You eat well, you exercise, so why aren’t you shifting those pounds? We look at some weight-loss saboteurs you may not have thought of
1 Exercise is making you fat
‘The truth is, exercise doesn’t burn as many calories as we like to imagine it does – and too often we ‘reward’ our efforts with extra calories,’ explains Dr Sally Norton, NHS Weight Loss Consultant and founder of vavistalife.com.
What to do about it: Don’t stop exercising! The benefits are numerous, from boosting your mood to reducing heart disease and cancer risk.
But for fitness, toning and weight maintenance, you need to mix cardio, like cycling or running, with weight training or resistance work.
This helps burn calories and maintains muscle mass. ‘Drink lots of water and choose post-workout snacks wisely,’ advises Sally. Athletes might need power bars and plates of pasta, but you don’t!
2 Your scales are lying to you
Scales measure your total body weight – they don’t differentiate between fat, water or muscle.
What to do about it: You could invest in more accurate hi-tech scales that measure body fat. ‘Or check the tightness of your waistband instead,’ suggests Sally.
‘A looser waistband means more than a drop in weight on the scales, as muscle weighs more than fat. Chances are you’ll feel more toned too.’
3 You think that drinks don’t count
You may be eating a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner and avoiding snacking throughout the day.
But, says Sally, watch out for your drinks. ‘High-street coffees can contain more calories than a doughnut!’
Alcohol, fruit juice and fizzy drinks are other big calorie traps. Alcohol contains as many calories as fat, increases your appetite and undermines your willpower.
What to do about it: ‘Stick to pure and simple water as much as possible,’ says Sally.
And ditch ‘diet’ drinks, as many contain artificial sweeteners, which stimulate high levels of insulin, ultimately leading to fat storage.
4 You’re too stressed
‘Fight-or-flight stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol stimulate the appetite and encourage the body to hold on to fat – especially around the tummy,’ explains Dr Marilyn Glenville, nutritionist and author (marilynglenville.com).
‘That’s because, unless you do something physical (as your body is expecting you to) all that extra energy, in the form of fat and glucose, has nowhere to go and is simply redeposited as fat.’
What to do about it: ‘The obvious remedy is to reduce your stress,’ says Sally. ‘The other is to change the way you respond to stress. Pause before eating and take a walk, listen to music or find somewhere quiet to sit and do some slow-breathing exercises. Cravings come in a wave, so use ways to ride them through.’
5 You’re not getting enough sleep
‘Inadequate sleep lowers levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that increases food intake and is thought to play a role in long-term regulation of body weight,’ explains Marilyn Glenville.
What to do about it: Make sure you’re getting seven to eight hours sleep a night and feel refreshed – but focus on quality instead of quantity.
Your bedroom should be cool, quiet, dark, free from distractions (computers, tablets, mobile phones and TVs), and make sure your bed and bedding is comfortable.
6 You’re swayed by others
Research shows we typically eat more calories in company than when alone, and women are more likely to be influenced by the diet patterns of colleagues than men.
A separate study found if you have overweight friends you’re more likely to gain weight yourself, as we mimic each other’s behaviour when eating out.
What to do about it: Bring a pre-prepared healthy lunch and get away from your desk for your break. And, when eating out, check the restaurant website beforehand, decide on your healthy choices and order first to avoid being swayed by others.
When it comes to dessert, share with someone and follow the three-bite rule so you don’t feel deprived but aren’t tempted to polish the lot off!
7 You’re weighing yourself at the wrong time of day
Weight fluctuates during the week, increasing over the weekend as people eat bigger meals and move less. We usually weigh the most by Sunday and Monday and then, over the week, our weight decreases.
What to do about it: Research found that dieters who weigh themselves daily lose the most weight.
‘It not only helps monitor your weight but gives a greater understanding of your body,’ suggests Christianne Wolff, author of The Body Rescue Plan.
‘Step on the scales first thing after you’ve been to the loo and before dressing. This will give you a baseline and you will see how certain foods react with you,’ she advises. Don’t let daily fluctuations negatively affect you.
‘Be aware that if you have eaten late the night before, this will affect your weight the next day. And around your period you may hold on to water more.’
8 You’re eating in subdued lighting
If you dine in dim lighting you’re more likely to consume more than if you’re in a brightly lit room, where you’re more aware of what’s on your plate and conscious of others seeing you eat.
Diners surrounded by candlelight eat for an average 11 minutes longer, according to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (£8.99, Hay House).
What to do about it: ‘I would argue it’s not the time we take to eat so much as what we’re eating.
And, as a general rule, we put on weight because we eat too fast!’ says Christianne. Don’t let dining by candlelight become an excuse to eat badly.
‘Sitting down and spending time eating a nutritious meal will actually give your body time to appreciate the food – and to understand when it’s full. Look at the French, they spend hours over eating and are a slim nation!’
9 You have selective memory loss
‘We all forget the leftovers on the kids’ plates or the chunk of cheese grabbed on passing the fridge, but those calories count too!’ warns Sally.
What to do about it: ‘Make sure that every morsel you eat is a conscious decision – savoured and enjoyed,’ advises Sally.
Avoid eating standing up, on the go or zoning out in front of the television. And start making use of apps like Noom Coach, MyFitnessPal and MyNetDiary to keep track of your daily food intake.
In a US study, those who kept daily food diaries lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t.
10 You’re on the wrong diet
Obesity experts suggest that we should follow a diet that is individually tailored to the way we eat.
For instance, when Oxford and Cambridge scientists assessed 75 dieters, they divided them into three categories: feasters, who find it hard to stop eating once they start; constant cravers, who feel hungry all of the time, and emotional eaters who turn to food for comfort.
What to do about it: Work out what works best for you. The experts advised that feasters eat a high-protein, low glycaemic index (GI) diet so they feel fuller for longer.
Constant cravers were advised to try intermittent fasting – eating 800 calories two days a week and normally for the other five.
Emotional eaters should get group support and cognitive behavioural therapy.