It’s just after New Year at the time of writing – a period where many of us look to kick bad habits, adopt healthier lifestyles and eat better. While the numbers on the scale should never be the only answer, many of us also look to lose weight as we leave the Christmas period of indulgence behind us.
However, if your goal is losing weight then it doesn’t matter what time of year it is: there’s a fact you need to know. Sometimes, exercise alone just isn’t enough to help you shed weight. No matter how many times you hit the gym or head outside for a run, if losing weight is your goal there’s a core concept you need to understand…
That concept is that of calories in versus out. Essentially, you need to work out how many calories you burn in a day at rest (which is called basal metabolic rate), then how many calories you consume. If you’re consuming an excess of calories, you’ll gain weight. If you’re in a deficit, you’ll lose it. But this balancing act is not as easy as it sounds and gets even harder when exercise is involved.
|Consuming more calories than you burn||Consuming fewer calories than you burn|
|Weight gain||Weight loss|
Remember: when you’re talking about losing weight, you need to focus on body fat. Technically, anyone could lose lots of weight rapidly by cutting down on water intake and dehydrating yourself, but this is extremely dangerous and unsustainable. A gradual reduction in body fat is always the most lasting and effective method.
Why you might not be losing weight
Exercise forces your body to burn calories as energy, using said calories to fuel your muscles during the process of working out. Most commonly, the body recruits carbohydrates first as they’re the most readily available to be converted into glucose, or blood sugar, which helps fuel your muscle cells.
However, if you’re exercising but not losing weight, you’re likely still consuming more calories than you’re burning. How can that be? You might ask. I’m running every day! While you’re probably getting healthier, as a result, you might not be losing weight due to a number of different factors:
Men (usually, more on this in a second) burn more calories than women, even doing the same exercises for the same amount of time. This is because men typically hold more muscle and less body fat than women – which increases their base metabolic rate.
Some women who are in better shape than men will burn more calories at rest but statistically, women hold more body fat on average which hinders your metabolic rate.
In a somewhat cruel trick of nature, having a lower ratio of muscle to body fat reduces your metabolic rate – meaning people with more muscle can lose weight easier than those with high body fat percentages. However, most exercise will lead to a change in body composition as fat is turned into muscle, which then helps you lose weight in future.
People who live a sedentary lifestyle such as office workers who drive or take public transport to work are more likely to have higher body fat and find it harder to lose weight. That’s because people with more active lifestyles are naturally burning higher calories thanks to the added exercise they do from even simple acts like walking. One way to help change your results is to try walking or cycling to work – or even just talking walks at lunch.
When you’re exercising regularly, your body slows your metabolism in a process called thermogenic adaption. Essentially, you get accustomed to a certain level of calorie burn so the body adjusts.
If this occurs, you might need to look into adjusting either your input (calories in) or output (energy expenditure during exercise).
While it’s true that doing some exercise is better than none, certain exercises are more effective in terms of weight loss because they burn more calories per minute than others. However, there are more complex factors like length of training etc that can change this – such as eventually out-burning a HIIT session once you hit a certain distance.
Depending on your body weight and metabolic rate, you’ll roughly burn more calories when you’re increasing exertion. Exertion could fall into groups such as:
- Slow walking
- Brisk walking
- Basketball/other team sports with time for individual resting
- Football/rugby/American football
- HIIT training
Changing your relationship with exercise
Remember: weight loss, on its own, is not really a goal. It’s bodyfat reduction you should aim for – because weight loss can be achieved in unhealthy ways that can actually do harm to your body. Instead, aim to exercise for fitness and enjoyment but acknowledge that you need to master the calories in/out process to lose fat.
Some foods are too full of refined sugars or unhealthy fats to make them worth eating, though theoretically if you ate them and still had fewer calories than you burned you’d still lose weight. However, these foods are typically calorie-dense – so even a small portion is full of calories and won’t help satiate your appetite.
Try to aim for protein-rich foods with whole-grain carbohydrates. The carbs help fuel your exercises and protein help muscles refuel and reknit. Protein also increases feelings of satiety so you’ll feel fuller for longer.
Try our range of protein snacks if you’re looking for calorie-exact snacks you can pack on the go and eat when hunger strikes. Avoid reaching for junk food and try our great-tasting range instead. Good luck on your journey and if you find you’re exercising but not losing weight, you might have hit a plateau and need to either up your exercise intensity or reassess your calorie intake.