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Why Calorie Deficits Don't Work For Weight Loss

You've probably been told that weight loss is a simple equation. You just need a calorie deficit. 


A calorie deficit is when your calorie intake is less than the calories you burn. The calories you burn include calories burned at rest, calories burned with physical activity, and calories burned digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing your food.



calorie deficit diets are complicated


Your Hormones Are Making It Harder to Lose Weight


Even if the calories in vs calories out equation is correct your hormones have a big effect on weight loss and your body’s metabolism. Your thyroid hormones control your metabolism meaning you may be burning fewer calories than you should be. 


Your reproductive hormone levels can also affect your metabolism in several ways. Too much estrogen promotes fat storage, but too little estrogen can also contribute to weight gain. Testosterone helps to increase muscle mass (and your metabolism). Reproductive hormones can also contribute to water retention which causes weight fluctuations


Cortisol and insulin levels also regulate fat storage. 


For a more thorough understanding of hormones and weight loss, check out this guide.


hormone guide


Poor sleep impairs your ability to lose weight


If you’re not getting enough sleep, this can decrease the calories burned throughout your day. A study showed that people who got less sleep burned less fat. When you don’t get enough sleep you tend to move less during the day. 


Poor sleep dysregulates appetite hormones and causes hunger, cravings and overeating.


Stress makes it harder to lose weight


Stress can mess with your hormones and your sleep which means you might be burning fewer calories when you’re under stress. And trying to maintain a calorie deficit can contribute to your stress levels.


And stress contributes to cravings and binge eating. Low energy levels can result from stress which can lead to increased sugar and chocolate intake. 



why calorie deficits don't work for weight loss


Your metabolism may be slowing down


When you are in a calorie deficit for a long period of time, your body adjusts to that level of calories. This means your metabolism can slow down and you won’t lose weight. 


A calorie deficit means that you’ll likely lose muscle as well as fat. But muscle mass is much more efficient at burning calories than body fat so this muscle loss is not desirable. 


Other factors like hormones, poor sleep, and stress can slow your metabolism.


Your metabolism also slows as you get older, so what was once a calorie deficit for you no longer is.


As you lose weight your metabolism will naturally slow as it takes fewer calories to maintain a leaner body. You can counter this effect by adding muscle mass with strength training.


Calorie deficits can lead to poor eating habits


When you are consistently eating fewer calories this can lead to poor eating habits or even disordered eating patterns. You’ll likely feel deprived and suffer from cravings. This is especially true if you haven’t addressed things like processed and sugary foods in your diet. 



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Overestimating calories burned


Often when trying to maintain a calorie deficit, we try to track the calories we burn. Modern technology like smart watches or gym fitness machines makes this easy. But these are just estimates and are not accurate.


Or you overestimate the actual time spent exercising. One hour at the gym turns into 20 minutes of exercise and 40 minutes of chatting with your friends.


Underestimating calories consumed


On the other hand, calories consumed are often underestimated. Measurements of food eaten are often not measured exactly, beverages not counted, and serving sizes are often much smaller than you might think.


The science of assigning a calorie count to a given food is also flawed. The method used was developed over one hundred years ago and doesn’t work perfectly so the calorie counts you see on a package can be off. Or the calorie count may be labeled incorrectly. Calorie counts also depend on how the food is cooked.


And if that isn’t enough your gut bacteria can affect how many calories are absorbed.


Calorie deficit diets are time consuming and stressful


Carefully measuring everything you eat takes a considerable amount of time, especially if you are preparing meals from scratch (and you should). The same applies to tracking all your exercise and activity. 


I mentioned earlier that stress makes it harder to lose weight. Calorie deficit diets themselves are stressful so that makes it harder to lose weight while you are on a calorie deficit diet.


The time and energy you would take could be put to better use - preparing healthy meals, going for a walk, even getting more sleep. 


You’ll likely gain the weight back when you stop


If you are successful you’ll likely gain all the weight back when you stop with your calorie deficit. You’ve likely reduced your metabolism and the focus on deprivation and a calorie deficit haven’t helped with improving your eating habits. In fact they may have gotten worse.


Calorie deficits have unwanted side effects


Calorie deficit side effects


If you try to maintain a calorie deficit for any length of time you may experience some unwanted side effects:

  • Fatigue

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Constipation

  • Reduced fertility

  • Lower bone density

  • Loss of muscle

  • Lower immunity


What should you do instead?


Rather than use the time consuming, stress inducing, and error prone method of trying to maintain a calorie deficit there are better ways to lose weight.



What to do instead of calorie deficit diets


Here are some steps to take:


  • Reducing the amount of sugar and processed foods in your diet

  • Eating more vegetables (especially non starchy)  which are nutrient dense and naturally low in calories

  • Eating more protein, which helps you to stay full longer

  • Practice stress reduction and improve your sleep habits

  • Strength training exercises which help to build and maintain muscle and bone

  • Get professional help


As a Holistic Nutritionist and online weight loss coach, I can provide you with your personalized plan tailored to your own unique body chemistry, hormones, and lifestyle and includes delicious and healthy foods. You’ll feel energized rather than sluggish and deprived with my eating plans. 



Warm wishes,


Vicki Witt Nutrition and Weight Loss





Vicki Witt | Clinical Nutritionist | Holistic Coach | Reiki Master | Certified LEAP allergy therapist Over 25 years of successfully helping you achieve optimal health and weight loss 🍏| www.vickiwittweightloss.com


About Vicki:

Vicki Witt is a Clinical Nutritionist, Holistic Health Coach, and Reiki Master. She has been practicing over 25 years and specializes in holistically customizing diet and lifestyle plans to each individual for weight loss and hormonal control. Her clientele often report they feel the best they have ever felt and wish they had started sooner. One of the USA and Australia's top Nutritionists, she has won multiple awards for her services in the industry.

  

ATMS
Nutrition society of Australia

Certified and Registered Nutritionist


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