What Is a Caloric Deficit?
Having a caloric deficit means that you are taking in fewer calories than what your body needs to maintain its current weight. A deficit can be created by reducing the number of calories that you consume, whether through dieting or decreasing your food intake.
You’re also able to create a deficit by increasing your activities without increasing the amount of food you ingest. There are also a handful of foods and substances, like caffeine, that can create a small increase in the calories that you burn – usually around 3%-5%.
As you reduce the number of calories that your body needs to maintain its weight, and you maintain a moderate deficit for a period of time, you will eventually reach a new, lower weight that will be maintained. Once you reach this weight, you will no longer be at a caloric deficit, and you will need to reduce your caloric intake even further to lose more weight.
On the other hand, a severe, permanent deficit consisting of too few calories to remain at a healthy weight will result in starvation. Starvation, as you may know, leads to death. To lose 1kg of weight, you will need to be at a caloric deficit of around 7,000kCal.
Now, you’re at a caloric deficit, and you definitely should be losing weight, so why aren’t you?
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight in any sort of capacity, then you know that the process is far from easy. Losing weight is a journey that takes time, and there are no shortcuts that you can take, no magical teas or tablets, and no miracle surgery that will make you lose all the weight you want.
Many people have tried changing their diets to improve their health and encourage weight loss. They’re on the right track, but simply eating less is not going to make you lose weight – it’s more about what you eat than how much.
You may have noticed that, after some time into your diet, you’ve reached a caloric deficit but still have not lost any weight. There are a number of reasons for this, and we are going to cover them in this article.
10 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight in a Calorie Deficit
1/ Your Basal Metabolic Rate is Slowed Down
When you’re calculating the number of calories that you are burning on a daily basis, you need to start with your basal metabolic rate. Essentially, this number is the number of calories that your body burns when you are at rest.
This will usually be calculated using some scientific data, like your age, height, weight, and so on, and it will be different from person to person. For the most part, it is quite an accurate measurement.
The problem is that, when you shift into a caloric deficit, your hormonal adaptations to leptin, testosterone, and your thyroid can and will cause your basal metabolic rate to decrease. If you are setting gradual weight loss targets, like 400-600 calories below your daily intake, then these hormonal differences will not be very drastic. You’ll notice that you start to lose weight progressively.
When you start off too quickly, like deciding to eat next to nothing every day, these hormonal changes will be quite significant, and your metabolism will grind to a near-halt. Not only will this worsen your mood, but you won’t lose any weight at all, and it becomes impossible to be in a deficit.
2/ You Aren’t Doing Any Spontaneous Physical Activities
We don’t mean that you aren’t randomly deciding to go hiking or running. Instead, we mean that you burn a rather significant number of calories through the subtle activities that we perform daily, and we aren’t even aware of it half the time.
These include things like tapping your fingers, bouncing your leg, walking around when on the phone, and plenty of other things you do subconsciously. The energy that is used during these activities is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT for short.
NEAT activities play a large role in the total amount of energy that we use every day – much larger than most people realize. Studies have concluded that NEAT can vary by up to 2,000 calories every day and that you’re able to lose 350 more calories daily when your body performs these spontaneous activities.
3/ Your Thermic Effect of Food has Decreased
TEF, also called the thermic effect of food, is the amount of energy that your body needs to eat, digest, absorb, and store foods. Studies have found that TEF is responsible for about 10% of our total energy expenditure every day, which is more significant than you might think.
If you’re starving yourself by eating little to no food every day, then you will probably face the issue of reducing your daily expenditure of calories by 5%-8%. On its own, that’s not a lot, but if you read on, you’ll notice how those reductions in calories pile up.
4/ You are Burning too Much Energy During Exercise
Let’s say you did not run before you started trying to lose weight. Then, if you decide to begin running, you run the risk of imbalancing your hormones in the ways we mentioned above. You also end up reducing the amount of energy that you use while doing an exercise like running.
5/ You Aren’t Eating Enough
When you realise that consuming too many calories each day was likely what caused you to gain weight in the first place, you naturally want to cut down on the amount of food you eat. This is not always a good idea, since diets with a very low number of calories might lead to a rapid loss of weight initially. However, the unrealistic expectations that come with them quickly become impossible to fulfil.
This could lead to a familiar binge-and-diet cycle of eating, which only causes your self-esteem to plummet rather than increase. When you cut back on calories in a short amount of time, your body essentially feels like it’s in trouble. Thus, it slows down some functions that are necessary for losing weight, including metabolism, thyroid, and blood pressure.
It becomes even more challenging for women, as it can also cause irregular menstrual cycles, which will affect hormones and lead to weight gain.
6/ Becoming Reliant on ‘Avoid These’ Lists
Many of us have plenty of decisions to make every day, so when we want to go on a diet, we resort to ‘avoid these’ lists to remove any guesswork out of which foods we can and can’t eat. While these lists might seem like a clear and lengthy guide at the beginning of your diet, they can often lead to misinformation and resentment.
Many people try their hardest to stick to these lists, thinking that cutting out only carbs won’t be so bad or avoiding all fried foods is a worthy sacrifice. In truth, it ends up making weight loss much more difficult than it needs to be and causes us to look for comfort in junk foods.
Limiting your intake of a certain kind of food when trying to lose weight is not the same as avoiding that food entirely. That includes making your favourite indulgences off-limits.
Instead of completely avoiding the foods that you enjoy, try to control your portion sizes or save more decadent dishes for special occasions. You should not be punishing yourself by cutting out enjoyable foods just because you’re trying to drop a few pounds.
To find a healthy balance, you should evaluate what you’re eating, when you’re eating it, and how often. Try to become aware of the times that you’re eating unnecessarily, like when you aren’t actually hungry but you still grab a chocolate from the pantry because it’s just sitting right there.
You will become much more thoughtful about what you eat if you take your time when enjoying delicacies. If you’re having a craving for a certain candy, go out and buy your favorite one. Take your time when eating it so that you can enjoy the entire experience and make it feel less fleeting.
7/ You are Cutting Food Groups out Entirely
You should immediately cross any diet from your list that requires you to eliminate protein, carbs, or fats. Your body requires certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in order to survive, as well as fiber and antioxidants that come with the foods mentioned above.
While you may see some form of limited success from cutting out entire food groups from your diet, you’ll soon learn how dangerous they can be when you land up in the hospital for malnutrition or dehydration – or both. This also doesn’t mean that you can binge on a certain food group, either.
Even though the process of determining a certain intake volume of macronutrients is a very subjective matter, a good benchmark would be to start with 20% fat, 30% protein, and 50% carbs. Then, you can make adjustments from there. When it comes to macronutrients that are great for encouraging weight loss, you should lean towards seafood, whole grains, lean meats, avocado, and nuts as a source of proteins and fats.
8/ You Sit at Your Desk all Day
If you own some kind of activity tracker, then you have probably become frustrated at its constant reminders to move around and get up throughout the course of your workday. You might think that you don’t have time to do that, but you’d be surprised, especially once you realize just how much time you’re spending hunched over at your desk.
There is a good reason that activity trackers come with a built-in reminder function. The hour you spend at the gym probably isn’t enough to fight the 7 or 8 hours you spend on your butt at work.
Researchers have found that, when sitting without moving for hours on end, your body stops producing lipase. This is an enzyme that inhibits fat and can be significant in achieving your weight-loss goals.
9/ You’re Under Lots of Stress
It’s difficult to think about a balanced diet when we’re constantly stressed, and we’d much rather buy what’s convenient at the moment, like fast food. Many of us are also stress eaters, and we eat due to the need to soothe our emotions and feelings.
Coming to terms with the fact that your stress might be hindering your progress is a huge step in the right direction. Stress can often be caused by living an unhealthy lifestyle, lack of sleep (which we’ll get to in a moment), or having a busy schedule.
You need to find balance in the various aspects of your life so that you can lose those few extra pounds you’ve been trying to. Remember, you shouldn’t change your habits to lower the number you see on the scale. You should change your habits regardless, and you might just notice that the numbers go down.
10/ You Aren’t Sleeping Enough
Not getting enough sleep can influence your hormones, which, as we already know, will influence your metabolism. Research has shown that people who get less than 4 hours of sleep every night were 73% more likely to become obese than those who got 9 hours of sleep.
When you’re deprived of sleep, you lose the ability to make well-thought-out decisions. This makes you more susceptible to eating foods that will have a negative impact on your weight loss journey. Also, when you are awake for more hours during the day, you have more time to eat, and thus more time to put on weight.
Staying out of the kitchen for a certain amount of time can be quite beneficial, and spending that time winding down instead can be even more beneficial.
As you can see, there are plenty of causes for your weight to stagnate, even if you are at a caloric deficit. Be sure to heed the advice we presented in this “Calorie Deficit but not Losing Weight: Reasons (and Solutions)” guide, and you’ll find that your weight-loss goals will be achieved in no time. Remember that moderation is key and that it is not a race. Everyone’s bodies are different and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you.