I Eat Very Little, Yet I Can’t Seem To Lose This Weight!

April 13, 2010 · 28 comments

This is a guest post by Erin.

I eat very little, yet I can’t seem to lose this weight! This is a common concern for many people. It can be so frustrating to feel like you eat less and less all the time, but the weight won’t come off or is continuing to build. There is no need to give up on your weight loss efforts, but here are some important weight loss destroyers to consider that may be keeping you from your goals.

  1. You eat less than three times per day. Eating less often does not help you win the weight-loss battle! Eating often is the key! Think of your body like a furnace; you have to feed it something in order to burn. Your metabolism starts to slow if you do not eat at least every three to five hours. Many people are afraid to eat more often if they are having difficulty losing weight; however, I promise that you are only making it harder on yourself if you eat infrequently. It is common that people who skip meals eat extremely large meals when they do finally sit down to satisfy their hunger. This large meal may consist of several thousand calories and will make up for all of the meals you skipped earlier.

  2. You eat several meals per week at restaurants. Even if you make an effort to order healthy items, there are often hundreds to thousands of calories hiding in your food. In general people walk out of a restaurant usually consuming many more calories and fat than they planned or were aware of. Keep in mind that even a well-meaning salad can contain over 1000 calories.

  3. You graze all day on vending machine fare, but don’t count it in your total calories because it was just “a bite here and a bite there”. Little bits of high calorie foods eaten throughout the day can really add up and be a major diet buster. Choose your nibbles wisely. Allow yourself some; however, you’re better off to put a small serving on a plate and enjoy it rather than graze all day. Make an effort to plan for healthy snacks throughout the day.

  4. You eat well all week, but overdo it on the weekends. Think about this idea. If you reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories per day, five days per week, you are cutting out a total of 2500 calories. That is great and it almost equals a pound of fat (3500 calories = 1 pound of fat). However, what if you eat an extra 1500 calories on Saturday and 1500 calories on Sunday. Ouch! You have now negated your entire weeks worth of work, plus 500 more calories. Keep this up for a year and you’ll gain almost 7.5 pounds.

  5. You don’t exercise. Exercise is so important for an endless number of reasons. Even though exercise alone is unlikely to help you lose weight, it’s an important component to weight control. It is possible to lose weight without exercise; however, it is more difficult, and even more difficult to maintain your weight loss.

  6. You sip on soda, fruit juice, or sweet tea. These drinks contain so much sugar and so many calories that you can easily be sabotaging your weight loss efforts by pouring these in your glass.

If the title of this article is true for you, I would like to challenge you to think about these points and decide if they are derailing your weight loss efforts!

Like This Post? Give me the thumbs up 


William Hanson April 13, 2010 at 6:35 am

In the past I’ve had great success with eating 5 times per day. Just have to eat smaller portions and try to make sure you’re eating the good stuff. From my experience, smaller meals more often is definitely the way to go.


Busy-Dad-E April 13, 2010 at 8:27 am

Well said, Erin! Great post. Very informative. Keep up the good work!

MB April 13, 2010 at 8:32 am

Every single time I’ve lost weight I’m always surprised by how much I eat. You can eat so much more if you are eating the right things. It’s all about keeping that furnace stoked so it will keep burning.

Seth@1010in2010 April 13, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Nice guest post! Good information and well written!

AndrewENZ April 13, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Yep, too many snacks is probably the key impediment.

Frank Dobner April 13, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I think there is a phenomenon of stalling that happens sometimes also. i am sort of at that point. I am continuing to do what I am doing and not getting worried about it though.

Erin April 13, 2010 at 5:48 pm

William Hanson: I agree, feed the furnace!! Plus, its nice to be able to eat more often during the day.

MB: Great point! Eating a cup of vegetables fills the tummy, but has very few calories. It is definitely important to think about eating plenty of nutrient dense foods that are low in calories.

Seth@1010in2010: Thank you!!

AndrewENZ: I certainly can agree with you when we are talking about very high calorie foods that are low in nutrients (cookies, candy, potato chips). The object is to make the snacks healthy and somewhere between 100 and 300 calories, depending on your overall calorie needs. In this case, snacks are very helpful. Thanks for bringing up that point!

Frank Dobner: I agree, that is definitely a frustrating time for anyone trying to lose weight. You are right not to get worried! Sometimes it just takes a little bit of “ramping up” the intensity of your workout or finding one little area of your diet that you can improve. Sometimes just a little tweek here or there can help to get your engine running again! Best of luck to you!

John: Thanks again for allowing me to guest post! This was fun!

JC April 15, 2010 at 8:28 am

I find it funny that a RD is still pushing the “feed the furnace” and “keep that metabolic fire stoked” dogma. Research, as well as the anecdotal has proven over and over that metabolism is not affected regardless of meal frequency.

Some people are doing 24 hour fasts a few times per week and watching the fat melt away.

Even the NYTimes recently did a small write-up about a study that suggested 6 meals were no better than 3 regarding weight loss - only kcal totals were responsible for weight loss or gain. That’s about as mainstream as we can get. I was surprised to see it, actually.

Erin'sMom April 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Very good points. I really have to watch the weekend eating. So true that 2 days of splurging can totally wipe out any progress made during the week.

Erin April 15, 2010 at 7:27 pm

For those who are interested, the above link is an article written by the American Dietetic Association that discusses reliable nutrition information.

JC April 15, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet.

Cameron JD, Cyr MJ, Doucet E.

Behavioural and Metabolic Research Unit, School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


Matt April 15, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Yeah, that was one study in the article.

Did you happen to notice (in the same article) they also mentioned a scientific study that did, in fact, show a metabolic advantage to eating small frequent meals? ( Jenkins, Wolever, Vuksan, Brighenti, Cunnane, Rao, Jenkins, Bucklye, Patten, Singer, et al. Nibbling versus gorging: metabolic advantages of increased meal frequency. N Engl J Med. 1989 Oct 5;321(14):929-34.)

JC April 15, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Sure, but how practical is it to eat 17 snacks as opposed to 3-4 meals a day? Serious question. Plus, that study is from 1989.
here’s the abstract

Most people in the fitness world recommend eating 6 meals a day or every 2-3 hours they’re awake. Since multiple meals gives no metabolic advantage, I see no reason to worry about eating all the time for sake of “revving the metabolism.”
shows another study from ’87.

KM April 16, 2010 at 8:42 am

JC, she never mentioned anything about eating 17 snacks per day. I think the idea is to eat healthy snacks when you are hungry to keep you feeling satiated rather than waiting until you are famished and filling up with junk food. The idea is quite simple, actually.

KM April 16, 2010 at 9:23 am

One more thing…
The New York Times article posted references a paper written in 1987 that suggests that 6 meals per day “did not influence the energy balance.” There are two major problems I see with that study after reading the abstract.

1. There are only eight subjects. It is difficult to say whether they had sufficient power to detect a significant difference with such a small number of subjects.

2. “Change-over trials” or cross-over studies are frowned upon in the statistical world. It is very difficult to tell which arm of the study influenced on the results. These types of studies are very messy and discouraged.

Erin, thank you for posting the article from the ADA about listening to advice from people without proper credentials. That is very important to remember!

JC April 16, 2010 at 3:50 pm

@KM: I never meant to criticize Erin or make it seem that way. I know she didn’t mention to eat 17 snacks. I was responding to Matt with the study he posted.

I actually clicked over to Erin’s blog and liked some of what I read.

However she did say: Your metabolism starts to slow if you do not eat at least every three to five hours.
That statement’s just not true. It’s old bodybuilding dogma.

For a great explanation, read this piece by Lyle McDonald. What about all those who are doing Intermittent Fasting? Those like Martin Berkhan, Brad Pilon and Mike and Scott at Fitness Spotlight have all written about this fuzzy topic. Eating more frequently does not stoke the metabolic fire.

The only reason I’m so adamant about this is because eating 6 meals a day for most is often impractical and usually becomes more of a chore than anything. Some find eating 6 times per day to be restrictive and for others it becomes really stressful. It’s worrying over nothing.

Lena April 20, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I think Erin’s article is spot on. Healthy does not have to mean time consuming. I’m not all that coordinated, but I can peel a banana and walk at the same time.

There are plenty of dogmas out there about fasting too. Fasting isn’t something that should be encouraged to the general public. I would imagine that an average person with kids and a job would find it much more difficult to fast than to eat 6 times a day. Eating normally and healthfully is much more important than trying to trick our bodies by fasting.

Skyler Tanner April 20, 2010 at 8:48 pm


Why shouldn’t fasting be encouraged to the public? I’d rather not infer from your comments why you think this is a bad idea. What do you find problematic about the notion of fasting?

Michael Miller April 21, 2010 at 10:52 am

Hi Lena,

I was formerly a slave to tupperware and eating 5-7 times per day. When I found out that meal frequency doesn’t really matter all that much, I started eating my meals in a way that best fit my schedule and personal preferences, and I’ve been much happier since then. Your body is surprisingly good at adjusting to your eating schedule if you are at least somewhat consistent over time.

I’d also like to point out that intermittent fasting isn’t the same thing as starving yourself. Its basically a way of shifting some of your meals back a few hours. For some people the “fasting” window is only 12 hrs, others prefer 18. In the end its total nutrient intake over time that matters, not really when you take in those nutrients. For me switching to an intermittent pattern was very liberating, and it fits well with a work or school schedule.

The most important part is to try different eating times and patterns to find out what best fits your schedule and personal preferences. I would just caution you not knock something that has been shown to work very effectively. The point I really want to make here is that the average person with kids and a job should take some time to experiment with different eating times, different meal sizes, different food choices, etc to see what gives them the best energy levels, controls hunger, and allows them the best use of their time.



Lena April 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm

When Beyonce loses 20 pounds on the Master Cleanse diet, fasting starts to sound sexy. I respect fasting for spiritual or religious reasons, but doing it for weight loss or detoxification is counterproductive. We cannot fully function when we are running on empty and our liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin do the job of getting rid of toxins.

Erin April 21, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Lena: Well said!

Skyler: Thank you for your questions and entering this discussion! Consider this…In the first 24 hours of starvation, glycogen stores are depleted, so there is no “fat melting away”. Glycogen is stored with water, so when glycogen is used up, water loss occurs. This leads to…….weight loss! But not fat loss! Fat loss occurs in the later stages of starvation. In the early stages of starvation, fat is preserved. Thanks again for participating in the discussion!

Erin April 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Sorry, I meant to include this study that demonstrates which nutrients are used first in starvation.
(Barton. Nutrition support in critical illness. Nutr Clin Pract 9: 127. 1994)

Skyler Tanner April 22, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Lena: You didn’t answer my question. I’ll add another question: What length of time do you feel determines a “fast?”

Erin: Thanks for the warm welcome. I’d like to point out that Uncoupling Protein 3 is significantly elevated 15 hours into a fast, upregulating fat burning potential [1]. Also fatty acid oxidation is up over 50% at the 24 hour mark of a fast [2]. So a person is at least increasing fat burning potential and possibly burning 50% more fat.

My other concern is that individuals view fasting as something only for short term weight loss (Master Cleanse for instance) or exclusively religious. It’s spoken of as if it’s unhealthy and fat isn’t lost. If what I referenced above doesn’t make one at least reconsider their position, there have been every other day fasting studies performed on non-obese individuals who lost fat consistently and without struggle while also increasing biomarkers of longevity [3]. I note the longevity component because fasting has been associated with increased lifespan and health. In fact it’s the component that got left out of the fuss about the Mediterranean Diet: the individuals studied on the Island of Crete (the people the diet is based on) fast much of the year [4]. It’s certainly not hurting their health if their longevity is any indicator [5].

Here’s my point: fasting metabolically prepares your body by increasing all of the hormones necessary to increase fat burning. Added to that, it creates a large energy deficit, so your body has no choice but to start burning fat for energy.

Fasting might not be for you, or for many people. However short term fasting (16 to 24 hours) is an option for people with the right temperament. I am concerned with people talking down on fasting when the scientific (and anecdotal) evidence suggest that it’s a viable option.


1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12051710

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8238506?dopt=Abstract


4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15333159


Erin April 24, 2010 at 7:55 am

Skyler, thank you for this friendly discussion. I can certainly appreciate that you are doing your research and feel passionately about this subject. I will offer my thoughts, but it may be that we need to agree to disagree!

I did take a look at these abstracts, and although I don’t feel that I can really make a fully educated analysis without seeing the entire research article, I’ll go with what I could read.

Articles #1 and 2: This was certainly interesting as I am no expert in genetics and don’t claim to be! I must admit that I am not well-read on a lot of genetic research. However, it does seem that fat mobilization is occuring. Still, it seems from the abstract that the first major increase in fat mobilization is at 15 hours. So for the first 15 hours, I would assume that you are not burning much fat at all based on this study and others that I know of. To get the full advantage once you are burning fat, I would think you would need to continue until at least 24 hours; however, I am still not condoning this practice. During those hours of fasting you are missing out on vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals which are important for decreasing your risk for heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Furthermore, although you and some others may have a lot of self-discipline, many do not. Practically speaking, this would not be beneficial for most people. After working with thousands of patients, I have seen many people who eat 1 to 2 meals daily and during those meals they make up for all of the calories they didn’t eat during the day, and then some. I have rarely seen someone with those practices who is not overweight or obese.

Article #3: This article was not convincing to me. I found it to be more of a preliminary study which needs to be followed by many more long-term studies that include a large number of subjects. These subjects were followed for a very short time and very little results were found.

Article #4: I found this very intersting and appreciated you bringing it to the table. However, again I don’t think that we can draw firm conclusions from it. Many Catholics in the US follow these same fasting regimens and have the same issues with obesity that other Americans have. Obviously, I have not done a formal study on this; however, how can we draw a conclusion that Greek Orthox fasting rituals are leading to longevity when so many Americans who do not live long healthy lives are doing the same thing. Many factors enter into the equation of longevity, and I don’t think we can just assume that fasting is one of the key factors without much more research.

Article #5 I am not too surprised by this as fasting and weight loss will always contribute to a lower cholesterol level. However, again, it doesn’t seem that they controlled for other aspects of their lifestyles. Sometimes people who have one similar habit, tend to have other habits that are the same. This makes it difficult to decide which factor is causing which outcome.

Again, I have enjoyed this entire discussion with everyone! Obviously many people can look at the same studies and have different reactions and analysis. I stand by my professional opinion that fasting is, in general, not to be used as a tool for weight loss. As I mentioned before, the majority of Americans overcompensate at other times for the calories lost during the times of fasting. For example, the National Weight Control Registry found that successful weight loss and maintenance was achieved by consistent dieting behaviors.


This means, finding dieting behaviors you can live with on a daily basis.

Thanks again for the great discussion!

Thomas May 1, 2010 at 10:23 pm

I can relate. I’m weak at night. That’s when I usually do most of my eating. FOr what it’s worth, today I started my day with a big glass of water. That got me back into the pattern of drinking more water and staying hydrated. It makes a difference. I know in a few days of doing this I will drop a few pounds. Best of luck to you!

Erin May 2, 2010 at 9:52 am

Thomas: Good for you! Thanks for your comments and best of luck to you as well!

Tim May 10, 2010 at 9:08 am


You keep stating that fat burning only occurs after 15 hours of a fast and that the only way it would be beneficial is to get to that point. Why do you think it has to be an all or nothing type of thing? (It isn’t). Even if it was, why would you choose a higher meal frequency where you’ll never get to that increased fat burning stage due to calories being ingested?

Meal frequency absolutely doesn’t matter. It’s kcals in vs. kcals out, along with nutrient partitioning (which is mainly influenced by training and protein intake). The metabolism doesn’t slow in the first 72 hours in a fast, and contrary to belief it actually increases due to increased catecholamines, which increase fat burning.

If you choose to eat 6 or more meals a day, that’s fine. It’ll suck and take up your life, but as long as you get a good amount of protein, train properly, and reduce kcals, you will lose weight. Same goes for one meal a day. Maybe for you eating all your food in one sitting is impractical, but it doesn’t change the science behind it. Intermittent fasting may have benefits over normal eating, but research hasn’t been conclusive with that yet (although it’s getting there). However, it is proven that higher meal frequency doesn’t help.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post:

© 2007-2012 John Is Fit - Personal Weight Loss Blog. Powered by Wordpress, theme by Thesis, and hosted by Dreamhost.