Why is it so hard to lose weight?

Most people find it hard to lose weight because they are too narrow-minded in their weight loss approach.

A lot of people who struggle to lose weight fail to see all the different weight loss options available to them.

They think, “I have to run 5 miles a day” or “I have to eliminate all carbs from my diet.” Sure, these methods will both work if they result in a calorie deficit, but they work because of energy imbalance, not because of running or carbs.

A calorie deficit is the one requirement for weight loss.

Once you understand this and the weight loss variables in play, you can customize a weight loss approach that works best for you.

Being in a calorie deficit means consuming less energy (in food and drink) than you burn (in daily activity).

Think about a balance scale with food on one side of the scale and activity on the other.


There are three possible outcomes:

  1. When these two sides are equal, the scale is in balance and you will maintain your weight. This amount of food and activity (typically measured in calories) is known as maintenance.
  2. When there is more food than activity, you will gain weight.
  3. When there is less food than activity, you will lose weight.

This third scenario is the one you need to focus on.

We’ve all heard the weight loss mantra, “eat less, excercise more,” but you don’t actually have to eat less AND exercise more. Since there are two variables in play (food and activity), there are several ways you can create a calorie deficit scenario.

Here are 5 different weight loss scenarios:

  • Food below maintenance, activity above maintenance
  • Food at maintenance, activity above maintenance
  • Food below maintenance, activity at maintenance
  • Food way below maintenance, activity below maintenance
  • Food slightly above maintenance, activity way above maintenance

Notice a pattern? As long as food is below activity, you will lose weight.

Now that you understand the two weight loss variables and different ways to manipulate them, let’s introduce one more variable that is often overlooked in the weight loss arena: what you enjoy doing.

Enjoyment is a critical component of weight loss because it will enable you to stick to a given method long enough to see results.

A pound of weight loss is roughly 3,500 calories. If you want to lose 20 pounds, for example, that’s 70,000 calories you need to get rid of. You cannot generate a 70,000 calorie deficit in a day or a week. Even with an aggressive approach, it will take much longer than that.

This is why it’s important that your weight loss method of choice aligns with your personality and your preferences.

To ensure this happens, I encourage you to discover your weight loss spirit animal and become one with it.

The 4 weight loss spirit animals:


Which one do you resonate with the most?

Each spirit animal has its own personality and will benefit most from its own unique approach to weight loss.

Let’s look at each of them in more detail.


Lions love to hunt their prey all day and then feast. They are lean, mean, and active. Lions are go-getters. They work hard and play hard. When I think of the lion type, I think of a big Crossfit mountain man who loves to eat.

These folks are very active, so you wouldn’t think they’d have trouble losing weight, but their appetite for food is just as large as their appetite for activity, so it can sometimes be difficult for them to create a calorie deficit.

They key to mastering weight loss as a lion is eating comfortably, not until you are stuffed, and letting your active lifestyle take care of the rest.


Colin Farrell was once asked how he stays so lean and fit. He replied, “I don’t go to the gym or practice yoga. And the closest thing I have to a nutritionist is the Carlsberg Beer Company. I just have the appetite of a pigeon.”

Birds are super-active, flying all over the place. But they don’t strike you as the biggest eaters. These people will have the easiest time losing weight. In fact, their biggest problem might actually be putting on weight.

If you are a bird, weight loss should come naturally to you, but you will need to make an effort to at least eat at maintenance so that you are not so far below your activity level that your hormones suffer.


Slow and steady wins the race, right? Tortoises like to eat and don’t particularly enjoy rigorous, intense activity. The good news is you don’t really need to do this type of activity to lose weight if your calories are dialed in.

Tortoises don’t mind moving as long as it’s at a slow and steady pace. The tortoise’s weight loss game plan involves being consistent with their food intake and their activity level, not depriving themselves of too much food, but tracking to make sure they are in a deficit.

Essentially, avoiding the extremes on both sides of food and activity.


Snails aren’t big eaters or big movers. Since they are already not eating much, that battle is already won.

If their food intake is already below their activity, then exercise is optional for weight loss. But if they are too sedentary, they may not be in a necessary calorie deficit for weight loss.

The snail’s weight loss play is to make an effort to be just a little more active. Since they are already not eating much, a little exercise may be the only thing they need to push them into a calorie deficit.

The key for them is to find some type of activity they enjoy and get into the habit of doing it regularly.


Which weight loss approach do you resonate with the most?

After analyzing myself, I’ve decided that my weight loss spirit animal is the tortoise.

I love to eat and I don’t mind taking long, leisurely walks, but I need to make a conscious effort to do more involved physical activity.

I’ve found the most success when I eat comfortably at my maintenance level and burn an extra 300-400 calories from walking about 10,000 steps a day.

When I’m not trying to lose weight, I can eat a little bit more or walk a little bit less, but avoiding the extremes of very low calories and very high activity seems to work best for me.

Discovering the right weight loss approach can take a long time.

I spent years doing fad diets and hardcore workouts only to get burned out and quit. Now that I am one with the tortoise, I’ve found maintaining my weight and losing weight when I want to near effortless.

Hopefully, reading this will help you understand that you don’t need to force yourself into doing something that doesn’t resonate with you.

We are all different, so each of us will require a unique approach to weight loss that fits our lifestyle and personal preferences.

Once you understand what is actually required to produce a weight loss result, it becomes much easier because you can customize your approach and maximize your chances of success.

Featured image by Geran de Klerk.

First published on Quora.

Want to lose weight on a custom schedule without exercise or giving up your favorite foods? Use my free weekly weight loss spreadsheet.

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