If you think you’re “doing everything right,” struggling to lose body fat can be demoralizing. Instead of throwing in the towel, though, it’s important to start troubleshooting. That’s what this article is for.
While stalled success can have complicated explanations, it’s best to check off the most common ones first.
Here are 11 variables you can start with, along with some extra resources should you feel the need to go deeper.
1) You struggle to lose body fat because you don’t eat real food.
99.9% of the emails I receive start out like this: “I’m eating healthy and exercising, but I’m still not reaching my goals!”
It’s a running joke around here. Everyone is struggling, but everyone is also eating healthy. Except they aren’t.
This jives with research reported in NPR: 75 Percent of Americans Say They Eat Healthy Despite Evidence To The Contrary.
Why is this happening? Because our mainstream understanding of “healthy eating” has been grossly manipulated. What we believe is healthy, is not healthy.
For example, if you think any of the following is healthy, you’ve been operating with bad advice:
- Low fat foods.
- Low calorie processed foods.
- Substitute sugars.
- “Heart healthy” vegetable and seed oils.
- Cereal grains & whole grains.
What should you be doing?
Taking a nourishment-focused approach. And the best way to do that is by eating real food. Things that were previously alive and that are minimally processed.
This is always the foundation for which to start from.
2) You struggle to lose body fat because you consume way more sugar and starch than you think you do.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when “eating healthy,” though, is too much sugar consumption.
Sure, you’re avoiding the obvious sources of sugar. But, you’re consuming lots of hidden sugars.
Obvious Sugars: Table sugar, donuts, cakes, soda, candy, etc.
Hidden Sugars: Starches, almost all processed foods (currently there’s about 80,000 to choose from), fruit juices, milk, and grains.
I had a female client who told me:
“Kevin, I don’t get why I’m not winning. I’m dedicated to reading labels so I can cut my sugar intake. I eat Cheerios every morning because there’s only one gram of sugar per serving.”
She’s “doing everything right.” She’s relying on that official FDA food label on the package to make her calculations. The only thing missing from her life is RESULTS.
The reason there are no results is because she’s underestimating her sugar consumption. A serving of Cheerios might have one gram of sugar, but Cheerios are pure starch. Starch gets converted to sugar in the body almost immediately.
I told her, “You can eat a bowl of Special K with no added sugar or you can eat a bowl of sugar with no added Special K, they’re not that different metabolically.”
I don’t care what the marketing on the front of the box says. I don’t care what the official FDA label on the back of the box says. I only care about what your body thinks.
To be successful, you must redefine what sugar means and adopt a new approach.
Take Action: Do you have an unhealthy relationship with sugar? With food in general? Take our free Emotional Eating Evaluation to find out. This assessment will show you the exact reasons you’ve been struggling.
3) You struggle to lose body fat because you don’t move your body enough.
Movement is important. The amount of sitting and stationary activity we do is off the charts. It’s to the point that sedentary behavior is becoming pathological.
We used to live in a world that required physical movement. Now, we can get through our entire day without much physical activity at all. Hell, sometimes you can get through an entire week.
In the modern world, we have to be very intentional about our movement practice. If we aren’t intentional, it won’t happen.
There are two things you must do to collect enough “movement nutrition” each day:
- Have a daily fitness practice.
- Reduce general sedentary behavior.
If you have an unhealthy relationship with exercise, there might be a lot of resistance to the idea of a daily fitness practice. Instead of seeing exercise and movement as nutrition, you may see it as pain. You also might be doing a lot of things you may not enjoy.
We can fix that, though, so no worries.
As for #2, there are many day-to-day strategies for reducing sedentary behavior. That’s beyond the scope of this article, though. What’s most important is the daily fitness practice.
4) You struggle to lose body fat because your sleep sucks.
If you had a lose body fat puzzle, sleep would be a single piece that makes up close to 30% of that puzzle!
Yeah, it’s a big freakin’ piece.
Why is sleep so important? Because poor sleep affects almost every other aspect of nutrition, fitness, and health.
Let’s take a look at one example: hormone regulation.
Three nights of poor sleep can down-regulate leptin production by 20%. It can up-regulate ghrelin production by close to 30%. And it can make your insulin resistance mimic that of a type II diabetic.
In layman’s terms, poor sleep makes you less able to feel full, makes you hungrier, and makes you less efficient at managing blood sugar.
You can eat healthily & exercise all you want, but if your sleep isn’t dialed in you are wasting your time.
5) You struggle to lose body fat because you’re oblivious to how much you eat.
While calories matter, I’ve made it clear that counting calories is a bad strategy.
That doesn’t mean you aren’t overeating, though. If you’re struggling to lose body fat, there’s a good chance you are overeating.
The question is, why are you overeating when your body should be regulating your caloric intake for you? After all, the body is the best calculator there is.
Here are five potential reasons:
- You’re out of tune with your body. You can’t identify your body’s hunger and satiety signaling.
- The food you eat isn’t real, so you can’t trust the signaling. This is due to a dysfunctional hormone response.
- You’ve spent years abusing your body with destructive foods and dieting practices. Your metabolism is a wreck and needs repair. This is a probability if you feel like your body is “very sensitive.”
- The food you eat is nutritionally poor. While your stomach may be full, you’re left starving at the cellular level.
- You’re using food for comfort, control, or coping. You’re feeding emotional hunger more than you’re feeding the physical hunger.
What is the end goal of a practical, sustainable lifestyle? It’s to eat an appropriate amount of calories, regulated automatically by your body’s internal signaling.
In order for that to happen, all the key pieces of the puzzle must come into alignment. Sleep, nutrition, hormones, gut health, psychology, the whole nine.
6) You struggle to lose body fat because you’re leptin resistant.
Leptin is an appetite suppressant hormone that plays a key role in the body’s metabolism.
Too often, discussions about fat loss center around insulin and insulin resistance. What if leptin is a more important factor?
Leptin resistance makes you satiety-resistant. When this happens, your brain never says, “hey, you can stop now.”
If you’re overweight and growing more-so each month, you need to take a hard look at leptin. I’ve already written a solid piece about leptin and how you can begin to fix it, so follow up with that.
7) You struggle to lose body fat because you do too much cardio.
I like the term “movement nutrition” because it speaks to an important fact. You realize that not all foods are nutritious, right? Now it’s time to realize that not all exercise is nutritious.
For example, running for an hour a day, every day, is an inflammatory exercise protocol. The amount of stress this places on the body increases demand for micronutrients, sleep, and reduced stress levels.
All these things are in short supply for most people, though.
I had a client who told me that before joining our academy she started training for a marathon as part of a weight loss plan. She was running daily and following a conventional calorie-restricted diet.
What happened? At the eight week mark, her weight stopped declining. Then, she started gaining. She smoked her metabolism, was over-trained, and inflamed.
Many people see exercise as a quantity game when it needs to be a quality game. Instead of trying to burn calories “by any means necessary,” you need to start finding ways to make fitness serve your health and happiness.
Keep it healthy. Stop torturing yourself.
Take Action: Get more movement variety and stop trying to exercise your way out of the problems you face. Walking and DWYLT are tactics that go a long way. If you want to exercise more, focus on intensity over duration.
8) You struggle to lose body fat because you have an undiagnosed thyroid issue.
Part of the function of the thyroid is to control metabolism. If the thyroid is underperforming (hypothyroid), your metabolic rate can decline. Of course, other problems occur alongside that.
If you’re doing all the things on this list and not making progress, it won’t hurt to get your thyroid function checked.
Thyroid testing isn’t without problems, though. Plenty of people with thyroid problems will show up in the reference ranges on a standard panel. This is why many people suffer from undiagnosed thyroid issues. They’ve had tests that say there’s no problem even though there is.
If you’ve had a thyroid panel done that shows no issues, but you have symptoms of a thyroid problem, don’t rule the thyroid out.
Take Action: If you still suspect a thyroid issue, get a more advanced thyroid panel.
9) You struggle to lose body fat because you’re underestimating your stress levels.
The modern world is conducive to higher stress levels. There are a lot of acute stressors, for sure. Worse, though, is the chronic stress modern life can saddle you with if you allow it to.
When I do stress assessments on clients, it often turns up that they’re living in a state of “sympathetic nervous system dominance.”
That means their sympathetic nervous system has become the primary system. In other words, they’re in a state of “fight or flight” more often than not.
It’s unlikely that you can assess yourself, though. When asked to rank stress on a scale of one to ten, these same clients would self-report 4s, 5s, and 6s. In reality, they were 9s and 10s.
Chronic stress is the number one destroyer of health. It’s also a top obstacle to losing body fat. This is true both from a physiological perspective and a psychological perspective.
Physiologically, stress disorders hormones. Psychologically, it can drive overeating and poor food choices.
While you can’t cut stress completely, it’s important to manage it. In our Decode Your Cravings program, one of the factors we teach on is the “Stress Tolerance Threshold.” Keeping stress under this threshold is key to consistency with healthy habits and progress.
A factor involved in that, which we also teach about in Decode Your Cravings, is cultivating a more efficient “emotional metabolism.”
10) You struggle to lose body fat because your gut isn’t healthy.
Research on the gut biome is still in its infancy, but the current data suggests that gut health is one of the most important factors in health.
The gut works to protect the body from foreign invaders. It houses your immune system. It impacts metabolism. It’s even linked with mental health.
The gut produces the vast majority of your serotonin. There’s also a brain-gut connection via the vagus nerve. This means that your gut influences your mood and behavior and vice-versa.
Check this out…
“More and more studies are showing that mice or other model organisms with changes in their gut microbes exhibit altered behaviors,” explains Elaine Hsiao, research assistant professor of biology and biological engineering and senior author of the study. “We are interested in how microbes communicate with the nervous system. To start, we explored the idea that normal gut microbes could influence levels of neurotransmitters in their hosts.”
Peripheral serotonin is produced in the digestive tract by enterochromaffin (EC) cells and also by particular types of immune cells and neurons. Hsiao and her colleagues first wanted to know if gut microbes have any effect on serotonin production in the gut and, if so, in which types of cells. They began by measuring peripheral serotonin levels in mice with normal populations of gut bacteria and also in germ-free mice that lack these resident microbes.
The researchers found that the EC cells from germ-free mice produced approximately 60 percent less serotonin than did their peers with conventional bacterial colonies. When these germ-free mice were recolonized with normal gut microbes, the serotonin levels went back up—showing that the deficit in serotonin can be reversed. [source]
Your microbiome can manipulate your behavior in other ways as well. For example, it can trigger the release of certain chemicals to make you feel better or worse.
“Bacteria within the gut are manipulative,” said Carlo Maley, PhD, director of the UCSF Center for Evolution and Cancer and corresponding author on the paper. “There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals, and others not.” … “Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good,” said Aktipis, who is currently in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology. [source]
Because gut research is so young, most people (even doctors) are still naive to its importance. It’s an area that we all need to pay very, very close attention to going forward.
11) You struggle to lose body fat because you’re too inconsistent.
It’s possible that you know everything you need to do, you just don’t do it consistently.
I say that with caution because a lot of people think they know what to do, but don’t. We talked about that in point #1 when it comes to nutrition. They’re just following old, washed up advice that will never work.
I wanted to make this point because having the right information doesn’t guarantee success. There are a ton of people who have the right information and still fail. In fact, inconsistency is the #1 challenge that men and women around the world are facing.
The question is, what’s driving the inconsistency? Based on our research and work with thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world, it boils down to three factors:
- You’re implementing the wrong information. If you think you aren’t, this is still a possibility. Take our free Dieting Dogma Evaluation if you want to test yourself.
- You don’t have enough physical, mental, and emotional resources. See point #9. You’re under too much stress.
- You have a dysfunctional relationship with food, body, and Self. You turn to food for comfort, control, and coping. You’re feeding emotional hunger as well as physical hunger. You can take our free Emotional Eating Evaluation if you think this might be you.
This topic is our specialty at Rebooted Body. When it comes to eating and behavior psychology, nobody does it better than us.
If you’re struggling to align your habits with your good intentions on a consistent basis, you’re a perfect candidate for working with us. We can show you exactly how to solve that issue.
In fact, if you’re struggling with anything on this list and want help, our online academy is available to you. This is a lot to try and figure out on your own and you shouldn’t have to do it alone. You can save a lot of time, money, and frustration by getting help.
Recap & Wrap-Up
While losing body fat is the primary goal for most men and women who are setting health and fitness goals, you need to make sure you approach the problem with a healthy mindset and sound principles.
Here are all eleven failure points I covered in this article – you should recap them as a checklist of sorts. If you recognize that you’re not doing something on this list, make the necessary adjustment for an appropriate amount of time and re-assess your situation.
- You’re not eating real food.
- You consume too much sugar and starch.
- You don’t move your body enough.
- You’re not sleeping long enough or well enough.
- You’re eating way more than you think you’re eating.
- You’re leptin resistant.
- You do too much cardio.
- You have an undiagnosed thyroid issue.
- You’re underestimating your stress levels.
- Your gut and digestion aren’t working properly.
- You’re too inconsistent with your healthy habits.
Losing body fat is easy for some people and difficult for others. There are a lot of factors at play, which is why it’s effective to follow a practical, flexible, and sustainable program that includes guidance, support, and troubleshooting.