Why am I not losing weight on a calorie restricted diet?
Updated: Sep 7
When a Calories in Diet Verses a Calories Out Diet Just Doesn’t Work
Some things in life are naturally difficult. Doing your business accounts is difficult. Quantum physics is difficult, yet arguably, losing weight is the hardest task of all. Okay, maybe that was a tad dramatic on our part, but you get the point we’re trying to make. In a nutshell, weight loss is not an easy task. If you’ve tried to lose weight, or you’ve spoken to someone about losing weight, they will have likely mentioned ‘calories in vs calories out’.
In the fitness industry this is the most common equation built into any weight loss program, and in theory it can be effective. I did say in theory, however, nothing in life is ever black and white or straight forward, which means that calories in vs calories out diet is not without its flaws.
There are drawbacks associated with this method of losing weight, and some would even raise the point that it doesn’t work at all.
What exactly is the calories in vs calories out model?
The calories in vs calories out model is based on the idea that the human body needs a certain number of calories each day to maintain itself. The number of calories you expend each day should equal the number that you consume. A calorie is a unit of energy, and every second of every day your body is burning calories to perform basic physiological processes that keep you alive.
Don’t get too excited about this, because the amount of calories you burn whilst stationary is nowhere near the amount required to assist you in any weight loss program. Calories in on this occasion refers to the number of calories you consume from food and drink, and calories out refers to the amount that you burn overall each day.
What is a Calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy!
Calories in (calories consumed) “That biscuit has 89 calories.”
(89 units in)
Calories out (calories expelled) 20 minutes on the treadmill burns 89 calories.
(89 units out)
Everything you consume whether it is a drink or food are counted as calories in.
How do we burn calories?
There are three natural processes that require calories to be converted into glucose for usable energy. These are:
Digestion – When you digest food and your stomach breaks it down, your body must work harder than usual, you burn calories just by digesting food. 10% of the calories you consume are burnt off by the process of digestion. If you consume protein, the number increases to around 15% as protein is more thermogenic than fat and carbohydrates. The calories which are burnt off during digestion are technically known as TEF, or Thermic Effect of Food.
Metabolic processes – Your metabolism plays a key role in the number of calories you burn on a daily basis. Your body constantly burns calories to perform basic physiological processes. From your heartbeat to respiration, you’re burning calories every second of every day. This is known as your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate.
Physical activity – Of course, physical activity, or exercise. Calories which haven’t been burnt off through your metabolism and digestion can be used to fuel your body’s physical activity. Whether it’s a brisk walk, doing the housework or working out at the gym you are using energy from calories.
You burn calories all day every day and some activities burn more than others. To find out how many calories your body needs to survive you can use the basic metabolic rate calculator.
Any calories over the amount your body needs to survive will put weight on if you don’t use them. Anything below this number will cause a deficit and in theory will cause you to lose weight.
As stated above your body is constantly burning calories for energy – even when you’re sleeping. Everything that your body does to stay alive burns energy.
When a healthy, non-pregnant adult consumes more calories than their body can use in one day, their body will store some of the extra calories as glycogen in the muscles but most of the energy will be stored as fat.
When it comes to fat loss, you will need to create a calorie deficit but not specifically by cutting fat. When you create a calorie deficit, your body will burn more calories, some from fat/stored energy and some from muscle mass. The more muscle you have the more calories you will burn as it takes more calories to maintain muscle than it does fat.
If you eat and drink 3000 calories daily (calories in) but burn 2000 calories a day (calories out), you will create a positive energy balance of 1000 calories. This is easily done if you are eating fast food or processed food every day. 3500 equals 1lb of fat following this logic after one week you will have gained 2 lbs of fat.
If you eat 1200 calories a day and burn 2000 calories a day by exercising, you will create a negative calorie balance. If you do this every day, you’ll lose 1 lb in about 4 days.
Other factors effecting weight loss
Sleep, digestion, type of food, the time of day when you consume food, alcohol, medication, stress and other factors such as the amount of exercise you get throughout the day all affect how your body stores fat.
By significantly reducing your calorie intake you will lose weight in the short term. Once you begin eating normally again your body will enter famine mode and store fat for the next famine you put it through. Any weight loss diet that you achieve will mainly be muscle or water weight loss and not fat loss.
Calorie restriction diets should only be used for a long-term lifestyle diet. By calories restriction we are talking about numbers of 800 – 1200 per day for women and 1500 – 1800 for men.
Permanent weight loss and maintenance is about eating healthily, exercising more, even if it is just for a short walk daily, getting a healthy amount of sleep each night and reducing your stress levels.
Don't restrict your calories too much
When you set daily calorie goals, don’t go too low. This is critical. Your body needs a certain number of calories to function properly. When not dieting women should eat at around 1200 calories or more a day; men should eat at least 1800 calories or more a day. This is easily achievable on a plant-based diet. You will however, find it very difficult on a processed food diet and you will also be constantly hungry due to the amount of sugar, salt and fat in processed food. Plants contain fibre which fills you up naturally.
At night whilst you sleep, your body is busy repairing cells, building muscle and keeping you alive. Not eating the right type of calories in the right amount will inevitably leads to disease and illness in the long term.
Why calories in vs calories out doesn’t work
If you burn off more calories than you consume, you lose weight, so, surely we should wrap things up right here and right now? Well, not exactly. You see, calories in vs calories out is flawed. But why? Well, because we don’t eat solely for the purpose of losing weight. We also need to consider our health. To lose weight in a healthy way, you should consume healthy whole foods and create a very slight deficit of just a couple of hundred calories per day. That way, you still have enough vital nutrients and energy to function properly, without your health suffering.
People that don’t understand the ins and outs of healthy eating may assume that the greater the deficit, the more weight they will lose. This is not always true.
Starvation can be detrimental to your health, plus it can promote eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food. Where your calories come from is important, as we need healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from countless different sources. For example, nuts, avocados, rice, sweet potato, vegetables, fruit.
People trying to restrict their calories often go with a very low/zero fat diet, which is very dangerous as healthy fats are vital for numerous reasons including the good functioning of the nervous system and brain. Consume 20% of your diet as good fats and you’ll help your nervous system and brain to function properly.
For an optimal-functioning body, it’s important that we eat a balanced diet of healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates. When it comes to a vegan diet you can still obtain all the important macro-nutrients, minerals and vitamins needed from consuming a plant-based diet and knowing the best sources of these macro’s is important. Healthy fats are not only packed with energy and nutrients, they are important for satiety, hormone production, brain function, healthy skin and more.
The most up-to-date specialists such as Dr Rosaine Oliviera state the type of food you eat matters much more than the number of calories that are contained within the food. For example, it’s more a case of bad calories verses good calories both in terms of weight loss and long-term health benefits.
Let’s take a look at good sources of macro nutrients for vegans as not all foods are created equally.
What Are Healthy Sources Of Fat For Vegans?
Good sources of fats are:
Nuts – such as cashews, almonds and walnuts
What Are Healthy Sources Of Carbs For Vegans?
Good sources of carbs are:
Bad carbs include:
Refined carbs such as grains, rice and cereals found in processed food
Sugary processed snacks
When it comes to carbs whole foods win hands down.
What Are Healthy Sources Of Proteins For Vegans?
No one seems to query how vegans get their good carbs and fats from, the argument against veganism always points to protein.
There are 20 proteins, 11 which the body can make itself and 9 which it has to find from other sources. Non-vegans tend to worry about the lack of vegan options for protein but it’s a very simple matter.
Below we take a look at some of the places you can get complete and incomplete proteins from.
A balanced diet consists of an average of between 46 to 56 grams of protein a day, depending on your sex and age. If you are bodybuilding you will need slightly more than this. But too much protein can cause kidney stones and premature aging. So be careful, what doesn’t end up down the toilet can reek havoc with your body.
Yes, grains contain protein just like every other vegetable on the planet. According to the Vegetarian Society, most plant-based foods contain protein. Although most grains are not considered a perfect protein like an egg is, some grains such as Quinea and Bulgar Wheat are.
Oats, wheat breads and unrefined rice along with muesli for breakfast, can come in around 7.7 grams of protein for about 2 oz which rivals the protein content of a boiled egg.
Beans, Lentils and Seeds
Beans, peas, lentils and seeds are the best source of protein for vegans along with Tofu. A 7 oz portion of chickpeas has 16 grams of protein. You can make chickpeas into just about anything. I make a fake tuna, sweetcorn and mayo filling for sandwiches, curries, salads, hummus and stews.
The same goes for beans and seeds, they are versatile and you can do almost anything with them. You can even make sausages, burgers and kebabs if you know how.
Tofu, soy milk, soy flour and soy oil are all made from edamame, or soybeans. Soy is a versatile vegetable, and is a complete protein and can form the basis of products like soy burgers, soy cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
One cup of soya milk has around 7 grams of protein and tastes better than cows milk. A cup of tofu has around 20 grams of protein and a cup of soy mince has about 30 grams of protein. says the Soy Foods Association of North America.
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To lose weight you need a calorie deficit – Recap
Let’s recap on some important factors to consider when losing weight
1. You must consume fewer calories than you burn to lose weight.
2. Once your body’s energy needs are met, remaining calories are stored in your muscles as glycogen, but mostly as fat.
3. What you eat matters – whole foods not junk food
4. How much you eat matters - you need to consume fewer calories than you burn.
Studies measuring these factors consistently show that weight loss always results from a calorie deficit. This is true regardless of whether your calories come from carbs, fat, or protein but make sure the calories you consume are healthy calories that can nourish your body and help to fight against disease rather than processed food alternatives.