Eating Healthy and Exercising but NOT Losing Weight [Here is what to do]

So if you’re reading this you probably know how to lose weight? Consume fewer calories than you are burning. Easy!

It works…. at first.

The problem for the majority of people who try this way of weight loss is that they gain it all back again within a few months.

But if you’re interested in losing weight AND keeping it off for the long term, then read on. I’m going to explain why calorie restriction fails us time and time again (HINT: It’s got nothing to do with willpower), and I’m going to show you what you can do about it.

In this post, I want to share with you the insight that changed my life and my health forever and led to me losing 50lbs (23kg) in 6 months. You’re going to learn how rejecting the old ‘energy balance theory of obesity’ for the ‘hormonal theory of obesity’ changed my life.

Table of Contents

Energy Balance

We’ve been told for many years that losing weight is simply a matter of burning more calories than you consume. The idea is that someone who is maintaining a normal amount of weight eats just the right amount of calories for the amount of energy they are burning, and that someone who is gaining weight is consuming too many calories for the amount of exercise that they are doing.

Seems pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? It’s a nice, simple message and it naturally leads us to a simple conclusion on how to deal with our weight issues.

Burn more calories than you consume.

Or, put another way…
Eating Healthy and Exercising but NOT Losing Weight
Anyone who has ever tried this method of losing weight knows that it works, for a while. But for so many of us, this method has failed to maintain weight loss for extended periods of time. The reason that calorie restriction fails time after time is no mystery to scientists!

Stranded on a Desert Island

Eating Healthy and Exercising but NOT Losing Weight
Here’s the problem. When you start to create a calorie deficit, your body doesn’t know you’re on a diet – it thinks you’ve been stranded on a desert island.

You’re a born survivor

The good news is that you’re a born survivor – millions of years of evolution have prepared you for this moment. Your ancestors were all survivors. You are the end result of an unbroken chain of survivors.

Your genes will keep you alive

Yes, you’ll lose weight for a few weeks – you’ll lose fat and valuable lean muscle tissue. But your body is preparing for starvation.

You start to conserve energy. Your body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate will start to drop. You will become more lethargic – (it’s going to get harder and harder to go to the gym).

Eating Healthy and Exercising but NOT Losing Weight
Your rate of fat burning will drop (you’re going to need it to survive). The scales, which were dropping nicely, will slow down to a halt.
Eating Healthy and Exercising but NOT Losing Weight
You will be more hungry – your brain tells you to do whatever you can to find food. You will become preoccupied with food. It will be all you can think about.
Eating Healthy and Exercising but NOT Losing Weight

You’ll blame yourself

For many, this is where the diet ends. It may be a month or 6 weeks into the diet. You’ll probably eat and eat and eat until you regain all the weight you initially lost, and maybe even gain a bit more. You’ll probably blame yourself. You’ve fallen off your diet (again).

Except it wasn’t your fault

Your body was just doing whatever it could do to survive in the extreme circumstances you voluntarily put it under in an effort to lose weight. Willpower never stood a chance. You can’t just overcome millions of years of evolution with willpower.

Calorie balance is an oversimplification

Thinking about weight gain purely in terms of calories in and calories out is an oversimplification of a more complicated problem.

Eating Healthy and Exercising but NOT Losing Weight

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.– Albert Einstein

Think about it. Were people thinner 50 years ago simply because they were better at counting calories? I don’t think so!

There is another way of thinking about weight gain that fits in a lot better with how the human body really works. It’s time to talk about hormones.

Hormonal Theory of Obesity

Simply put, hormones are part of the messaging system within our body. They’re chemicals that send a message from one part of the body to another. (The other way we send messages around our body is via the nervous system.)

You’ll no doubt be familiar with a number of hormones:

  • Thyroxine – the thyroid hormone
  • Testosterone & Oestrogen – the sex hormones
  • Melatonin – the sleep hormone
  • Insulin – the hormone that controls blood glucose levels

And it’s insulin that I want to focus on today.

What happens when we give people insulin?

Ask any doctor the main side effect of putting someone on insulin… they will tell you… WEIGHT GAIN.

Ask any patient who has been put on insulin and they will more than likely tell you that they gained weight.

And if I started you on insulin… you’d probably gain weight too!


Insulin is the hormone that tells our body to store glucose as fat. It’s a storage hormone. It is only produced in significant quantities by our bodies in the hours after a meal.

What happens when we take insulin away?

This is exactly what happens in type 1 diabetes. The pancreas catastrophically fails and stops producing insulin. Blood glucose becomes dangerously high, causing increased thirst and frequent urination. But unintended weight loss is also reported.
Eating Healthy and Exercising but NOT Losing Weight
Cases before and after insulin treatment. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

This very old image shows a girl on the left who has developed type 1 diabetes. The image on the right is 4 months after treatment with insulin (a novel treatment at that time).

I think it’s pretty clear to see the effects of a lack of insulin on the body (weight loss), as well as what happens when we start to give it back (weight gain).

There are many examples which further make this point

  • Insulin-secreting tumours of the pancreas cause weight gain.
  • Drugs that cause the pancreas to produce more insulin cause weight gain.
  • Type 1 diabetics (who can’t produce insulin themselves) lose weight if they underdose their insulin.

Insulin is the key

Understanding that insulin is at the heart of weight gain is critical to understanding how to solve the problem. High insulin levels promote weight gain. Low insulin levels allow our bodies to access our fat stores and to use that energy.

How to Control Insulin Levels

The key point that I want you to take away from this is that managing our insulin levels is far more important for managing our weight than calorie restriction.

Understanding this and switching focus entirely from calories to insulin levels was what enabled me to lose just over 50lbs (23kg) in 6 months back in 2016 and maintain it ever since.

Eating Healthy and Exercising but NOT Losing Weight


So hopefully now you’ll understand why you can forget about calorie counting and just start to manage your insulin levels if you want to lose weight. Click here to see the separate post about 5 different ways in which to achieve that….