It’s a common question: I eat healthy and can’t lose weight. What’s going on? I choose nutritious foods and take supplements, but the pounds aren’t coming off. Is something wrong with me?
What’s Happening When You’re Eating Healthy but Can’t Lose Weight?
If you’re asking that question, your best first step is probably to go to the doctor to find out if there is an underlying cause to explain why you are eating healthy but can’t lose weight. Once that’s ruled out, it’s time to take another look at what’s going on.
The odds are that there isn’t anything wrong with you at all. If you’re like about 2 out of every 3 Americans who is overweight or obese, then you’ve likely already tried dieting in at least one or two ways. You may even have dropped some pounds. That said, if you’re like most Americans, then you also let those diets slip – either because they were too strict or for some other reason – and the lost weight either stopped there or returned once again.
Inconsistency in eating healthy make it hard to lose weight
If you feel you are eating healthy but can’t lose weight, you may want to look at the consistency of your efforts. How many meals, snacks and full days would truly fall into the healthy category? Are you keeping it up consistently or are you finding that you get tired or bored with your eating strategy and quit occasionally when it isn’t appealing?
It’s very common for obesity patients to feel pretty motivated to keep up with a diet at the start but to struggle to keep it up. After a while, they’re not eating as healthy as they think, and they can’t lose weight anymore.
Not All Healthy Eating Changes Will Cause Weight Loss
It’s not uncommon for people to make massive eating style overhauls – keto, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free, vegetarian, or vegan, for instance – and still not see any weight loss. This may seem confusing as many people will do this for the purpose of eating more healthfully and expect to see the pounds coming away at the same time. That said, what many people don’t realize is that no matter what ingredients you eat or macronutrient (fat, protein, carbohydrates) balance you eat, there is one crucial measure of whether or not your eating habits will lead to fat loss: calories.
Therefore, even if you’re eating only healthy foods, if their total calorie content is equal to or greater than what your body is burning every day, you won’t lose weight – you may even gain!
In other words, while nutrients are good for your health, it’s your calorie count that will ultimately dictate whether or not you lose weight. If you’re eating too many calories in the form of healthy foods, you’ll struggle with weight just as you would by doing so with unhealthy foods.
Why Don’t Health Foods Automatically Cause Weight Loss?
If calories are all that matter for weight loss, why do we place such a focus on eating healthy when we’re trying to lose weight? It’s important to note that what a dietitian would categorize as being healthy isn’t necessarily the same as what the average consumer would think.
A healthy diet isn’t necessarily just one that contains an appropriate number of calories. At the same time, one that is nutrient packed isn’t necessarily ideal, either. Still, if you want to know why you’re eating healthy but can’t lose weight, your starting point can be to discover what your daily calorie intake should be for weight loss.
Once you know that, you can start to look into the healthfulness of individual ingredients. This should include their nutritional composition, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, macronutrients, antioxidants and, yes, calories. As you can see, calories are one of several considerations for healthy eating that will also promote weight loss.
For example, while olive oil may be high in fat, it is considered to be a very healthy food. Still, because of that high fat content, it is also high in calories. Yes, it is a healthy fat, but this doesn’t mean you can eat as much of it as you want if you want to control your weight. Many people consume it in excess, which can help to explain why they are eating healthy but can’t lose weight. Other healthy foods that can lead to this same “user error” include avocado, nuts, and many other ingredients with healthy fats.
Unhealthy Foods Can be Low in Calories
At the same time, there are lots of unhealthy foods that are low in calories. Still, they won’t support your weight loss because of what they do contain. You can eat a food that is virtually void of nutrients but that contain lots of artificial colors and flavors as well as sugars or sweeteners. While these may seem tempting as alternatives to whole, nutrient-dense foods, it’s best to keep their consumption to a minimum. They don’t help your body to remain healthy, keep up your metabolism, function properly, or fight disease as a nutrient-dense food would.
The key to healthy weight loss, ongoing weight management and overall wellness is to choose healthy eating within an appropriate calorie range. This gives your body what it needs while avoiding what it doesn’t.
Do You HAVE to Count Calories to Lose Weight?
Counting calories can seem like a pain in the backside. Still, it remains the most successful way to drop the pounds and keep them off over the long term, among those who keep it up. Fortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to count every calorie you eat for the rest of your life. Instead, focus more on the next three months to get it right for the longer term.
There are lots of great apps out there that can help you to conveniently count your calories. As you enter each food – either by searching databases or scanning product barcodes – you learn to understand your foods and their nutritional and calorie content. On average, it takes only about there months to get a solid grasp of it. So instead of thinking of this as a forever habit, challenge yourself to track your calories for three months. After that, you’ll have a bit of a built-in calorie in your mind and you won’t need to be quite as precise about tracking on the app – unless you want to. Many people find that once they’ve built the habit, it becomes second nature to keep it up.
How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight?
The number of calories your body requires in order to function properly but still burn stored fat depends on many factors. These include your:
- Current weight
- Activity level
Each of these factors influences your body’s requirements of your healthy eating and your limits before you can’t lose weight. There are calculators online that can help to guide you to measure your basal metabolic rate, which will determine how many calories you’ll need to eat to keep up all your basic body functions in a day, based on your activity level in that day. If you still aren’t sure, speaking with your doctor, a dietitian or a nutritionist can help you to better understand your individual needs.
With that information, you can create a calorie deficit that will force your body to use its energy reserves – body fat – without harming your wellness or your metabolism by eating too little.