10 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight

1
Why It's So Hard to Lose Weight

Woman measuring an apple
Tom Grill/Getty Images

If you've struggled with exercise and weight loss you've probably figured out something frustrating: It's hard to burn enough calories with exercise to make a serious dent in your weight.

In fact, the workouts that are most effective for weight loss are the hardest ones. These workouts usually involve high impact exercises like those in high intensity interval training, Tabata training, and metabolic conditioning.

If you're a veteran exerciser, you might enjoy these workouts on a regular basis. If you're not, you may find any amount of exercise hard to accomplish and, eventually, that will impact how much weight you lose.

Yes, it's hard to lose weight with exercise, but there are other issues that may stand in your way without you even realizing it.

2
You're Not Getting Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain. One research study found that women who slept 5 hours a night were more likely to gain weight than women who slept 7 hours a night, for example.

The reasons? Experts speculate that:

  • Losing sleep may make you feel hungry, even when you're not.
  • Sleep deprivation may affect the secretion of cortisol, one of the hormones that regulates appetite.
  • When you're tired, you may skip exercise or simply move around less, which means burning fewer calories.

Getting enough sleep is crucial if you're trying to lose weight, not just because of how it affects you physically, but mentally as well. Sleep deprivation makes you cranky, confused, and can even make you feel depressed or angry.

Tips for Better Sleep

Getting a better night's sleep may involve changing some of your habits. Some ideas:

  • Get up and go to bed at the same time each day, even on the weekends.
  • Make sure your sleep environment is comfortable and quiet.
  • Try the same bedtime rituals such as a hot bath or time writing down your worries.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine or nicotine for several hours before bed.

Make getting better quality sleep a priority and you may just see some weight loss.

3
You're Too Stressed Out

Stress and weight gain, or lack of weight loss go hand in hand. Though you may not be aware of it, being under constant stress has the following consequences:

  • Like sleep deprivation, too much stress increases the production of cortisol. Not only does this increase appetite, it can also cause extra fat storage around the abs.
  • Cravings for foods that are high in sugar and fat, comfort foods to make us feel better.
  • Skipping workouts because you just feel too stressed out to exercise.

Tips for Dealing With Stress

If you're experiencing chronic stress, there may be deeper issues going on that won't be solved with a few relaxation techniques. However, taking short moments throughout the day to consciously check in with yourself and lower your tension levels really can make a difference.

  • Work on staying calm - It's usually when our feelings get out of control that we tend to stop taking care of ourselves and try to fix the problem with food or alcohol. Working on calming down and really thinking about the situation is the first step in learning how to deal with stress.
  • Try meditation - A study published in Eating Behaviors found that mindful meditation can decrease binge eating and can even help reduce emotional eating.
  • Exercise - You may feel like exercise is the last thing you want to do, but it can give you instant stress relief. Even just a walk outside can reduce stress and tension.
  • Breathe - Calming down doesn't have to take a lot of time. Just closing your eyes and taking a deep breath will instantly calm you.

4
You're Eating Too Much

One of the most important factors in weight loss is how many calories you're eating versus how many calories you're burning. Even if you think you're being very good with your diet, it's easy to underestimate how many calories you're actually eating.

This may seem obvious, but unless you're tracking your calories each day, you may be eating more than you think. In fact, research has found that most of us underestimate how much we're eating, especially when we eat out.

One research paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association mentioned a study in which 99 percent of over 190 adults underestimated calories in high-caloric food.

For example, when assessing fettuccine alfredo or chicken fajitas, the participants often underestimated calories by 463 to 956, a huge difference and one that could easily affect your weight loss goals.

Careful scrutiny of your diet is the only way to know how much you're really eating.

Tips to Clean Up Your Diet

  1. Determine how many calories you need - Learn how to calculate how many calories your body needs to lose weight, or use an online calculator like the one below.
  2. Keep a food diary - A food diary can make a big difference in losing weight. Writing it down forces you to be honest about your eating. You can use your own notebook or an online tracking program, such as My Food Diary. Keep this diary every day for at least a week, being as specific as possible: Measure your portions, read food labels or access nutritional information if you're eating out.
  3. Analyze your diet - Online tracking websites will often give you an overview of how many calories you're eating as well as a breakdown of different nutrients. You can also turn an objective eye to your overall eating habits and look for ways to cut calories. Could you eat out less? Find healthier substitutes for some of your staple foods like yogurt, bread, cheese, and chips? Find new, healthy recipes? You might even consider working with a registered dietician who can make more specific recommendations.

If you want a more structured approach, you can also learn about the easiest diets to follow for losing weight. Keep in mind that you may have to continue keeping a food diary to stay on track. Successful weight losers regularly monitor both their eating habits and weight to avoid gaining weight. It may seem like a hassle but, if you really want to lose weight, it's worth the effort.

Another issue is metabolism, which can drop as you get older if you don't preserve your muscle mass. Some estimates show that muscle mass declines about 4 percent each decade from age 25 to 50. If you're still eating the same number of calories as your metabolism drops, your weight may creep up over time. Start exercising and lifting weights now to keep your metabolism in check.

5
You're Not Consistent With Exercise

Exercise is another crucial element to weight loss, along with your daily activity levels, but it's hard to know if you're doing the right workouts or burning enough calories. Start by looking at your overall program to get a sense of how much you're exercising and how much you really need.

For weight loss, experts often recommend 60-90 minutes of exercise each day. If you're doing high intensity workouts, that number drops to up to 30 minutes. If you're not even close to that, this gives you a place to start.

This doesn't mean you have to start working out for 2 hours a day. In fact, that's a bad idea if you're not used to that level of exertion and it could lead to injury, burnout or overtraining. What it does mean is that you need to make a very important decision:

  1. Either you need to increase your workout time and intensity to match your weight loss goals, or
  2. You need to change your weight loss goals to match what you're actually doing.

Don't forget, it's not just about structured exercise. Working out for an hour doesn't cancel out the next 8 or 9 hours of sitting (something many of us do).

In addition to exercise, try to be as active as you can: Take regular breaks from the computer, take walks whenever possible, stretch, wear a pedometer to see how many extra steps you can get in, limit your TV time, etc. If you spend more than 8 hours sitting, that could be one more reason you're having trouble losing weight.

If you find your workouts are hit-or-miss these tips may help you stay on track.

Tips for Being Consistent With Exercise

  • Try working out in the morning before the stresses of the day take over.
  • Find activities you enjoy doing, even if they don't follow traditional exercise guidelines. Start with what you like and build a program around that. The more you do it, the more you'll want to do new things.
  • Fit your workouts into your current schedule rather than changing your entire schedule to fit your workouts. Even if your workouts are only 10 minutes, that's more than you were doing before.

Don't feel like you have to follow the rules of exercise for it to count. Just start doing something and challenge yourself to do something every day, no matter how long or how short it is.

6
You Blow It on the Weekends

Having some treats now and then is fine, but if you find you do very well during the week only to eat yourself silly on the weekends, you may be hurting your weight loss goals.

To lose one pound of fat in one week, you would need to cut 500 calories with diet and/or exercise for 7 days. If you only follow that for 5 days, then eat way over your limit for the next 2, you're taking two steps forward and one step back.

The trick is to plan your indulgences so that you can have some fun while staying on track with your weight loss goals.

Tips for a Healthy Weekend

  • Avoid a free-for-all weekend - Instead, choose one or two treats to enjoy and continue eating healthy the rest of the time.
  • Avoid rewarding yourself with food - If you've been eating healthy all week, it's natural to want to reward yourself with a yummy treat. That kind of thinking can set you back. Instead of food, reward yourself with a calorie-free treat--a trip to the movies, a massage or a new pair of shoes.
  • Keep moving - If you like to rest on the weekends, why not make your rests more active? Spend time taking a long walk with your family or tossing a football in the backyard. It doesn't have to be structured exercise for it to count.
  • Plan for fun - If you like indulging a bit on the weekend, plan your treats into your diet and exercise routine. If you want pizza, eat a lighter lunch and maybe do a little more activity. That way you can really enjoy your favorite treats.

7
You Haven't Given Yourself Enough Time to See Results

This may sound strange, but just because you're not losing weight doesn't mean you're not getting results. Often, the results we expect are based on one thing: The scale. If it doesn't move, we decide we're failures regardless of what's actually happening both inside and outside our bodies.

Add to that the fact that there are many factors that affect weight loss which, again, can't always be measured or accounted for with the tools we have. In that sense, your body may be making changes that can't yet be measured with a scale or a tape measure.

Take some time to find out if you're realistic about weight loss by asking yourself these crucial questions:

  • Are my weight loss goals realistic? Experts agree that a realistic weight loss goal is to focus on losing about .5 to 2 pounds a week. Any more than that and you would have to cut your calories so low, it may not be sustainable.
  • Am I seeing any results? Forget about the scale and determine whether there are other changes happening that may indicate you're on the right track such as:
    • Losing inches, even if you're not losing weight.
    • Your clothes fit differently.
    • You're slimming down somewhere - You may see it as a failure if you're losing weight, but not from the areas you'd like. Maybe you want to lose fat over your abs or thighs, but instead, you're seeing weight drop from places you'd like to keep the way they are or from places you don't care about. We can't choose where the fat comes off and, just because it's not coming off according to your expectations doesn't mean it isn't happening. Pay attention to all the changes in your body and you may find you really are getting results.
  • Have I given myself enough time to see results? It often takes 3 or more months to see significant changes and, for a lot of people, it could take longer. Making lifestyle changes can be a challenge and we usually have a few slips before we're more consistent. And, keep in mind that the process isn't always linear. Unless you're perfect 100 percent of the time with your diet and exercise program, you won't lose weight at the same rate from week to week. It takes years of bad habits to gain weight, so expect to spend more than a few weeks to undo those habits and take the weight off.
  • Are there other benefits I'm getting beyond the scale? Results don't only just show up on the scale - They show up in your mind and body. Are you getting anything else out of your exercise and weight loss program? Do you feel better? Sleep better? Feel stronger? Make a list and refer back to it if you ever feel discouraged.

If you're not getting the results you expect, it's crucial to find out if it's because of something you're doing (or not doing) or if it's because you're expecting something your body just can't deliver. If you're having trouble, consider hiring a personal trainer who can help you set more realistic goals.

8
You Have a Medical Condition

If you're not losing weight despite exercising and changing your diet, you're probably frustrated, discouraged and maybe even depressed.

Weight loss is a complex process involving a variety of factors we control, such as diet, exercise, activity levels, stress and sleep habits and some we can't control, such as genes, gender, hormones, age and body type.

So, where do you start if you're not losing weight? Step one is to see your doctor to rule out any medical conditions. This is especially important if you think you're doing everything right and you haven't seen any changes at all o​n the scale or your body after several months (or, worse, you're inexplicably gaining weight).

Some health problems and common medications can cause weight gain, including:

If you're on any of these medications, talk to your doctor about the side effects and possible substitutes, if that's an option for you.

If not, knowing the side effects of what you're taking helps you become more proactive about your situation. You may need to work harder to lose weight and be extra careful with your diet.

Keep a food diary, monitor changes in your weight, and let your doctor know if you gain more than 5 pounds in a month without any changes to your diet or exercise.

9
You've Hit a Plateau

Almost everyone reaches a weight loss plateau at some point. As your body adapts to your workouts, it becomes more efficient at it and, therefore, doesn't expend as many calories doing it.

You may find that after your initial weight loss, your progress will slow down and eventually stop. Some common reasons for plateaus include:

  • Doing the same workouts - Your body needs to be challenged to progress, so make sure you're changing some part of your program every 4-6 weeks.
  • Not eating enough calories - If your body doesn't have enough fuel to sustain your level of activity, you can actually stop losing weight.
  • Overtraining - If you exercise too much, the body sometimes responds by decreasing the number of calories you burn during the rest of your day.

Tips for Breaking Past a Plateau

  • Keep an exercise calendar and track your workouts. By doing this, you'll see if you're doing the same workouts for weeks on end, which could lead to a plateau.
  • Try something completely different at least one day a week - Ride the stationary bike or use the rowing machine instead of your usual cardio, for example, or try a new fitness class. Anything new can jumpstart your body into weight loss.
  • Lift weights - If you don't lift weights, starting a basic program 2 to 3 days a week can really help you change your body and get you out of your rut.
  • Change your frequency, intensity, duration or type of workout - The F.I.T.T. principle dictates the different elements you can manipulate to change your workouts and your body. Try adding another day of exercise, working out for longer durations or increase the intensity of one or more of your workouts.
  • Try interval training - With interval training, your workouts can be shorter, but you'll work harder for short periods during the workout. This may be just the change you need to beat the plateau.

10
You Don't Need to Lose Weight

Despite what you hear on the news or read in popular magazines, not all of us need to lose weight. In fact, many of us have unrealistic ideas of what a healthy weight and body shape is. We all have different shapes and, though we can make changes to our bodies, we can only improve on the bodies we have--not turn them into someone else's body.

Try this challenge: Take away all the reasons you want to lose weight that have anything to do with how you look.

Now, look at what's left... are there any other reasons that you need to lose weight? Are you at risk for medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease? Is your BMI in an unhealthy range? Are you within your ideal weight range?

If you're at risk, losing weight may be important for staying healthy. But, if you're very close to your goal and can't seem to get rid of those last few pounds, ask yourself if you really need to lose them. Would it be possible to be happy at your current weight?

Tips for Accepting Your Body

  • Change how you think about your body - Negative thinking can trick us into believing things about ourselves that just aren't true. None of us are perfect, but focusing on what's good instead of bad is one simple way to feel a little better about yourself.
  • Work on your body image - Do you appreciate your body or are you more likely to look at your flaws? Take some time to focus on your body image and learn how to look at yourself in a new light.
  • Feel better right now - Sometimes, feeling fat can cause us to take a nosedive into shame and self-pity. Find ways to feel better right now so you don't fall into that downward spiral.

Sources:

Mullington JM, Haack M, Toth M, Serrador JM, Meier-Ewert HK. Cardiovascular, Inflammatory, and Metabolic Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 2009;51(4):294-302. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2008.10.003.

Torres SJ, Nowson CA. Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity.Nutrition. 2007;23(11-12):887-894. doi:10.1016/j.nut.

Continue Reading