"I've been sticking to the diet perfectly for weeks, but I'm STILL not seeing any progress. What's wrong with me?"
Sound familiar? It certainly does to me, ranking high in my top ten questions I'm asked on a daily basis. Nine times out of ten, this is down to one significant issue with said 'perfect' diet: you are eating more than you think you are.
Let's look at the top three offenders for accidentally overeating...
1. 'Eating Healthy'
The first Eating Healthy conundrum is the number of 'health foods' that, although rich in fibre and vitamins, are (1) packing a massive calorie and sugar punch and (2) not providing either of the macronutrients essential for fat loss (i.e. protein and fat). By the time you've breakfasted on a bowl of muesli with yoghurt and a banana, you've likely hit around a third of the total daily calorie maximum you require for fat loss, without having even touched upon your optimal protein and fat intake. Follow that up with a mid-morning fruit smoothie and you're now at half your calorie needs, still having consumed only trace amounts of protein and fat. A tasty couscous salad for lunch. A late-afternoon rice cake or two. Vegetables and wholewheat pasta for dinner, followed by a virtuous fruit dessert. Individually, you have indeed made some healthy choices...but what about the big diet picture? Calories are now at, if not more than what you require to maintain your current weight. Sugar is though the roof. Protein is a foreign concept and those essential fatty acids didn't get a look in. All of these factors will result in a fat loss plateau, if not weight gain.
The other popular eating healthy issue is for those fat-savvy folk who KNOW they need to fill up the good stuff. The kitchen is always stocked with nuts, avocados, olive oil and mackerel and every meal is a staunch homage to omega 3. This is great for physical, mental and hormonal health. However, a problem arises when the necessary moderation for these super calorie-dense foods is not carefully adhered to. It's all too easy to overeat when every tablespoon of oil clocks in at over 100 calories, every handful of nuts brings in another few hundred and every avocado tops that still. Once again, we are faced with the inescapable science of calories in versus calories out.
When unmonitored, eating healthy can easily set you on a path to gaining weight rather than losing it. Eat your fats, eat your fibre and antioxidant rich foods, but be aware that too much is too much, whatever it consists of.
Here's a problem that most of us are guilty of - those extra 'bits' we all eat and never count. Do you nibble at ingredients whilst you're cooking? Try 'just a bite' of what others are eating? How about the splash of milk in your coffee or the drizzle of oil to grease the pan? In isolation, these additional calories are usually fairly negligible, but in combination, they can add up very quickly. It doesn't take much to nibble yourself out of a calorie deficit, once again resulting in a mysterious lack of progress.
Even for someone as data obsessed as me, weighing and measuring everything that passes one's lips is tedious. However, if you're stuck in a weight loss rut and are serious about getting out of it, you need to suck it up. Crack out the electronic scales, the measuring jug and the spoon measures and ensure those portion sizes you've been 'eye-balling' all this time are accurate. Because I can 95% guarantee that they aren't.
To sum up...
If you're stuck in a fat loss plateau and can relate to any of the above, make the proactive decision to be 100% aware of everything you're consuming. Take the guesswork out and keep yourself accountable with a (completely honest) food diary or online nutrition tracking software. This doesn't have to be forever - just until you know where you stand with your diet and what you need to adjust to get things moving. Use it when you need it - if things start to slide again later on, revert to tracking until you're back on the wagon. I have a detailed article on estimating your nutrition requirements along with recommended online tracking resources here.
So that wraps up part two of the Why Your Diet Isn't Working series! Keep an eye out for part three and if you didn't catch part one, you can check it out here.