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Why is weight loss slow?

Committing to something and producing poor results demoralises everyone. Imagine committing wholeheartedly to a weight loss program. Toiling for 3 months to only lose 300 grams! The level of frustration will be so high. This kind of frustration causes stress. Stress can result in impulsive eating. And impulsive eating disrupts weight management!

Frustration is never good for weight management. It makes the loss of confidence and commitment easier! It will demoralise you. As a result, giving becomes an appealing option. In weight loss, giving up worsens the situation.

Many people wonder, why are the weight loss results poor? Maybe, the expectations were too high? Or everything was not done correctly. Or maybe, everything was done accordingly but it people just didn’t work! Such is the plight of people seeking to lose weight.

There is only one big question. Why is weight loss so slow and frustrating? Well, seek no more. This post is the answer. The post explains the definition of weight loss. It analyses the weight loss phenomena and explains why the process is slow!

What is weight loss?

To understand weight loss, we need to define it first.

Weight loss is defined as the decrease in an individual’s body weight. The process is either voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary weight loss occurs intentionally. An example is that of dieting. The involuntary process usually results from illnesses. Examples of involuntary weight loss occur in cancers. Weight loss usually arises from losing body fat. However, in severe cases, proteins and other substances are lost.

Graphic plate symbolising diet based weight loss.
Weight Loss: Source Pexel Photos

Are weight loss and fat loss the same?

Fat loss V Weight loss, an article by Shaw Academy explains this well. Whenever people want to shed weight, they use the term weight loss. The question is, do they want to lose weight? Losing weight is much easier. Losing weight means weighing less on a scale. Fat loss, on the other hand, is a whole different story. Fat loss defines the removal of body fat.

Weight loss is a decrease in overall body weight. This weight encompasses muscle mass, fat mass or even water. Loss of any of these becomes weight loss. Fat loss is a specific form of weight reduction.

Fat loss occurs when total body fat decreases. This form of weight loss is difficult to achieve. Most people want to reduce their body fat. Body fat can be an eyesore and stubborn. It becomes difficult to remove as the amount increases! In serious cases, people remove it via surgery. Fat loss cannot be achieved by diet alone. Neither can it be removed by exercise alone. Only a combination of both makes it easier. The quality of food needed for fat loss is important. The diet plan should redistribute sources of energy. Some suggest that more energy must come from proteins.

This all means weight loss and fat loss are different. Weight loss is therefore a non-specific term. What people need is fat loss.

Fat loss

Losing body fat requires commitment. Because strict restriction programs are needed. Such programs have higher effectiveness in fat loss. Giving up on such program does no good. Cardio and aerobic exercises burn more fat. Anaerobic exercises such as weightlifting burn less fat. This is because the heart is only intensely active for a short time. Weight lifting is, however, good for building muscles. The more muscles you have the more fat you will burn.

Although, a diet can cause fat loss. It also causes overall weight loss. This becomes an undesirable situation. Because it leads to overall weight reduction. Which is an unspecific form of weight loss. As a result loss of bone, muscle and protein mass occurs. Research shows that physical activity drives fat loss. And it will increase free fat mass in the body. So, this means, no running away from exercises. That is if fat specific weight loss is the goal.

The diet provides a means to lose body fat, without losing non-fat content. Excluding the diet from fat loss may cause health problems. Read on, if you want to know why fat targeted weight loss is slow!

Body fat and weight

The issue of body fat and weight is critical. Societies have set up their standards. Some types of body fat are acceptable. An example being of fat deposition in the breast and thigh areas. Ladies with this kind of fat are labelled as being well endowed. On the other hand, other fat types earn scorn. For example, belly fat is considered undesirable.

Body fat has both beneficial and harmful effects. This depends on the time of disposition, amount and location. In children, body fat is highly beneficial. Because they need it for brain and tissue growth. As children age, the benefits decrease. On the other hand, in adults, the effects are different. As a result, excess body fat is not desirable. Because body fat also has harmful effects. Except for its benefits in protection against bone loss and structure.

In adults body fat is associated with many diseases. These include:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • hypertension
  • stroke
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • arthritis

Abdominal fat is the biggest culprit. It increases risks for deaths and disease severity in adult.

Types of body fat

Deposition of fat occurs on different body parts. The body has 3 types of fat cells. Fat cells act as fat storage areas for the body. These include:

  • Beige
  • White
  • Brown fat cells

The body stores these cells differently. They are store in the form of:

  • Essential fat
  • Subcutaneous fat or
  • Visceral fat

Fat cells found in the body

White fat cells make up white fat. Most people know about this type of fat. Large white cells make white fat. White fat is stored under the skin. The body also stores white fat around internal body organs. This fat is also stored in the thighs, breast and arms. The body uses white fat for energy storage. These energy stores fuel the body in starvation and fasting periods. White fat is essential for certain hormonal functions. The hormones include:

  • Leptin (hormone responsible for hunger)
  • Oestrogen
  • Growth hormone
  • Insulin (affect storage of sugars)
  • Cortisol (stress hormone)

Depending on physical activity level, excess white fat is harmful. It increases risks of many diseases. These include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Pregnancy complications

Beige fat has functions in between those of white fat and brown fat. This is a new area of research. These cells are believed to burn fat. It is also believed that white fat can be converted to beige fat by the aid of some hormones. This can be a promising area in weight management.

Brown fat is primarily found in babies. Adults retain a small amount. Brown fat in adults occurs around the neck and shoulders. This fat burns fatty acids to provide energy for warmth. Brown fat benefits fat burning.

Body fat types

Fat cells are stored in 3 different forms. They can be stored as essential, visceral or subcutaneous fat.

Essential fats

The body needs essential fats for critical functions. This type of fat is found in essential organs. These include the brain and bone marrow. They are needed in protective membranes for organs. Women need more essential fat than men.

Subcutaneous fat

Most of the fat in the body is subcutaneous. The body stores this fat under the skin. A combination of beige, white and brown fat cells make up subcutaneous fat. Its the fat that one can pinch in the belly, thighs or arms. Subcutaneous fat is normal most of the times. Excess fat causes hormone imbalances. It also affects hormone sensitivity undesirably.

Visceral fat

White fat forms this type of body fat. It forms what is commonly known as belly fat. The body stores this fat around the abdomen. It occurs around all major internal organs. This includes the heart, kidneys and liver. Too, little visceral fat is undesirable. Too much, on the other hand, creates health risks. Belly fat increases disease risks. Risks for cardiovascular, coronary heart diseases, diabetes and strokes. As a result, most people seek to get rid of belly fat. Health professionals have developed various weight loss medications and programs. So that they can effectively treat and eliminate belly fat.

This article seeks to explain why the weight loss process is slow. Read on to learn more or skip to an exact topic in the table of contents.

What makes people gain weight?

An imbalance between energy intake and usage results in excess energy. The body stores this excess energy. Most dietary energy usually comes from carbohydrates. Excess carbohydrates are converted to fat. The fat is stored as one of the forms explained above. Some carbohydrates are stored as glycogen. Glycogen, however, is a short term energy store.

Most times, unhealthy eating habits cause weight gain. Sedentary behaviours also contribute to weight gain. Sedentary individuals have low physical activity levels. These are the primary causes of obesity and weight gain. Genetic predisposition also influences weight gain. For example, obese/overweight people usually have obese children. On the other hand, weight gain can be intentional. Such as in muscle mass gain.

Development of habits

Unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyles are habitual. This means they become a habit over time. And habits are difficult to break. This is why most people cannot adhere to weight loss programs strictly. Because they cannot lose any weight due to bad habits.

A habit is an overlearned process. It can generate automatic responses from the brain. As a result, overlearning bad habits make stopping them challenging. An example is of someone who grabs a snack from the kitchen whenever they get home. In the long run, they keep grabbing snacks and eating them even if they are not hungry. That shows how unhealthy eating habits begin!

Many factors and habits cause overall weight gain. These include:

  • Not planning meals
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Overestimating calories burnt by exercising
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating snacks when stressed
  • Relying on restaurant meals
  • Thyroid problems
  • Pregnancy
  • Prescription drugs
  • Menopause
  • Relying on weight lifting to burn fat
  • Falling for fake healthy food
  • Empty calories
  • Dining on the phone or watching TV
  • Too many tiny meals
  • Preferring calorie-dense foods
  • Victims of strategically placed vending machines and snack shops
  • All you can eat buffets.

Factors that cause undesirable weight gain.

The problem in weight management is not losing weight. Maintaining lost weight is just as big. Most people who lose weight regain it after a few months. Research shows that only 1-3 % of people starting weight loss programs finish. And only a few maintain low weight for long. The following factors fuel weight gain. And they hinder the progress of weight loss programs. Let’s explain a few of these factors!

1. Weight gain due to pregnancy

Weight gain during pregnancy
Weight gain during pregnancy is essential but it must not be too much.

Women gain weight before and during pregnancy. They maintain this weight until they give birth. Getting rid of it after giving birth is tough. During pregnancy, the body becomes a nutrient source for the foetus. As a result, the body stocks up on nutrients in preparation. This causes weight gain. Normal weight women should gain between 9 and 11 kgs. This weight should be met. Not meeting or exceeding this weight increases health risks. Pregnancy makes weight gain inevitable. Because during this time the weight is necessary. However, there are weight guidelines. And they are followed by health professionals during pregnancy.

Weight gain during pregnancy should be checked. Reports show increasing cases of pregnancy obesity and overweighing. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy poses risks. It increases the chances of pregnancy complications. These include:

  • miscarriages
  • gestational diabetes mellitus
  • thrombo embolism
  • preeclampsia
  • premature birth
  • pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Cesarian sections
  • Surgical complications
  • Giving birth to a baby to large for gestational age

2. Not planning meals

Meal plans are essential for the maintenance of healthy weight. Weight loss occurs under conditions of calorie deficit. It’s very difficult to create a calorie deficit with unplanned meals. Unplanned meals tend to be random and unhealthy. Sometimes, you realise food has run out and settle for whatever is available. Not planning meal increases risks of gaining weight.

3. Lack of sleep

Research shows a bidirectional link between weight gain and lack of sleep. Inadequate sleep cause weight gain.

Inadequate sleep elevates ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is a hormone produced by stomach cells. It causes hunger. Some term ghrelin the hunger hormone. This hormone enhances eating. As a result, it facilitates weight gain.

Inadequate sleep reduces leptin levels. Leptin is another hormone which reduces hunger. It inhibits the hunger feeling. Leptin also encourages the depletion of fat. This hormone is good for weight loss. Inadequate sleep inhibits leptin function and therefore cause weight gain.

Lack of sleep causes fatigue. It makes it difficult for exercise. This means you will lie around often and exercise less. This is a recipe for weight gain.

4. Overestimating calories burnt by exercise

Some apps and fitness trackers can overestimate calories burnt. Studies show that popular fitness trackers can overestimate calories burnt during exercise. This gives a false sense of security. It can also lead to bad nutrition decisions being made. More calories may be taken in proportion to tracker estimates. This will produce excess calories that the body stores. As a result, users will gain weight instead. Some of the trackers are accurate in one activity but overestimate in another.

5. Drinking alcohol

Drinking alcohol seriously contributes to weight gain. Research shows that 1 gram of alcohol provides 7.1 calories of energy. Heavy alcohol drinkers have higher risks of weight gain. That is when compared to light drinkers. Consumption of spirits contributes more to weight gain. This may be due to their higher alcohol content.

Recommended daily energy intake amounts to 2000 calories/day in women and 2500 calories in men. A single bottle of alcohol packs 144 calories. Imagine taking 3 bottles of alcohol every day together with a normal diet. And having a sedentary lifestyle! By the end of the week, excess calories will be too high. Therefore alcohol is not good for weight management. Because it will cause weight gain. It will also increase body fat content.

6. Falling for fake healthy food

Fake healthy foods cause weight gain
Fake healthy foods are responsible for weight gain

Most of the so-called healthy products carry enticing labels. Appealing words are used in product descriptions. This makes consumers perceive the product as healthy. As a result, they are lured to buy and try it. This is common with most fake healthy foods.

Research shows that once consumers see health claims. Which are usually in the product title or in bold in the description. The customers are enticed to buy. However, they also ignore the warnings for sugar content. Most protein bars have been shown to have unhealthy sugar content. This is the same with many fake healthy foods!

7. Menopause

Most women are affected by weight gain at menopause. Menopause itself does not cause weight gain. Menopause triggers a hormonal imbalance in women. As a result, the levels of oestrogen decreases. This results in the accumulation of abdominal body fat. This abdominal fat is associated with many midlife health problems. Oestrogen is the hormone responsible for fat distribution in women. As a result, the reduction in oestrogen ruins fat distribution. And results in the development of abdominal fat. This results in weight gain.

Why is weight loss slow?

Time to answer the big question.

Sometimes people toil very hard. They commit wholely to weight loss programs. Following every recommendation and requirement. Working harder to improve the lifestyle. Eating low-calorie diets, fasting and sometimes nearly starving. But still, the results are insignificant. The progress will be so slow. Or initially, the results are so awesome, you will be ecstatic. But, then with all your commitment, weight loss slows down. No matter, what you try, the results won’t improve. Don’t be discouraged, it’s normal. That is what we will explain here.

Rapid initial weight reduction

During the first few weeks of weight loss, weight reduction is rapid. This is because when calorie intake is reduced. The body releases energy from glycogen stores. Glycogen is a muscle carbohydrate. When used for energy, it releases water. The weight loss that results therefore comes from water loss!

The weight loss plateau

Research shows that weight loss usually stabilises after 6 months of work. Initially, the results are awesome. The initial success and cause for celebration have a limited time frame. This all differs with the type of weight loss program and methods. As time under a program increases, the amount of weight shed slows down. This is due to the body activating various adaptive systems. These responses are used during starvation. And the body uses them to resist further weight loss.

Intermittent or inconsistent adherence to weight loss programs causes weight loss plateaus. Adaptation to weight loss conditions also contributes to the slowing down of weight loss. Research shows that weight loss plateaus occur despite high adherence. A weight loss plateau occurs at 6 months. This is for most people underweight loss programs.

How weight loss slows down

During weight loss, the amount of body fat decreases. However, the body also loses small amounts of muscle tissue. Muscles are responsible for fat burning. That means as you lose weight, some muscle is gone. As that happens, the ability to lose fat and weight decreases.

Remember weight loss is based on a calorie deficit. As result, the fat burning capability decreases. The calorie deficit decreases. It does so with each kilogram of weight lost. The calorie deficit will reach a certain point. Where calorie intake equals calorie usage. No weight loss occurs at this stage. This is the weight loss plateau. After this stage, gradual weight gain can occur.

Intermittent adherence to weight loss programs is common. Most people fail to fully adhere to weight loss programs. This reduces the levels of success greatly. Such people reach weight loss plateaus earlier. And this is usually followed by weight gain.

Overcoming the weight loss plateau

Knowing about the weight loss plateau helps in planning. This plateau can be a turning point for the worst. That’s because most people are discouraged and enter an emotional avalanche. This makes people quit programs and return to unhealthy habits. Knowing that the slowing down is part of the process. So it can help in planning. Planning enables the overcoming of this weight loss barrier. A weight loss plateau signifies having lost all the weight possible with the current program. If more weight loss is needed, various measures can be taken.

1. Reassessing habits and activities:

Revisit your activities and habits. Check for deviations from the plan. These include intermittent adherence, increase in portion sizes and changing exercise plans. Try to fix these problems. Also, try to find ways around the hurdles.

2. Cut more calories:

Consider cutting more calories from the diet. Increasing dietary vegetable intake can benefit. It allows cutting calories without losing satiety. Don’t cut calories too much. Calories less than 1200 may not be enough to prevent hunger. This triggers overeating. So calories should be reduced to manageable levels.

3. Increase your physical activity:
Exercising is critical for the success of weight loss programs
Exercising is critical for the success of weight loss.

You can also increase your physical activity levels. More aerobic exercises are recommended for weight loss. They make the heart pump for longer and therefore burn fat. On the other hand, anaerobic exercises are necessary. Because they develop muscles. More muscles mean more metabolism. As a result, more fat is burnt. Planning your physical activities is best.

4. Avoid sitting around for too long:

Walk or cycle to work wherever possible. Avoid driving for shorter distances. Improve your habits. Plan your meals. Always shop, after eating to avoid unhealthy eating. Shopping with a list help to make healthier choices.

Factors responsible for slow weight loss

Sometimes weight regain affects weight loss progress. Most of the times the weight gain follows the weight loss plateau. Weight loss is not a very big problem. But, sustaining the achieved low weight is. Most of the lost weight is regained within 1 to 2 years. And about 80% within the first 5 years. As a result, some see weight loss as a lost cause.

As people lose more weight. They begin to fight an increasing battle against biological responses. These biological responses oppose further weight loss. As a result, the process slows down.

1. Dietary composition

The composition of the diet influences overall calorie intake. Whilst, energy-dense foods contain loads of calories. Less energy-dense foods like non-starchy vegetables contain less.

Altering dietary macronutrient composition affects energy expenditure and intake. This alteration conforms to the overall weight loss. Manipulating the diet causes a hormonal imbalance. This triggers responses to correct the problem in the body. The correction triggers hunger responses. These hunger responses facilitate overeating. Weight gain occurs as a result.

Dietary manipulation can also produce favourable results. It can also cause beneficial hormonal responses. These will enhance fat burning and weight loss. This is the promise providing fodder for the diet industry. They utilise it to make fake healthy food claims. These foods provide false hope to weight loss patients. And they currently hold the diet industry in a chokehold!

Research shows that some diets are better than others. Low-fat weight loss diets are inferior to a low carbohydrate diet. Protein-based diets can be sources of energy. High protein diets can provide energy without significant weight gain.

Various factors affect long term success with weight loss diets. These factors affect the sustainability of adherence to diets. Such factors include:

  • The person’s food environment
  • Socio-economic status
  • Medical status
  • Social support
  • Cooking skills
  • Managing job requirements
  • Available free time

2. The weight loss environment

The number of overweight people is higher than before. The figures are highest in the developed world. And increasing in the developing world. This has been attributed to the industrialization of the food systems. Nowadays ultra-processed foods rule the world. They are packed with calories, cheaper and appealing to the palette. Ultra-processed foods are the highest consumed food in most of the world. As a result, they are the chief cause of weight gain.

Food has become cheaper, so people can eat much more. Most people don’t prepare food at home. Its easier to buy food than to prepare some. The food is usually unhealthy. Only a few restaurants show nutrient composition for their meals. As a result, trying to lose weight and not preparing meals become contradictory. Buying food limits options. Because you will eat what they offer, not what you should!

Current trends in the physical activity environment make it tough to lose weight. It has become more difficult to be physically active throughout the day. Working a desk job and commuting to work greatly reduces physical activity. It has to be compensated for somewhere. A sedentary lifestyle and environment make it tougher to lose weight.

If taken together, all these factors increase food intake. They also minimise physical activity levels. This slows down weight reduction. Weight gain occurs as a result.

3. Adaptations to weight loss

Whenever people lose weight the body responses in the opposite way.

Research shows a poor understanding of weight loss by health practitioners. As a result, they give outdated guidance to patients. They give patients the impression that modest diet changes cause consistent weight loss. And failure to lose weight is attributed to poor adherence to the program. This stigmatises the patients. They are accused of lacking will power or motivation to lose weight!

Such programs are flawed. And they are less likely to achieve weight loss results. They fail to take into account certain issues. Issues like reduced energy expenditure as one loses weight. The body adapts to weight loss by adjusting to energy expenditure. As a result, the amount of fat burnt lowers with weight loss.

Weight in the human body is regulated by negative feedback mechanisms. As you lose weight, the body stimulates hunger. This then stimulates food intake. The body releases hormones that stimulate hunger and reduce satiety. As a result, weight loss becomes a challenge. And adherence to weight loss programs becomes a big challenge.

Weight loss triggers a phenomenon called adaptive thermogenesis. This means your resting energy usage is decreased. As a result, further weight loss is hindered.

The role of neural factors in adapting to weight loss

Neural factors stimulate the brain. People under weight loss programs suffer from cravings. By trying to limit dietary sugars and fats, they will crave them more. These sensations are caused by the neural factor dopamine. And failure to satisfy the cravings causes unpleasant sensations. It takes strong will power to resist the cravings.

Weight loss results in a decrease in the rewards of food. The body then signals for the production of dopamine. Dopamine will stimulate the brain to cause food cravings. The body is then rewarded with increased food intake. This is one of the reasons why adhering to weight loss medicines or diet is difficult.

Conclusion

As shown weight loss is not a one-day thing. Weight loss is not determined by diet or exercises alone. Different factors can affect the progress of weight loss. It’s possible to overcome the weight plateau. But you have to know what the problem is first. Which was the aim of this article. I hope your questions were answered. Thank you for reading to the end. If it’s likeable please leave a like. If it’s awesome, then leave a comment.

Cheers

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