Can’t lose weight no matter what?
You try to eat well but you just can’t lose weight. You don’t skip breakfast – usually choosing a healthier brand of muesli or bread for toast. You only have one coffee a day – it’s your treat. Otherwise you try to drink more tea and water.
You have a salad for lunch most days, maybe some tuna added and some crackers on the side. Afternoon tea is usually a piece of fruit and/or a yogurt.
At dinner you try to eat less carbohydrates because you’ve heard carbs aren’t good for weight loss. The hardest thing is resisting the temptation to eat chocolate or other sweets in the evening but, for the most part, you do pretty good.
So why can’t you lose weight? You do everything right.
Or do you?
So many women come to me in frustration, ready to completely give up, because – no matter what they do – they can’t lose weight.
Sound familiar? If this sounds like you, the good news is that you already have a solid base to work from so with just a few changes, we can get you losing weight (assuming of course you are otherwise healthy).
What’s the problem?
Many women follow a typical eating pattern that they mistakenly believe is healthy and good for weight loss. However, when we look closer at this pattern we see common problems that make it hard to lose weight.
Let’s look at some typical food diaries brought in by my clients. The two food diaries below are examples of how many women are eating when they come to me frustrated because they can’t lose weight.
Here’s what these women are doing wrong:
1. Neither has protein with their breakfast (although Zoe has a protein shake which helps) and only a small amount of protein at lunch. Their only sizeable portion of protein is at dinner which means they are probably hungry and more susceptible to cravings all day long.
2. Cereals, muesli bars, commercial yoghurts, cookies, crackers, chocolate, and fruit provide the majority of calories and all these foods are high in sugar. Anna’s day in particular is full of supposedly “healthy” foods but if we added up her sugar totals she’d be well up around 80g of sugar per day (that’s about 20 tsps of sugar!). She’s even got some hidden sugar in the butter chicken mix because most supermarket sauces are full of sugar.
These women are basically piling sugar on top of sugar on top of sugar all day long, setting themselves up for constant blood sugar spikes and crashes. Add in some coffee (and stress from work or lack of sleep) and cortisol will be through the roof. When cortisol is high, they won’t lose weight.
3. Neither of these diets is very nutritious. These women would both feel better with more vegetables, fibre, and good fats in their diets.
What to do if you can’t lose weight
1. Make protein the focus of every meal
Protein is key for achieving and maintaining a lean, healthy body and many women just don’t get enough.
Simply changing the ratio of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) you consume daily, can be the most effective switch you can make for weight loss.
Increasing your protein intake will boost your metabolism and help maintain your muscle mass, all of which helps with fat burning. In fact, the digestion of protein burns more calories than digesting carbohydrates or fats!
If you feel tired or have cravings in the afternoon, it’s often caused by unstable blood glucose and insulin levels (from eating sugar and drinking coffee all day long). If you want more energy, eat protein with breakfast and lunch. You’ll notice a big difference in how you feel mid-afternoon.
If you are having a hard time losing weight, one of the first steps should be looking at how much protein you eat compared to carbohydrates.
A more optimal approach for fat loss is to ensure that carbohydrates only account for about 30 per cent of your total calories. Protein might account for about another 30 per cent and the rest of your calories can come from fat.
Want help figuring out how much to eat? Check out my online nutrition coaching program.
2. Eat less sugar
Even if you are trying to eat well, certain “healthy foods” you regularly consume can be high in sugar – yoghurt, muesli and snack bars are three of the most common foods women overeat. Also, fruit is high in sugar so limit your servings to 2 to 3 pieces per day.
Check your labels – or better yet eat foods without them. Four grams of sugar on the label equates to about 1 teaspon of sugar. In the client examples above, Anna’s Fresh & Fruity yoghurt in the afternoon has 22.3g sugar per 150g container – more than 5 teaspoons of sugar in one little container! And what is yoghurt usually paired with? Fruit – even more sugar. Yet, this is such a common afternoon snack for women. No wonder so many women are starving by the time they get home from work.
If you have yoghurt for an afternoon snack, or other high sugar foods, your blood sugar surges and then quickly crashes leaving you famished and unable to control your snacking before dinner.
3. Focus on eating nutritious food not calories
When life is going a bit crazy, food is the one way we can nourish and care for ourselves.
Food is not just calories. Food is not the enemy and it’s not something to make us feel better when we are stressed, tired, bored or lonely. If you eat as nutritiously as possible you support your body to deal with stress, to age better, to have stronger immune function and to lose fat or maintain our ideal weight.
Every woman I have ever put on a meal plan or nutrition program is surprised at the amount of food she is able to eat and still lose weight.
It’s not that calories don’t matter. Rather the quality of calories is more important than the quantity.
100 calories of candy doesn’t cause the same effect as 100 calories of green vegetables. These two types of foods impact hormones and brain centers that control hunger and eating behavior very differently. When you focus on the quality of what you eat, you will be less likely to overeat.
What this means for you
If you can’t lose weight no matter what, here’s what you should do:
1. Eat more protein. Start using an app like myfitnesspal to track your protein, carbs and fat. Most women in my nutrition program are surprised at how little protein they actually eat.
Changing the ratio of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) you consume daily, can be the most effective switch you make for weight loss. You’ll be surprised at how easily you start to lose weight.
2. Certain “healthy foods” women consume regularly can be high in sugar. Yoghurt is not a health food. Most commercial yoghurts have way too much sugar. If you are concerned about probiotics eat fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi instead, or take a supplement.
Fruit is healthy but if you are trying to lose weight, limit yourself to 2 to 3 pieces per day.
If you have realized from reading this article you eat too much sugary “health” food, start rebalancing your plate by adding more protein. This will automatically reduce the amount of sugar you eat. So cereal and fruit in the morning might be paired with some eggs or replaced entirely with an omelet, and a yoghurt and fruit snack might become a protein shake, homemade protein balls or fruit and nuts.
3. For long lasting change, you need to change the way you think about food. During stressful times, most women mindlessly eat high sugar foods. They stop looking after themselves. Remember, when you are stressed, your body needs extra care and good nutrition is one of the ways you can look after yourself when everything else is going crazy.
You don’t have to be perfect. Small changes (ie. a protein bar instead of a muesli bar) will make you feel better and that will lead to a cascade of a whole lot of other helpful behaviours (ie. eat more protein and you’ll have more energy to go to the gym in the afternoon and you’ll be less likely to binge eat when you get home from work).
With these simple changes, even without counting calories, you’ll start losing weight. In fact, every single woman I have ever worked with has lost weight when shifting to this style of eating.
If you’ve hit a plateau or just can’t make the progress you are looking for despite eating well, it’s a good idea to get some help with your nutrition. Don’t give up – it’s likely you just need to make some small changes.