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Common barriers to weight loss, and how to overcome them

"I'm eating healthily and exercising - so why am I not losing weight?". This is a really common predicament that a lot of people find themselves in. They go to the gym, they run, they eat healthily, but they’re not seeing the results they’re expecting. Whilst it’s easy to start thinking ‘I must have a slow metabolism’ or ‘it must be genetic’. The reality is that if, over time you are not losing weight it is because you are consuming more calories than you are expending (through simply being alive as well as through movement).

The body works in a fine balance of energy in (calories consumed) minus energy out (calories burned). Tipping this balance in one direction leads to weight loss or weight gain over time.

To lose weight you need to be in a negative energy balance, achieved by being in a calorie deficit. Even if you are exercising regularly and eating healthily, that does not guarantee weight loss. Being in a calorie deficit is THE ONLY WAY TO LOSE BODY FAT.

Below are some reasons your energy balance may be tipping in the wrong direction.

You don’t realise how much you’re actually consuming

As you need to be in a calorie deficit to lose body fat, then a useful place to start is with tracking your calories to help you understand how much you are really eating.

You don't need to track what you eat every day for the rest of your life. But recording your food intake for a few days can help you to understand your total energy intake, and which foods are contributing the most energy. It can be really valuable in helping get portion sizes under control - You will likely be surprised at how much more than a “portion” you actually consume of some foods! This is particularly important for lesser considered things like oils and spreads, which we tend to underestimate the caloric intake of.

Once you have a grasp of the basics, you can move away from tracking and start intuitively dishing out appropriate portion sizes.

Free tracking app - Myfitnesspal

Environmental triggers

Things like stress and boredom can often trigger us to overeat without realising it and is a huge contributor to the obesity epidemic in the UK.

Try recording a food diary or a calorie tracking app, writing down everything you eat across a week. This encourages conscious thought about what you’re eating, and can help you to spot patterns of over eating, which you can then try to address. For example, if you see that stress is a trigger for snacking, you can work towards a replacement behaviour to relax you in moments of tension

Mindless eating

Do you often eat while watching TV or while working? Research has shown we tend to significantly overeat when distracted (1). This is because perception plays a big part in registering fullness, and when we’re distracted we simply don’t realise how much we are eating.

Make time to eat meals at the dinner table, without distraction from screens. This will allow you to be more mindful about your food and naturally slow your pace of eating, helping your brain to register feelings of fullness.

Eating too quickly

Consuming food more slowly, taking smaller bites, and taking longer to chew your food can lead to hormonal changes which contribute to reductions in self reported hunger levels (2). This may help you to consume smaller portions whilst achieving the same levels of satiety.

Portion sizes are too big

Many of us are used to filling our plate with carbs (such as pasta or rice) as the base of our meal, seeing protein and veggies as secondary. Instead try following the plate portion guide for an easy way to control your portions without tracking or measuring. Fill half of your plate with veggies or salad, ¼ with a protein source, and ¼ with a starchy carbohydrate source. The veggies will provide fibre and volume, filling you up, as well as providing vital nutrients.

See here for more detailed look at what constitutes a portion size

Eating foods that don’t keep you full

Protein has been shown to increase satiety versus consumption of the equivalent calories from carbohydrates or fat (Morell & Fiszman 2017). Make sure you are getting plenty of protein, spread throughout the day, as this can help to keep you full up.

In additional to protein, veggies and salad are high in fibre and low in calorie density, which can contribute to feelings of fullness.

For a balanced meal, base every meal around veggies/salad and a protein source, including some whole grain carbohydrates and healthy fats too.

You’re eating back calories burned through exercise

Exercise trackers (such as a watch or app like Strava) can be highly inaccurate at estimating energy expenditure (4). If you then eat the calories back that you think you’ve burned, you may end up eating your way into in a surplus while thinking you are in a deficit. If you are tracking calories, instead of adding the recorded “calories burned” back into your food intake, apply an average activity level factor across the week. If you aren’t tracking calories, try to avoid ‘rewarding’ yourself after exercise with high fat and sugar foods, replacing with a non-food based reward if you need one at all.

You’re not planning ahead enough, and getting caught out

The biscuit tin comes out at work in the morning, and again in the afternoon, and you indulge at every opportunity. Or, you’re in a hurry at lunch so grab some fast food on the go, while your healthy eating plans go out the window.

Instead, try to plan ahead for the week. Do your food shop on the weekend so you know you have everything needed to create healthy meals, lunches and snacks which fit within your food plan. Have a Plan B for avoiding temptations that may derail you.

For example, you bring a snack for 4 o’clock munchies and have that instead of the office biscuit tin. You have a ‘go to’ healthy on the go meal you can grab at lunch if you forget to bring one in, which you know fits your meal plan and gives you one less decision to stress over.

You’re over-restricting yourself

Over-restriction – i.e. Eating too low a calories or cutting out entire foods or food groups - can actually be counter-productive as it can often lead to hunger and over-eating in compensation. Meaning you end up consuming more than if you’d just stuck to a reasonable food intake in the first place. A low calorie target which you can’t stick to will actually take you LONGER to lose fat in the long term than working to a slightly higher calorie target that you’re able to consistently stick to.

Avoid labelling foods as good or bad as when you do consume them it can lead to feelings of guilt and a feeling of having ‘fallen off the wagon’ which can lead to binge eating. Instead consume treats in moderation.

Need help with your nutrition? Drop me a message and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have!


(1) Robinson et al 2013. Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating.

(2) Miquel-Kergoat et al. 2015. Effects of chewing on appetite, food intake and gut hormones: A systematic review and meta-analysis

(3) Morell & Fiszman 2017. Revisiting the role of protein-induced satiation and satiety.

(4) Passler et al. 2019. Validity of Wrist-Worn Activity Trackers for Estimating VO2max and Energy Expenditure.


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