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Reasons you’re not losing weight in a calorie deficit

When it comes to losing weight, the science behind it is straight-forward. The simple premise, the fundamental principle, of weight loss is that you must be in an energy (or calorie) deficit. Whatever the name or the mechanics of your weight-loss diet, whatever it tells you to eat or not eat, and when to do so, that diet is ultimately trying to get you to consume less energy in terms of the calories in your food and drink than the energy you expend through movement, exercise and bodily functions. However you slice and dice it, that’s what all weight-loss (or fat-loss) diets aim to achieve.

So, then, how do you explain the lack of weight loss when you are in a calorie deficit? Why is the fundamental principle not working in practice?

You’re not actually in a calorie deficit!

It’s as simple as that. Whether you count calories or not (our ethos is: you don’t have to count calories but calories certainly do count!) if you are not losing body weight then you are not in a calorie deficit. The two main contributors to how many calories you burn (and therefore the number of calories below which you must eat in order to be in a deficit) are:

  1. Resting metabolic rate (RMR)
  2. Energy expenditure through physical activity and non-formal exercise

Calculating these two numbers is an inexact science. When it comes to RMR (the calories you burn from 24 hours of doing nothing, just resting, essentially keeping your bodily functions ticking over), there are many RMR calculators, including Bodyscan’s own here. Having a DEXA scan gets closer to the truth (as this video explains) because it allows us to use a more accurate formula based on your lean body mass (muscle and organs), which is the biggest burner of calories.

As for energy expenditure, this is where things can really go awry. As we explain here, most people significantly overestimate their level of physical activity. Walking the dog, being on your feet all day or “chasing after the kids” does not make you “very active”. Being on the move is certainly better than being a couch potato but, for a start, activity is an incremental contributor to your total calories burned – it is far quicker and easier to not eat 1000 calories than to eat them and then burn them off through activity later. To put things in perspective, a Premier League footballer might burn 1000 calories in a 90-minute match. Further, not eating 1000 calories puts you in an immediate deficit of the same amount, whereas consumption followed by ‘burning’ with exercise only puts you back at zero; you still have to create a deficit. If you book a DEXA scan with Bodyscan, our team will explain all of this and provide you with the best estimate of your RMR and daily energy expenditure.

Your calorie counters aren’t accurate

There’s are a few reasons why your tracking may not actually be correct. These are:

  • Most trackers that purport to record calories expended (or ‘burned’), whether worn devices or on exercise machines are usually hopelessly off the mark. Research shows that calorie trackers on ellipticals, running machines, rowers, watches and other wearables can wildly overestimate the calories burnt by as much as 100 per cent. That can throw your calorie tracking out the window!
  • As for apps that purport to count calories in food, results can vary. Some smartphone diet-tracking apps do allow you to scan bar codes to get more accurate data. But these manufacturer-supplied calorie totals can also be as much as 10% out when actually measured in a laboratory.

Remember, if you want to track your calories, make sure you’re tracking ALL of your calories. This includes liquids, snacks, sauces, dressings, weekend eating and that last scoop of casserole!

Here at Bodyscan, we offer DEXA body scans that measure your full body composition. That’s fat you may want to lose as well as muscle you may wish to add to. Both these objectives require you to get a good handle on the calories you burn (RMR and exercise) and the calories you consume. We’ll help you with both of these, plus we offer nutrition plans based on your scan results. Get in touch with us today for more information or book your first Baseline DEXA scan now for a realistic approach to your fitness journey. If you want to see what others say of the Bodyscan experience, read our Google reviews and prepare to take the first step!

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