5 Factors That Affect Weight Loss

Happy Monday everyone!

Have you recovered from the madness of Halloween yet? Is all that excess chocolate and candy making its way out of your system? 😉 If you over-indulged, don’t sweat it – hide whatever candy is leftover, get a little sweaty, and move on.

If you didn’t over-indulge, congrats! It can be tough to do this time of year for sure. I did go out Friday afternoon to pick up some Halloween cookies and chocolates that were on sale – there were some chocolate-dipped sugar cookies I’d been eyeing at Safeway for awhile, so I bought a pack, kept two for myself and two for Jordan, and then took the rest to work. I bought a small bag of 25 chocolates as opposed to the box of 90 I usually buy, and again I brought some to share at work.

I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of myself! I love my chocolate and have been known to go a little overboard at Halloween in past years 😉

So while we’re on the topic of chocolate, I’d like to discuss weight loss. I know we’re no longer pushing to get our bikini bodies, but weight is still on a lot of people’s minds this time of year.

Not only is it the season of holiday parties, cocktail dresses, and winter getaways, it’s also the season of food.

And lots of it.

Holiday Binge


Last year I read a scary stat that said the average person consumes six thousand calories on Christmas day. Add on the mindless snacking of not-so-light cocktail appies and excessive alcohol consumption that tends to happen at Christmas parties, it’s no wonder people are dashing to the gyms for a new membership on January 2.

I often get people coming to me saying “Ariana – I’m doing all the right things! I’m exercising, I’m eating well, and I can’t seem to lose any weight! What am I doing wrong?!”

There are a lot of different factors that come into play when it comes to weight loss – not just our exercise levels and eating habits. And gaining an understanding of those factors NOW can help you avoid the holiday weight gain, or at least make the post-holiday weight loss a little easier if you’re welcoming the food and alcohol binges with open arms 😉

Factor #1: Diet

Notice how this is number 1? It’s there for a reason. Your diet is one of the biggest factors, if not THE biggest factor, when it comes to weight loss.

Some say weight loss is 80% diet, 20% exercise, some say it’s 60/40, some say 50/50. I think it really depends on the individual, but it can’t be denied that the foods we eat play a HUGE role in our body composition.

In its most basic, basic, BASIC (I can’t stress this enough) form, weight loss is a matter of calories in versus calories out. Theoretically, if you consume less calories than you burn, you will lose weight. Similarly, if you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight.

I would say about 90% of the people I talk to are eating more than they think they are. Somewhere along our cultural line we forgot what real portion sizes look like.

We have come to believe that when we are served a bowl of 4 cups of pasta we need to eat it all. We have forgotten that 12oz ribeye steaks are not the average serving size. And we tend to forget about all the little sips and bites we take throughout the day. A splash of cream & a pack of sugar in your coffee twice each day, a handful of almonds as you walk past the cupboard, a few samples of food while you’re preparing dinner…they all add up.

2009 Ariana

2009 Ariana

Would you believe this girl hit the gym and pool three times a week, spent at least 4 days per week snowboarding, regularly went snowshoeing, and walked around in the snow all day? You CANNOT out-exercise a bad diet.

Now. Back to our calories out vs calories in theory.  100 calories of M&M’s is totally different than 100 calories of broccoli. There’s debate on whether our bodies utilize those calories differently and I’m not ready to get into a heated argument with someone on the internet over this.

But it can’t be denied that whereas 100 calories of M&M’s can spike your blood sugar levels, cause a surge of insulin, and thus lead to the potential for fat storage if that sugar has nowhere to go, 100 calories of fibrous broccoli can help to stabilize our blood sugar levels, and much of it ends up being excreted by the body. Speaking of blood sugar…..

Factor #2: Hormones

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Hormones suck. I generally have 2-2.5 psychosis-free weeks each month. The rest of the time I’m a raging animal that’s bloated with broken-out skin and a desire to eat everything in site, whether it’s actually meant to be food or not.

My female readers here will know it is more than possible to gain up to 5 pounds during that time of the month. Talk about a downer when we’re trying to lose weight! But PMS aside, our hormones can affect our weight loss in other ways as well.

There’s a hormone called ghrelin – I like to think of him as the gremlin, as he sends signals to our brains that it’s time to eat. There’s another hormone called leptin, which lets our brain know we’ve had enough and we can put the fork down.

The Ghrelin Gremlin!

The Ghrelin Gremlin!


I’m sure you can figure out an imbalance between those two hormones can definitely affect our weight loss efforts. The really unfair thing is that the more overweight you are, the less responsive you are to leptin, even though your body produces more of it!

And as awesome as our bodies are, they don’t like change. They notice when you’re trying to lose weight, and they want things to stay the same. So they produce more ghrelin, making you hungrier, which for most of us, makes us eat. Thanks hormones.

And then we have cortisol. We’ve all heard of it being labelled the stress hormone before. And you know what happens when your body produces too much cortisol? It stores abdominal fat. Yes, stress really can make you fat.

Factor #3: Genetics

While we have control over our diets and to some extent our hormones, we don’t have control over our genetics. Some of us gain weight easier than others, and some of us lose weight easier than others. Totally unfair, but it’s also not an excuse to ditch all your weight loss efforts. While it may be harder to lose weight, it’s not impossible.

You need to be realistic with your efforts – if you’re smaller with an athletic build, trying to work towards the bodies of those tall, thin models you see in magazines isn’t realistic (nor should it be – they are them and you are you! We don’t need to try to look like someone else).

It has also been suggested that our bodies may have a set point – a point at which our weight just will not drop lower. Again, kind of unfair, and while this may not be conducive to your goal of having a six pack, it doesn’t mean you can’t still bring your body composition to a healthy level.

Factor #4: Activity Level

Notice how this is near the bottom of the list? As I mentioned above, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. And if your hormones are all out of whack from nutrition, obesity, PMS, or stress, not only will lots of exercise not yield the results you’re looking for, it may even imbalance your hormones even more.

Our bodies don’t know there are different types of stress. They don’t know that when we run a half marathon we’re doing it for fun and not because we’re being chased by a lion. They don’t know we grind it out in the gym day after day without a rest day because we’re trying to become the next Mr. or Mrs. Olympia and not trying to build a shelter or hoard supplies for the winter.

Rest Day MemeSource

We need SOME stress from exercise in order to create changes. We need to challenge the body to make it perform better, and as I mentioned above we need that caloric deficit to lose weight, and this is more easily achieved through a combination of caloric reduction and increased physical activity.

But if we continuously beat it down without giving it a chance to recover, UP goes the cortisol levels and down go our weight loss efforts.

There is a delicate balance between exercising just enough and exercising too much. That level varies for most people based on their fitness level, their age, and their genetic make up.

Factor #5: Lifestyle Factors 

You can kill it for an hour in the gym a few times a week, but if you’re sitting on your ass the rest of the time you’re not giving your body the activity it needs. Similarly, you can eat three nutritious meals five days a week, but if you’re binge-drinking and eating everything under the sun on the weekends, you’re going to negate the effects of your disciplined work during the week.

It sounds cliche, but fitness really is a lifestyle. Learning to become more active overall will be much more conducive to weight loss than going hard for one hour then sitting for 23. Developing a balanced relationship with food where you allow yourself a small indulgence a couple of times mid-week so you don’t binge on the weekends helps you stay on track with healthy eating for the long-term. And if you aren’t sleeping enough or are super stressed out, I think you know what happens to cortisol…

Take the stairs. Walk more. Take standing breaks if you sit at a desk all day. Sleep as much as you can. Find active things to do with your friends and loved ones, learn to enjoy nutritious foods, and allow yourself those slightly naughty foods once in awhile.

Weight loss isn’t rocket science, but it is a holistic process that involves every facet of your life. Sustainable weight loss is something that takes time to achieve, but it makes you an overall healthier and happier person in the long run.

What are your thoughts on all this? Do you lean more towards the calories in vs. calories out mindset? Are there any factors you think I’ve missed? If you’ve been successful with long-term weight loss, how did you go about achieving that? Share some tips below! 


10 thoughts on “5 Factors That Affect Weight Loss

  1. Great blog Ariana! It’s very informative. Speaking of myself only, I think weight loss is 70% diet and 30% exercises. During my kids school year, I am working toward 3 rest days as opposed to 1 or 2 rest days by choosing my food wisely. I think I can still get the same result with more rest days and maximizing my workout with adequate rest and sleep. Why haven’t I been taking more rest days??? Well for some, including myself, our brain is addictive to exercises.

    Thanks for writing and congrats on your journey to greater health since 2009!


    • Thank you! I’m glad you’re finding it useful 🙂 I agree – I am all about taking an extra rest day, keeping the intensity high during my workouts, and getting adequate rest for recovery 🙂

      Those endorphins and feelings of accomplishment can for sure be addicting! In my opinion there are worse things to be addicted to 😉

  2. Really good post! When I actually track what I eat, I realize that I eat less than I think I do. I’m constantly eating though, but I eat mostly healthy/clean for the most part. It helps being quite fussy too. I do find that exercising outside in the winter when it’s cold burns way more calories than if it was warm out.

    • Very cool! Do you use a heart rate monitor or something that tracks it? It’s something I always thought seemed pretty reasonable – your body has to work harder to warm you up so it’s only natural you would burn more calories. I hadn’t actually tested anything on myself though. Plus we don’t get cold like you do 😉

      Your among the few that under-eat, then! I can see how being a picky eater would help. When you’re like me and are fine with eating anything that comes your way, you have to practice a bit of extra willpower 😉

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