It happened again just last week. A friend at the gym came up to me and said, “Porter, I’ve been struggling for a long time and there’s a question I have to ask you.” He went on to describe years of being on and then off of different diet plans. He told of small successes in losing pounds, seemingly always followed by massive defeats. Then he asked me the question I’m asked more than any other question by far, “Porter, why am I not losing weight?”
You can probably relate to my friend. Most Americans have tried to lose weight. Most, in the long term, have been unsuccessful. If you, like my friend at the gym, are struggling with sustained weight loss, here’s what you need to know. First, you can experience lasting success. A large number of people on my program have slimmed down and stayed fit for years and even decades. But, in order to do so, there are some critical principles that you MUST know and follow.
Why Am I Not Losing Weight? - The #1 Answer
If you’re asking the question, “Why can’t I lose weight?” the first place you need to look is not your body, but your mind. To permanently lose weight, you must have a different mindset than the typical dieter. The number one reason why people fail to lose weight is unreasonable expectations and lack of consistency. You start a diet, and if you haven’t lost 25 pounds in four days then you quit! You must give yourself time.
Remember, most people put on 2-5 pounds a year. Ten years later, and bam, they are 20 - 50 lbs. overweight! So, what took you a decade to put on, will take a little while to take off. But, it's still nowhere close to the time it took you to put on the weight in the first place. A good rule of thumb is that it takes 21 days of consistently eating well to get your metabolism to shift over to efficiently start to burn fat. Even then, you shouldn’t be losing more than two pounds a week. Make a plan and stick with it! So, let’s talk about how to do just that.
Step 1: Think Long-term
You might be surprised to hear that you can lose weight on almost any of the fad diets you find circulating around on the internet. A recent UCLA study found that “You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets…” So, a 200-pound man can drop 20 pounds a variety of ways. But, here’s the kicker, the study goes on to say, “but then the weight comes back.” In fact, over two years, 83% of the dieters had gained back even more weight than they lost. In fact, the researcher went on to say, “Several studies indicate that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain.” That's not good!
Here’s the point. When you want to lose weight, specifically body fat, you have to think beyond just dropping the 20 or 30 or 50 pounds you want to take off. As we’ve seen, far too many folks use dieting to get to their target weight, but then go right back to their previous eating patterns. When they do, they gain back everything they’ve lost and then some. What is far better is to lose fat by learning to eat correctly, in a way that you can sustain for a lifetime.
Step 2: What Should You Eat?
In trying to answer the question, “Why am I not losing weight?” many times the solution is found not in how much you’re are eating, but what you’re eating. You have to honestly examine the things you’re currently putting in your mouth. “What am I eating right now?” Then, “What changes do I need to make to set myself up for a sustainable lifestyle of healthy nutrition?”
When it comes right down to it, there are only two fundamental nutrition strategies for losing weight: calorie reduction and insulin inhibition.
Strategy 1: Calorie Reduction
I discuss both at length in my post, “What is the best diet for a 50-year-old man?” But, here’s the short version. Calorie reduction is far too often the first place people turn when they want to lose weight. You lose weight by eating less. It’s a no-brainer, right? Not so fast my friend. Reducing calories to some degree may be necessary. But, before you embark on a plan where you drastically reduce your calories, you need to ask yourself, “Is this diet sustainable for the rest of my life?” If not, you’re setting yourself up for the yo-yo of short-term weight loss followed by long-term weight gain.
Strategy 2: Insulin Inhibition
What I would recommend instead is the second strategy for burning fat: controlling the amount of insulin your body produces. Insulin is released when you eat starchy or sugary foods. It encourages your body to store the energy in those foods as fat. It is the secretion of insulin that creates that belly fat you are so eagerly trying to get rid of.
The key to permanent weight loss is to avoid those starchy and sugary foods. This decreases your insulin production and thus the amount of fat your body is storing. When trying to lose weight, stick to a sustainable diet that contains low-calorie nutrient-dense foods.
Here’s what that might look like. Every time I get ready to eat, the first thing I ask is, “What type of protein am I going to eat in this meal?” It’s like a puzzle I am building around my protein. Try to get around six ounces of lean meat like chicken breast, turkey, or fish. Egg whites are another great source of protein. Then add a carbohydrate source. Here it’s crucial that you stick to complex carbohydrates like brown rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, corn, or beans. Finally, add a fat source. Pair a protein with a complex carbohydrate the first two or three meals. For the last couple of meals, you use a vegetable or a low glycemic fruit to accompany your protein.
Step 3: When Should You Eat?
Knowing what to eat is only half the battle. From here you need to know when to eat. This will be the most shocking revelation that you read in this post. I am convinced that one of the biggest reasons people fail in losing fat is that they don’t eat enough. You heard me right: They. Don’t. Eat. Enough. Now, let me tell you why I say that.
When I was younger, I would often go over to my grandparent’s house. And one of the things that I remember most from those days is the old coal burning stove they used to heat their home. I’d go over there on a cold winter day, and my grandmother would tell my grandfather to throw some more coal on the fire, and in an instant, the room got so hot, I could hardly stand it. All day long, my grandfather would keep feeding it with coal, and it would remain sweltering hot, no matter how cold it was outside.
Your body is really no different. The most critical factor in burning fat and losing weight is keeping your metabolic rate high. You have to keep shoveling in food to keep it burning calories hot and fast.
When you are thinking about losing weight ask yourself, “How many meals can I eat in a day?” If at all possible, eat between four and six. From there, it is absolutely essential that you plan. If you don’t plan your meals out, you will not stick with it. Determine when you are going to eat those meals and what you will have for each meal.
Putting It All Together
We've asked the question, "Why am I not losing weight?" And we've covered a lot of information in answering it. Let’s sum it all up by looking at what a healthy diet to lose weight would actually look like. As a former pro bodybuilder, I experimented with all kinds of diets. Through years of trial and error, I was able to distill down the simple fundamentals on what will produce the maximum results. Just as importantly, it was a plan I could sustain for a lifetime. Here’s what I would recommend.
Start It Off Right
The most important meal of the day is breakfast. Many people try to skip this meal or get by with just a protein shake. This isn’t enough to get your body running, let alone get your metabolism humming at optimal fat burning levels. Remember, you goal with food is simple - get your metabolism firing on all cylinders. Breakfast should be your biggest meal of the day. It’s typically the time of day that your body is burning the most energy, so give it what it needs. Start with your protein source, I usually eat egg whites. Then add a complex carbohydrate. I eat a cup of oatmeal or cream of rice and add some fruit and walnuts for flavor.
The Rest of the Day
Then try to eat every three to four hours for the rest of the day. Your next couple of meals should be six ounces of lean meat, a complex carbohydrate, and a vegetable. Remove the complex carbohydrate and switch to a more fibrous carbohydrate such as a salad with an oil-based dressing for the next two meals. I like to finish my day off with a low-glycemic index fruit (my favorite is frozen blueberries) and more egg whites.
Eat four or five small meals like this a day, and you will get your internal furnace burning through calories. Your insulin will remain stable throughout the day as well, which means you won’t have those highs and lows and feel tired mid-day. Just as importantly, you are giving yourself a nutrient-dense, high fiber diet that is simply good for you. It’s the type of food that you can sustain for a lifetime! And you know what? It’s just simple. Proper nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated folks.
If you’d like more details on how to lose body fat, be sure to check out my ACHIEVE program. It’s designed just for guys over 40. I’ll give you daily coaching on nutrition, workouts, and more. You'll learn how to burn fat, build muscle, gain energy, and feel great.
About Porter Cottrell
Porter Cottrell was inducted to the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness Hall of Fame in 2011. Since his professional bodybuilding days, he has committed himself to helping men over 40 live their lives to the fullest. He is passionate about teaching simple principles that will help guys lose weight, build muscle, and stay vibrant and fit for a lifetime.