November 8

Why am I not losing weight when I exercise and diet?


You step on the scales again, and sigh.

You’re not too sure what’s happening. You’ve exercised. You’ve even dieted. But nothing still seems to change on the weight front.

You wonder whether it’s just you who’s feeling different from everyone else.

You’re desperate for something to change.

High five. Me too.

From lockdown during COVID-19 in Singapore in April 2020 to August, I lost a total of 13kg in 4 months.

It all started from exercising everyday, for at least 15 minutes, regardless of what I felt.

But soon after, it started increasing again. From Mar 2021 to November 2021, my weight increased constantly, until all my gains were erased.

Between March 2021 to November 2021, my weight just kept going up, up and up, despite exercising the same amount.
Between March 2021 to November 2021, my weight just kept going up, up and up, despite exercising the same amount.

What happened? I was still exercising daily.

I was still swiping my debit card on those horrid bitters at the supermarket, so that I could make that ‘weight loss’ recipe.

Maybe you were like me, scrunching my face after drinking yet another smoothie filled with bitters.

And you wondered whether this meant you eventually had to turn to blind dating agencies like Kopi Date to find the love of your life, if you were still plump and overweight.

But nothing seemed to work.

It wasn’t until I read a book on the caloric expenditures of the Hadza tribespeople that I realised:

Caloric intake beats expenditure, every time

In his article, “The Exercise Paradox”, Pontzer, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, found that even though the tribespeople were constantly running around, their caloric expenditures were still similar to modern people.

They were burning the same number of calories as people with access to modern conveniences.

I repeat.

No matter how much they expended in terms of hunting (or you can change it to what we do in modern day in terms of exercise), they would not lose beyond a certain amount of calories.

This has massive implications on how you approach your food, because you might have thought that the more you exercise, the more you get to eat.

But if you realise that your intake matters much more than how much you exercise, you might finally come to realise that it’s not how much you exercise.

It’s how much you eat.

I repeat. It’s how much you eat.

What does this mean, and what can we do?

Are we simply screwed as people living a modern life?

Here’s a better framework to cope with your food, the ultimate 80/20 of losing weight
Here’s a better framework to cope with your food, the ultimate 80/20 of losing weight

Eat less shit food

In his book Ultra Processed People, van Tulleken argues that the food we are eating is making us more addicted to it.

Whatever way you read it, this might be pretty scary.
Whatever way you read it, this might be pretty scary.

He points out the example of Nestlé, the food conglomerate behind your Kit-Kat and Milo, bringing boatloads of snacks so that children would be addicted to them, over the natural, healthier staples of roots and berries they used to eat.

“I have not found any evidence that there were children with diet-related diabetes in these parts of Brazil until enterprises like the Nestlé boat.”

What is the solution?

One thing I’ve found helpful is to reduce one’s diet of such foods.

Whilst there’s no one right way, a useful rule of thumb is to try to make sure the ingredients in the food are as close to the original as possible.

Get snacks that are like what you’d get in a cave

We all know the post-lunch coma, or the times when you’re close to falling asleep, and need a quick pick me up.

Imagine you were in a cave and didn’t have access to modernity’s technology to preserve and make food.

What would you choose?

Those that you could pluck off a tree, and put in your mouth.

This means that rather than eating:

  1. ‘Cereal bars’
  2. Cereals
  3. Granolas

It might be better to have:

  1. Fruits like bananas
  2. Drinks like water

Take a walk, really

When I started keeping a food diary, I found that one of the biggest contributor to my eating was the unconscious eating that came when I was sleepy or tired.

During those times, it can be tempting to load yourself up with sugars to try and get yourself awake, fast.

But what I find more helpful, if you can, is to go out for a walk.

It can be far more effective, and far less weight-inducing than another chocolate.

Get that sparkling water

Another way is to get sparkling water. Carbonated water (Pellegrino is recommended) can fill your body with the nutrients that you lose as you pee.

It’s a fast hack that will fill your stomach with gas, so that you feel more full.

Eat slower, much slower

Start timing yourself when you eat.

Do you know what you’re stuffing within you?
Do you know what you’re stuffing within you? (Credit: Mojo Wang, for The New Yorker)

I’m serious.

You will realise just how quickly you wolfed down your meal, with little awareness of just how long that took.

What could perhaps help is you taking time to chew, and to eat more mindfully.

That means phones away, screens away, not chomping down food in front of Netflix, but really taking time to enjoy the food in front of you.

Eat less junk when you head out

Yes, we know the beauty of McDonalds. And I used to think that I was giving myself a treat with McDonald’s, until I realised I couldn’t stop eating it.

That’s when I saw how it was hurting my sense of taste, and making me crave more of that kind of food.

Most things in fast food are designed to make you eat more.

It’s called fast food because it’s delivered fast to you, but there’s also the implicit expectation that you will eat it fast, and leave.

Sure, it fills you, but you’re never really satisfied.

If you want to lose weight, it begins with your food.

After sorting that out, things will become easier.

Come try our meals. You will be surprised at the immediate results you get.


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