Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Am I Not Losing Weight? Top 6 Culprits for Stalled Weight Loss.

Memorial Day--the official start of pool season--is quickly approaching and whether or not I can believe that we're already nearly five months through 2013 (didn't the year just begin?), I'm reminded that it's almost time for summer! I love this time of year. But it also means that, after several months of hibernation, it's time to show some skin. Are you ready for shorts and swimsuits?

If you've been thinking about getting in shape for summer, hopefully you have already gotten a good start. (Remember it's not realistic to think you'll drop 10 pounds in a couple weeks). But after a few weeks or months of watching what you eat and exercising, it is common to find yourself at a weight loss plateau. It can be frustrating. But don't give up! Whether your goal is to lose a few pounds by pool season or you're on track for a long-term weight loss goal, there are six common reasons that people get stalled on their weight loss journey.

1. Underestimating
Most people (sometimes even food experts) underestimate how many calories they consume. Although not purposeful, it's easy to do. There can be several causes for underestimating your calorie intake:
  • Eating more often. Small meals and snacks can really add up throughout the day even if you're not eating very much at a time.
  • Eating larger portion sizes than you think. Did you estimate that you ate a cup of pasta or really measure it? Pay attention to portion sizes and use measuring tools (measuring cups or a scale) to double-check yourself.
  • Not knowing how a food is prepared, like when dining out. Foods eaten outside of the home tend to come in large portion sizes and often contain more fats, sugars and calories than we may be aware of. I can't tell you how many times I've been fooled! You may have to do a little detective work to find the nutrition facts. Look up information by checking an app or the restaurant's website and pick a healthy option before you go.
Recording everything you eat--on paper or in an electronic food journal--can help you be more aware of how much you are actually taking in and it holds you accountable. Every calorie counts! So don't forget about "bites" and "tastes" or "just that one little piece." Read food labels or do some research to find out about portion sizes and nutrition information. Write it all down. If you take in 100-200 extra calories per day, you'll lose weight more slowly than you expect. 

2. Overestimating
It's also easy to overestimate how many calories you burn in exercise. Be realistic. Yes, it may be hard work to jog a mile, but that really only burns 100 calories. Typically a person needs to burn 500 calories daily in order to lose 1 pound per week. This requires a consistent exercise routine along with diet. For weight loss, at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise 5 days per week is recommended. If this is a lofty goal for you, it's okay to start with a smaller and more attainable goal. Start walking a few days per week or buy a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps per day. Just be honest about how many calories you're actually burning and don't allow yourself to eat extra just because you exercised!

3. Poor timing of meals
Food is energy, so that means a person needs to eat consistently throughout the day to maintain energy levels. Start with a balanced breakfast within an hour of waking up, then eat a healthy snack or meal every 3 to 5 hours. It's best to stop eating an hour or two before bed. Just make sure that all meals and snacks fit within your daily calorie goals.

4. Poor food choices
Eating frequently throughout the day can help you stay energized, but only if you're making wise selections. It's not a free pass to stop by the vending machine for a candy bar or chips! Some research indicates that less processed foods can aid in weight loss because the body has to work harder to digest them or all parts of the food (like fiber) are not digested (that keeps us "regular," by the way). So steer clear of "processed," low-fiber and high-sugar snacks, like refined grain products ands sweets--they cause a quick burst of energy that is soon followed by a "crash." Meals and snacks should be a combination of healthy carbs (whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and lean protein or healthy fat. Try an apple with peanut butter, for instance.

5. Misunderstanding of Energy Needs
There is no one-size-fits-all weight loss plan. We are all unique and have unique energy needs. Plus, creating a healthy eating plan that works for life is essential for long-term success. Sure, fad diets will work for a quick weight loss. But it is usually difficult to maintain a plan that is too strict or requires you to cut out certain foods, food groups or your favorites. Start with a realistic plan that you can stick to. You'll be able to enjoy food while losing weight at a healthy rate of 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. See your registered dietitian, who can calculate a plan that's just for you.

6. Inadequate or poor sleep
Studies show that people who sleep fewer than 6 hours per night (or have poor sleep) have lower levels of leptin, the "fullness" hormone, and higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. Less sleep also raises the level of cortisol, a stress hormone that can promote weight gain. In addition, recent research also shows that poor sleep is linked to increased insulin resistance--inefficient use of our own natural insulin--which can lead to elevated blood glucose levels in those with diabetes, high triglycerides and weight gain. Bottom line: get a good night's sleep! {Read more about sleep and weight loss here.}

So if you're on the road to weight loss but have found yourself stalled, give yourself a six point check-up! You can easily get out of the rut. If you need more help, it's never a bad idea to check in with your registered dietitian too.