because your body fat percentage is going higher.
See the picture below to understand why we should focus on lowering body fat percentage and not just weight:
With this concept in mind, many things can influence weight loss, some of which may be more obvious than others. It’s worth considering these factors as you make changes that will get you the desired results.
1. Eating more than you think
One of the most important factors in weight loss is how many calories you’re eating versus how many calories you’re burning—or the concept of calories in vs. calories out.
It may seem obvious, but unless you’re tracking your calories each day, you may be eating more than you think. In fact, research has found that most of us underestimate how much we’re eating, especially when we go out to eat.
Keep a Food Diary
Getting in the habit of tracking what you eat using any app (Myfitnesspal, LoseIt, or FatSecret). These apps will prompt you to enter portion size and enter all ingredients. Log your food intake every day for at least a week, being as specific as possible.
2. Exercising too little
Exercise is, of course, a crucial element to weight loss, but it’s hard to know if you’re doing the optimum exercise to burn enough calories. Also, what’s important is that you are incorporating both – aerobic and strength training exercises. There are actually three components to an exercise and fitness program – aerobic, strength training, and flexibility (all three are explained well along with a sample workout program in my book).
These are the activities that get the heart pumping and the lungs working. To achieve the benefits of aerobic exercises without any harm, you need to maintain your heart rate in a target heart rate range. This range is approximately 60%-80% of the maximum heart rate, as measured in beats per minute. The maximum heart rate is approximately equal to 220 minus your age. You get benefit if you keep your heart rate in the target zone for 20 minutes. Walking at a moderately brisk pace at 3 to 3.5 miles per hour for 30 minutes and more will provide the same benefits. You can incorporate a HIIT workout if you can handle it for maximizing calorie burning. Don’t do HIIT workouts every day. Give your muscle a chance to recuperate; otherwise, you will end up losing muscle too.
Here is a seven minute abdominal workout that you can also incorporate in your daily routine.
Strength training leads to an increase in skeletal muscle mass. This increased muscle mass leads to a better physique, increased energy, increased ability to perform routine tasks, and in increased metabolic rate will help burn excess calories.
Strength training can be done at home or in a gym. They can be done with little or no equipment, free weights (dumbbells or barbells) or resistance training equipment (Chapter 6 of my book goes into details on various strength training options).
Flexibility is essential to avoid injuries, sprains, and improve range of motion. Regularly stretching will help reduce muscle tension, prevent injuries, prepare your body for strenuous workouts, and increase your range of motion and coordination. It should be done before and after aerobic or strength training exercise. Yoga and Pilates are good flexibility exercises (many workouts are available free with Amazon Prime).
3. Having unrealistic goals
Many people have an unrealistic idea about what it means to be at a healthy weight. Your goals should be S.M.A.R.T:
- Specific. Rather than saying “I will exercise more”, you should say, “I will walk for 45 minutes every day”
- Measurable. Your fitness tracker can track how many steps you took or miles walked every day
- Achievable (or attainable). You can aim to burn extra 500 calories per day through exercise. But aiming to burn 1000 calories per day extra may reach unattainable.
- Relevant. Planning to go biking when you don’t have a bike or stationary bike would not be relevant.
- Time-bound. This defines a deadline. For example, I will go walking at least 5 times per week.
Setting up realistic goals also gives you motivation. When you set a goal that you can achieve and when you actually achieve it, it gives you confidence and motivation for going forward.
These are some common reasons why your weight is not coming down. As you have learned, it is not about weight but the percentage of fat in the body. If you are gaining muscle and losing fat, that is the best outcome one can hope for. Strength training is an important part of any weight loss program and should be part of your weight loss plan.