Why is it so hard to lose weight? It’s actually easier than you think; all you need to do is figure out how many calories you burn in a day and then create an eating plan that leaves you with 500 fewer calories than that number per day. Here’s the problem—many people don’t know how many calories they burn in a day, and so they end up taking the easy way out by restricting their food intake until they hit the calorie limit they created!
Why is it So Hard to Lose Weight?
The energy balance equation
The simple, easy-to-remember energy balance equation shows that weight loss occurs when you expend more calories than you consume. It’s about energy: Either you take in more energy (calories) than your body needs for normal daily functioning and physical activity or, conversely, your body uses more calories than what you take in. When one side of that relationship decreases—you either eat less or use up more—your weight loss will follow.
Calories in versus calories out
To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. It’s simple math, and no matter what people tell you—whether they say eating fat makes you fat or eating breakfast will make you skinny—it all comes down to one thing: energy in versus energy out. You may have heard there’s a magic formula for weight loss. There isn’t. If you want to know why it’s so hard to lose weight, look at how many calories are going into your body and how many are coming out of it.
If more is going in than coming out, you gain weight; if more is coming out than going in, you lose weight. That’s pretty much it (though your metabolism plays a role). The bottom line is that we can’t escape basic physics when it comes to losing weight. We can only manipulate our input and output. The good news is that when we do that right, we often get rewarded with results like these.
What does metabolism have to do with weight loss?
Metabolism isn’t a one-way street. When you consume more calories than you burn, your body stores that energy for later—that’s why you gain weight. This seems simple enough, but it has an odd side effect: If your metabolism drops too low, your body will actually break down muscle in order to make up for lost energy.
That’s one reason why it can be hard to lose weight after age 30; our metabolisms naturally start slowing down as we get older (although diet and exercise can mitigate that). And while maintaining a healthy weight over time can protect against heart disease and cancer, slower metabolisms mean we put ourselves at risk of developing these diseases when we’re younger.
Genes, hormones, gender, and metabolism
Each of these factors plays a role in how easy or hard it will be for you to lose weight. If you can figure out what’s making your body resistant, there are plenty of ways to solve these issues and finally start losing weight. Hormones control our hunger, our moods, and everything in between. Genes largely dictate how your body processes certain foods (and whether or not you’ll feel like doing any exercise).
Metabolism is entirely based on your lifestyle—and lifestyle changes can make a big difference in how fast your metabolism works. You might have some of these factors working against you, while others play in your favor. It all depends on genetics, hormones, gender—and even if you have children!
Pregnancy and breastfeeding affect your metabolism
The most important reason it’s hard to lose weight when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding is your metabolism. When you eat, nutrients are converted into energy and burned off as fuel.
This process boosts your metabolic rate—your body’s calorie-burning engine—so that more energy can be produced for your baby’s growth and development. The problem is that when you lose weight after pregnancy, part of those lost pounds comes from building blocks for milk production and not fat stores; in fact, during a nine-month period of breastfeeding, your body burns roughly 400 calories per day.
Illness slows your metabolism down
It’s not uncommon for people with chronic illnesses to have trouble losing weight. Studies show that cancer patients, for example, often develop a condition called anorexia cachexia syndrome where they lose their appetite and drastically slow down their metabolism. And if you have an underactive thyroid, you may have problems eating enough calories as well.
This condition can make it incredibly hard to lose weight – even if you start eating right and exercising consistently. For more information on how an underactive thyroid can affect your weight loss efforts and what you can do about it, see my previous post on using tips from thin celebrities who suffer from hypothyroidism but still manage to be slender.
Losing muscle slows down your metabolism
When you lose weight, you’re going to want to lose fat. However, losing muscle slows down your metabolism. The more muscle you have, though, the more calories your body will burn—even when you’re at rest.
This is one of those unsung benefits of working out: yes, exercise will help you build muscles and allow you to eat some extra food every now and then but if that isn’t enough motivation for you then consider how many extra calories your body will burn due to all that muscle. You can use a scale or waist measurements if they give better readings than your clothing size or scale weight—they won’t but they might provide motivation in other ways that are meaningful for you.
Sleep deprivation slows down your metabolism
When you sleep, your body burns more calories than when you’re awake. As a result, skipping out on sleep can make it hard to lose weight. In fact, a lack of shut-eye has been shown to slow metabolism by as much as 3 percent!
Worse still, losing sleep slows down your mental processing speeds, meaning you may experience brain fog and difficulty focusing—two productivity killers that could have you packing on pounds without even realizing it. To lose weight safely but quickly, schedule your workouts early in the day and get plenty of ZZZ at night.