When we read about the latest diets in magazines and newspapers or see them advertised on the TV, we could be forgiven for thinking that losing more than a couple of pounds each week, every week, is normal. The reality is that many of us can't lose weight at this rate, even if we keep to our diet one hundred per cent.
The trouble is, we've been led to believe that all that's involved in losing weight is eating less and exercising more. We're told that a pound of body fat equates to around 3,500 calories, and all we have to do is calculate how many calories we will need to 'save' each day (or how much more exercise we will need to take) to burn the desired amount of fat off.
Unfortunately, that's just the theory. In practice, it's not so straightforward. There are many different factors which affect how and when we lose weight, and medical science is just beginning to appreciate how important they are.
Firstly, men on average lose weight at a faster rate than women. We women may complain at how unfair it is, but there's nothing we can do about it! Also, weight loss will be much slower for a person who is mildly overweight compared with someone who has very many pounds to lose.
When comparing our weight loss with the number of pounds the diet magazines claim we should be losing, it is important to consider how much of the weight loss is water or lean muscle tissue, and how much actual fat. If our own weight loss is less, it may be that we've lost fat and gained muscle (which is exactly what we want). The secret is that muscle weighs more than fat. It is denser, and takes up less space. So if we our clothes are looser even though we haven't lost much on the scales, then that may indicate that, although our weight loss may be a bit slow, our fat loss on the other hand is right on target.
Very often we become disappointed when our weight loss slows right down after an initial rush of success. A loss of 4 to 10 pounds or more in the first week of any diet is common. This is due to the depletion of our glycogen stores. Since we are not fulfilling all our energy needs by eating, our body starts to break these down, using up the glucose and excreting the water in which it was dissolved. This initial period of substantial weight loss is not sustainable, and is mostly only water anyway. This phenomenon is in fact what most 'crash' and 'lose 10 pounds in a week' diets rely upon for their apparent success.
Hormonal factors can also prevent us from losing weight as fast as our calorie calculations lead us to believe we ought. For instance, hormones are thought to play a part in how quickly weight is lost after giving birth. Pregnancy hormones 'instruct' the body to deposit fat in readiness for feeding the baby, and it seems logical that it may take time for the body's fat deposition to return to normal. Most sources advise that it takes 8 to 12 months to return to pre-pregnancy weight.
Slow weight loss (and even complete failure to lose weight on a diet) may also be related to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and hypothyroidism (low or underactive thyroid). Many prescribed medications can also interfere with weight loss.
Even eating too little may stop us losing weight. As part of the body's natural survival mechanism, metabolism slows when food intake drops excessively, in an attempt to conserve energy. That's why gradual weight loss, although frustrating, is likely to succeed in the long term where 'crash' diets fail.
Other problems such as food allergies, intestinal yeast overgrowth and carbohydrate intolerance can also play a part in slowing or stalling weight loss.
So if we struggle on standard low fat/low calorie 'healthy eating' diets then one or very likely many of these factors is the culprit. For our diet to succeed it is important to get informed about these hitherto little known diet saboteurs and understand how to overcome them. Various sources of such information exist on the Internet. Those that help the reader draw together all the relevant factors into a personal action plan are probably the easiest to follow and put into practice.