5 Reasons you are not losing fat in a deficit
Let us start this by being direct – if you’re not losing fat, you aren’t in a deficit. I know! The most unhelpful answer ever. Nonetheless, it’s true. If you are familiar with Mark’s methods, you will know that to lose fat, you need to consume less energy than you burn each day. It’s the law of thermodynamics, and we can’t get around it (I’ve tried many times). So let’s look at why someone might think they are in a deficit but, in reality, aren’t and what you can do to fix it.
Reason One: You are consistent during the week, and then you go ‘yolo’ on the weekend.
You decide that you would like to lose some fat. Monday rolls around, and you are motivated as hell! This time will be different. You meal prep and schedule your workouts for the week. You finished Monday and Tuesday strong, Wednesday was a little hard, but you pushed through. Then Thursday rolled around, and you didn’t plan your day, so dinner ended up being something you threw together (it was too hard to track, though, so we will assume it was within your calories). Then Friday rolls around, you are out of groceries, and the girls hound you to go out for a few drinks. You oblige and promise it will just be one drink. Seven drinks later and a 4 am stop in at McDonald’s for a sneaky cheeseburger. Your mind decides that your diet is ruined anyway, so you’ll start again on Monday. So you keep yoloing it. But here’s the catch, calories count on weekends just as much as they count during the week and it isn’t all that hard to take yourself out of a deficit or even put yourself in a surplus with a few untracked or yolo days of eating. Your net caloric intake needs to be less than your net energy expenditure to lose fat.
The remedy: Be consistent throughout the entire week. Set yourself realistic goals. You don’t have to give up your social life or become a hermit if you want to lose fat. Instead, consider calorie cycling or choose to have one maintenance day per week.
Reason Two: Your tracking is inaccurate.
Tracking is a skill that takes some practice to become proficient in. Most people are familiar with My Fitness Pal, the database widely used to track calorie and macronutrient intake. The problem with My Fitness Pal is that anyone, yes anyone, can input entries onto the platform, leaving each entry with a large margin of error. Even the ‘verified’ options aren’t always accurate.
You might also run into trouble if you weigh things cooked but track them raw or vice versa. This is because the cooking process can retain or lose fluid which changes the weight of the food but not the calorie or macronutrient breakdown. For example, if you start with 150g of raw chicken breast and weigh it afterwards, it will weigh less (chicken loses water during cooking). It now weighs 90 grams, and you track it as ‘chicken breast, 90g raw’ – you are effectively missing 60g from the amount you actually consumed and therefore, you have consumed more calories than you thought.
The remedy: Use the NUTTAB database to log anything that doesn’t contain a label (meat and produce). You can do this by searching ‘chicken breast nuttab’ on My Fitness Pal. Ensure you scan the barcode of packaged items and check them against the label. Finally, decide whether to track your food cooked or raw (raw is more accurate, but that is an entire discussion that we won’t go into here). Be consistent with that method of tracking to decrease marginal errors.
Reason Three: You don’t track licks, bites or sips.
I’m a Mum, so I am notorious for this if I’m not mindful. But, let me tell you, the bites, licks and sips you take throughout the day add up! Especially when it’s from foods with a high-calorie content per 100g (hello, peanut butter). So, if you’re going to track, track everything – even the bites, licks, and sips.
The remedy: minimise mindless snacking. Snacking isn’t ‘bad’ when it is intentional, but unconscious snacking brings many people undone.
Reason Four: You have overestimated your TDEE.
A TDEE calculator provides a ballpark figure at best. It does not account for your own unique metabolic needs (thyroid hormones, mitochondrial efficiency, NEAT levels etc), yet people become very dogmatic about finding the perfect TDEE calculator. It doesn’t exist (well, it does, but it’s an expensive process called indirect calorimetry). So, keep this in mind when using a TDEE calculator.
The remedy: use a TDEE calculator to determine a ballpark figure of where you sit. Then become somewhat of a detective. How is your body responding after a few weeks on those calories? (don’t change things sooner than 2-3 weeks, be patient). Is your average weight trending down? Are your measurements going down? If yes, great! Don’t change what’s not broken. If not? Your actual TDEE may be lower than the calculator predicted (assuming you have been consistent with your calorie intake).
Reason Five: You have overestimated your daily activity levels.
Most people grossly underestimate their daily calorie intake and overestimate how active they are.
The remedy: when choosing your daily activity level, move away from trying to determine how many calories you burn during your training. Resistance training burns less overall calories than you think. Instead, think about how active you are throughout the entire day. Are you a nurse? Or do you work in administration? Are you a chef? Or are you a web developer? Your occupation and general lifestyle have the most significant impact on how active you are throughout the day. So, if you’re a nurse, you will probably sit a little higher than someone who works in administration. When in doubt, underestimate.
Yours in health,
Head of Nutrition