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Obesity results from two factors, excessive calorie intake, and low-calorie expenditure. Thus, the two primary ways of losing body weight are through calorie restriction via diet or increased expenditure via exercise.
Among these two methods, dietary restriction is more important. It is because burning calories is quite challenging, and it is not going to work without calorie restriction or by following a low-calorie diet.
A very low-calorie diet (VLCD) is the most effective way of weight loss. However, studies show that after brisk initial weight loss, a person often struggles to make progress or even maintain the weight1. So, what could be the reasons? Why does diet stop working?
Hidden Sources of Calories
One of the reasons could be some hidden dietary sources of calories. It is vital to understand that one gram of fats has twice more calories than similar carbs or proteins. Consumption of a few chocolates, fried items, a few tablespoons of olive or coconut oil, and spreads are examples of high-calorie and high-fat foods.
Another overlooked source of carbs could be foods high in sugars like packed juices that are often perceived as healthy, though that is not always the case. Similarly, some other beverages like beer or wine are also high in sugars or calories. Two servings of these drinks may provide enough calories to halt the progress.
If unsure about calories in any food item, it is good to search the US department of agriculture's food database.
Frequent Snacking or Munching
Obesity is also associated with certain behavioral disorders. That is why any weight program would only work through education and even the use of behavioral therapy. Overweight people have a habit of frequent snacking or munching2.
It is among the less-discussed reasons for obesity. However, overweight individuals would often have hunger pranks. They may often go for snacks, even at night. Multiple snacks a day may considerably add to the total calorie intake, and thus dietary efforts may start failing.
Additionally, the problem could be larger portions of snacks. If you feel too hungry, having snacks may be a good idea. But one should choose low-calorie snacks and also consume them in smaller portions.
Physical Inactivity and Lack of Exercise
When you started your journey of diet for weight loss, you might not have planned to do any exercise. However, it is worth understanding that many obese people tend to be less active.
For weight loss, it is not essential to engage in strenuous exercise. Nevertheless, one would need to stay active. It could be measures like long walks or using stairs or other ways of staying physically active. It could be a good idea to analyze your lifestyle and increase the level of physical activity.
Here it is vital to differentiate between being busy and active. Some people are quite busy throughout the day, but that is not a physical activity.
Using health trackers or smartwatches could be an excellent way to keep track of physical activity levels. Try to engage in moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day. Physical activity is quite good for preventing chronic disorders and prolonging life.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are common reasons for obesity and failed dietary measures. However, there are multiple ways in which high stress can prevent your progress3.
Stress often leads to behavioral changes; it means that a person is less likely to stick to the dietary plans. Stress also means lower physical activity levels in many cases.
Additionally, stress also results in hormonal changes in the body that may prevent the progress of dietary measures.
The Relationship Between Eating and Sleep
Oversleeping would naturally result in weight gain. However, what people need to know is that inadequate sleep is one of the significant causes of obesity4.
There could be many ways in which inadequate sleep may influence eating patterns. For example, if you stay awake for longer hours, you are more likely to eat food and snacks. Additionally, sleep disorders also lead to higher ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is called a hunger hormone that promotes appetite and weight gain.
Less sleep raises cortisol levels, which also promotes appetite and weight gain. It may also lead to insulin resistance.
Poor Timings of Meals
One is active throughout the day. Thus, if you have food during active hours, you are more likely to burn those calories. That is why experts recommend hefty breakfast, moderate lunch, and poor dinner for weight loss.
When following dietary measures, avoid eating a few hours before bedtime. Some people have a rule of not eating after six or seven o clock in the evening, and it works for them without significant dietary measures. Just remember that anything you eat before bedtime is going to accumulate in the body.
Body Composition – Low Lean Muscle Mass
When you start dieting, it works pretty well initially when your weight is high, and daily calorie requirements are high too. However, one should remember that daily calorie intake would also decline with weight loss, thus the need to take corrective measures. After all, the calorie requirements of 200 pounds individual differ from 160 pounds individual.
Another issue is that many obese individuals have low muscle mass. It is worth understanding that skeletal muscles burn calories and not fat tissues. Therefore, if your lean mass is low, even a low-calorie diet fails to help significantly, and moderate exercise does not help. That is why adding resistance training to exercise is a good idea.
Although the underlying principles of weight loss are quite simple, it means dietary restrictions and exercise. However, they work initially for most, but they later stop working. That is why experts say that self-education and behavioral changes are essential for prolonged weight loss.
Above are some of the most significant reasons why your diet isn't working. However, there could be other reasons like reduced motivation after initial gains, stress caused by prolonged dieting, or simply stopped following certain dietary patterns. Only an honest analysis would help identify the cause and find a solution.
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- Saris WHM. Very-Low-Calorie Diets and Sustained Weight Loss. Obesity Research. 2001;9(S11):295S-301S. doi:10.1038/oby.2001.134
- Liu X, Zheng C, Xu C, et al. Nighttime snacking is associated with risk of obesity and hyperglycemia in adults: a cross-sectional survey from Chinese adult teachers. J Biomed Res. 2017;31(6):541-547. doi:10.7555/JBR.31.20160083
- Tomiyama AJ. Stress and Obesity. Annual Review of Psychology. 2019;70(1):703-718. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-102936
- Top four reasons why diets fail. ScienceDaily. Accessed March 6, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130103192352.htm