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So you’ve decided you want to lose weight… maybe it’s the “last 10 pounds” or “just a bit of holiday weight” that you want to shift.
But for some reason the stubborn scale just won’t budge!
It’s frustrating. You feel like you’re doing everything right; eating the good stuff, skipping the bad stuff.
Perhaps you’re restricting your calorie intake to be sure you’re burning off more than you’re eating.
Maybe you saw some positive changes at first, but now it’s plateaued.
What to do?
Give up and binge that pizza you’ve been craving all week?
Restrict a bit more, diet harder?
I think, intuitively, you know these aren’t the answer. (Although if I had to choose, I’d tell you to go for that pizza!)
Restrictive diets don’t work, definitely not in the long-term.
I want you to feel effortlessly healthy in your body, every. damn. day.
The only “diet” that works is one that makes you feel amazing and that you don’t have to think about – it’s become your status quo.
It’s about an overall healthy lifestyle, not restricting yourself and under eating.
And I want to preface all of this by saying that I don’t like working with weight loss as the number one goal. If you’re holding onto a bit of extra weight for your body, then usually it’s a symptom of something else. Address this underlying issue and you might very well come to your ideal weight naturally.
Along those lines, here’s a brief explanation of 5 key reasons why you might not be losing weight – and none of them have to do with eating too much.
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One: You’re not eating enough
Maybe you’ve calculated on one of those online calculators how many calories your body generally needs per day. The same calculators often will also tell you how much you need to restrict to lose “x” amount of weight in “y” amount of time. These calculators don’t tend to have a bottom limit!
Sure, mathematically, if you cut out 1000 calories a day you could lose 1kg of weight in roughly just over a week. But it’s just not this black and white in reality.
For one, our body’s caloric needs vary from day-to-day depending on a variety of factors, like our activity level, our sleep, our health, and even the climate. Plus, all these things can also mean that your personal calorie needs can vary compared to what the calculator may be saying.
But the bottom line is, that your body is always searching for balance.
If you’re restricting calories too much and/or for too long, your body is going to decrease your metabolism and find a way to function on less calories, slowing or plateauing any weight loss. Not to mention that this could be at a detriment to other bodily functions and your overall health.
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Two: You’re eating nutrient-poor food
Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t just about the number of calories you consume. Just as important, or perhaps even more important, are the amount of nutrients in your diet. Everybody needs to ensure they get adequate fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals from their diet. While the amounts of each vary by individual, there are recommended minimums that everyone should try to maintain.
A nutrient-poor diet can lead to various food cravings or excessive hunger which could cause overeating and choosing more of the foods that perpetuate this cycle. Not to mention that deficiencies can manifest with physical symptoms.
Nutrient dense foods are ones that pack in the vitamins and minerals for a reasonable number of calories, whereas nutrient-poor foods either lack these substances or have relatively little nutrients for a high number of calories. In general, these tend to be processed, convenience foods.
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Three: You’re not getting enough sleep
Sleep is absolutely vital to ensuring our body is able to rest and recover from the activities of our day. Lack of sleep has been linked to overeating as well as increasing our likelihood of making poor food choices (since you’re so tired and just craving easy energy!). Sleep loss can increase your risk of insulin resistance and can wreak havoc on your hormone levels (see point 5).
Sleep loss does accumulate night after night, and if you aren’t sleeping enough during the week it’s highly likely that having a lie-in on weekends isn’t completely getting you out of the red. Plus just one night of poor sleep can already profoundly affect our energy levels and needs the next day.
Remember that adults tend to need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. To find out what your body needs try to head to bed at the same time every night for at least a week and wake without an alarm clock. After a few days (once you’ve recovered from any deficit you may have been in) you should naturally find your body’s set point.
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Four: You’re exercising TOO much
While getting some healthy movement in every day is key to living well, if we push things too far and start over exercising, we can end up having the opposite effect. It can be a major stressor on the body disrupting our hormone balance, down-regulating our immune system, and even impacting our gut health.
An hour or so after exercising you should at a minimum feel as energetic as you did prior to the workout, but ideally you should feel even more energized than before! If you regularly feel completely depleted and exhausted even after this recovery time, then chances are you’re overdoing it with your exercise.
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Five: Your hormones are out of whack
Our body’s hormone balance is like a finely tuned orchestra, that can too easily fall out of sync. All of the factors already mentioned like under eating, over exercising, sleep deprivation, along with other issues like environmental toxins and hormonal contraception (just to name a few!) can all impact your hormone levels.
All of these factors are stressors on the body which could lead to excess cortisol or inflammation causing us to hold onto extra weight. Cortisol is known for causing us to store fat around the belly – a clear red flag that your body is struggling under too much stress!
When we are under too much stress our body will prioritize cortisol production over the other hormones, increasing our need for certain nutrients and overall throwing the entire balance off.
What to do?
In the end, all these factors are interconnected, and you may be experiencing more than one. The bottom line is that they are all contributing stress to the body which is causing you to hold on to the excess weight.
The key is to look to make some changes in your lifestyle and habits to decrease the stressors on your body. Living healthfully should feel easy and effortless – not cause you even more stress on top of everything else!
If you’re still unsure if stress is really the culprit, take my quiz “is your body trying to tell you it’s overload?”. This can be a great starting point to objectively see where you stand!
I work with clients helping them overcome all of these obstacles and learn to live an effortlessly healthy lifestyle. If you think working one-on-one together may be for you, book in now for a free 15-minute discovery call and we can chat about your goals and desired results!
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The amount of money that people spend on food has changed pretty dramatically over the last decades. In the US in the 1900s, families spent on average around 40% of their total budget on food. By the 1950s that had fallen to 30%, and the consumer expenditure report from 2018 reports that the average household is now spending just 10% on food. Of that, 56% is for food at home, and 44% is away from home. (1)
In 2017 in the EU it was reported that the average spend on food plus non-alcoholic beverages was 12.2% of a household’s budget (ranging from 27.8% in Romania to just 8.2% in the UK). (2)
For context, the OECD reports that between 2014 and 2018 household disposable income has increase per year on average in the EU by 1.15% and in the Unites States by 1.63%. (3)
The quality of the food we eat can have a significant impact on our health over time, so it’s possible that such a small emphasis in the budget could be problematic. Especially when taking into account potential future healthcare-related costs.
Unfortunately, it often seems to be the case that the less nutrient-dense foods tend to be cheaper than healthier alternatives, which can cause confusion in making the best choice.
If it’s not possible for you to increase your food spending, but you still want to eat as healthfully as possible, I have a few key tips for you:
Think about good/better/best when it comes to meat and dairy
Fish & Seafood
Having at least one serving of an oily fish (think salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, or mackerel) per week tends to be one of my first nutritional recommendations due to the incredibly important and healthy Omega-3 fats that they contain. If one portion of these fresh, wild-caught fish isn’t possible on your budget, look for the same but as a tinned version. Just make sure it’s tinned in just water or olive oil (optionally some herbs or spices) but without any preservatives. All the above-mentioned fatty fish are great options as are oysters.
The best sources of red meat would be grass-fed (or pastured if you are talking about pork), followed by grass-fed but grain-finished. If these are out of the budget, then opt for cuts of meat that are low-fat, (like lean ground meat) as the fat tissue is where animals store their nutrients but also their toxins. Think about splurging occasionally on one of the higher quality sources.
Raw and full-fat forms are by far the best if you know and trust the source. If you can’t access raw dairy, swap out the skim or low-fat version for the full-fat to ensure you’re getting the maximum nutrient density. This is true not only for milk, but also for other dairy products as well like yogurts or cheeses. Just remember that if you’re frequently drinking glasses of milk, the swap to higher fat versions do come along with the extra calories, so you will need to adjust your diet accordingly.
Look for pastured chicken, just like you would pork. If you can’t swing that, then just like with red meat stick to the low-fat cuts like the chicken breast. Just make sure you’re bringing fat onto your plate in other ways! It’s always cheaper to buy the whole chicken at once and then you have your protein sorted for multiple meals at once!
Eggs are tricky ones as there are so many different classifications involved. If you can’t get yours straight from a farmer (or your own chickens!), look for certified organic. This means that they were raised free-range: they can move about freely inside the barn they are being raised in, which is “free-run”, but on top of this they also have access to outdoor runs. (However, that is only when weather permits and possibly through a small door that they may not even use!) You can also find Omega-3 and vitamin fortified eggs, but the organic, free-range are still your best option, followed by free-run.
In general, if you struggle to budget for quality meats and dairy, it can often be better to eat less of them rather than purchase the cheaper versions. These animals are usually raised in ways that are a burden to the environment and due to their non-native diet tend to have an inflammatory balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats.
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Buy frozen or canned vegetables
Don’t be afraid of buying your produce in the frozen section! Often the prices will be cheaper, and these fruits and vegetables are usually flash frozen shortly after being picked – which means they can actually be more nutritious than their “fresh” counterparts that have been sitting in transportation and in the store for days or even weeks. You can cook them up with your main meal, or even toss them frozen into a smoothie!
Canned veggies can also be a great staple to stock your pantry with and can come in handy if you’ve used up your fresh produce and want something to stretch the budget a bit longer before you go shopping. But just like with tinned seafood, make sure there aren’t a whole host of preservatives in there – look for just water and perhaps some salt. Legumes are a great one to stock here.
Buy in bulk
Keep an eye out for discounts and stock up when you can! I’ve definitely been that person who clears out the stock of almond milk when they’re on offer. But there are also more and more stores that offer bulk sections where you can purchase things like nuts, seeds, flours, grains, pasta, etc. in bulk, and often in your own containers as well. Usually these sections tend to be lower priced than the pre-packaged counterparts.
This can also translate to meat as well. Buying a whole chicken can work out cheaper by weight than individual cuts. If you can purchase a cow-share from a local farmer, you’ll also have a lower price than the same quality of meat from the shop.
Eat in season
Fresh, in-season produce is almost always going to be cheaper than when it is out of season. So think about rotating the types of fruit and vegetables you eat throughout the year depending what is in season. You might even discover some new varieties you’ve never tried before! You can head over here to download my free printable lists of what is in season when.
Meal planning & batch cooking
This is probably my favourite tip – I love meal planning and batch cooking for just making life easier in general! Planning out your food for the week in advance helps ensure that you only buy what is needed and don’t have to throw money away in spoiled food at the end of the week. It helps cut down on mid-week impulse shopping since you know exactly what you’re having and have elements ready to go at home. If you’re on a really tight budget, you can even price out your shopping list to ensure you can get everything you need.
Cooking bigger batches to have the next day as leftovers (my favourite thing to do for lunch) or to freeze for later can help your budget for that week or later down the line if you find yourself stuck for what to eat. Reheat and go!
Track your spending
If you don’t already, it can be helpful to track your spending for at least a week or two to get a baseline idea of your food purchase habits. Take into account both what you buy to eat at home, but also what you’re eating out – including coffees and other drinks! Being aware and totally honest with ourselves is the first step to getting a budget on track if you feel like you’re struggling. Then you can identify areas for improvement where you might be able to create some extra wiggle room.
I hope these ideas provide some good inspiration for you in terms of how to make your grocery budget stretch further and what to prioritize! We are what we eat, so it’s important to try and do the best we can with the resources that we have at the moment. At the same time, don’t stress about the areas where you might need make compromises; just take it one step at a time.
(3) OECD (2019), Household disposable income (indicator). doi: 10.1787/dd50eddd-en. https://data.oecd.org/hha/household-disposable-income.htm (Accessed on 10 May 2019).