10 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight

10 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight

Woman measuring apple with measuring tape
Woman measuring apple with measuring tape. Tom Grill/Getty Images

The one thing that's so hard about exercise and weight loss is this: 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 torturous workouts on a regular basis. If you're not you may find any amount of exercise hard to accomplish. Unfortunately, that may end up hurting your weight loss efforts.

Exercise isn't the only thing you need to lose weight and some of the reasons you're not losing weight may surprise you.

You're Not Getting Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain, though experts aren't exactly sure why. In her article, Sleep More to Lose Weight, Mary Shomon discusses a recent study that found that women who slept 5 hours a night were more likely to gain weight than women who slept 7 hours a night.

The reasons? Research has shown 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 we burn 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.

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:

  • An increase in the production of the hormone cortisol which can cause an increase in appetite as well as extra fat storage around the abdominal region.
  • 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 feel like doing, but it can give you instant stress relief. Even just a walk outside can reduce stress and tension.

L​earn more Relaxation Techniques for Stress Management.

You're Eating Too Much

This may seem obvious, but unless you're tracking your calories each day, you may be eating more than you think.

Portion control is one culprit, especially with restaurants providing enough food in one meal to feed several people.

If you're really serious about losing weight, you need to get serious about your eating.

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% 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.

You're Not Consistent With Exercise

If you find your workouts are hit-or-miss and that you give in to temptation a bit too easily, your weight loss may hit the skids.

For exercise to work, you have to do it on a regular basis. Once your body adapts to your program, you then need to change it to keep your body challenged. If you skip too many workouts, it's almost like starting all over every time.

Tips for Being Consistent

  • Try working out in the morning before the stresses of the day take over.
  • Find activities you enjoy doing, even 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.

You Blow It On the Weekens

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 exercise for 7 days. If you only follow that for 5 days, then eat way over your limit for two more days, 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. Try these 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.

You Haven't Given Yourself Enough Time to See Results

While experts generally recommend losing 1-2 pounds a week, most of us probably don't get that close.

Remember: to lose one pound, you have to create a 500-calorie deficit every day for a week. It's fairly easy to cut calories from food since you can keep track by reading labels and measuring.

The problem comes in when trying to determine how many calories you're burning with exercise. You can use a calorie calculator, but that's often overestimated. How many calories you burn with exercise often comes down to things we can't measure such as how hard you're working and your fitness level.

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 to track progress. In that sense, your body may be making changes that can't yet be measured with a scale or a tape measure.

Give your body time to respond to what you're doing. It may be weeks or months before you see significant changes so don't panic if you're not seeing results after only a few weeks. Being patient and taking it one day at a time will allow you to enjoy the journey instead of focusing on the destination.

You Have a Medical Condition

Some medical conditions and medications can contribute to weight gain. While not everyone will find this to be true, it's important to explore every avenue if you're genuinely following an exercise program and a clean diet and still not losing weight.

One condition known to affect weight is thyroid disease. A thyroid deficiency can cause a decrease in metabolism and may lead to weight gain.

You'll need tests ordered by your doctor to determine if your problem is due to your thyroid, something to explore if you're gaining weight without changing anything about your diet or exercise.

Prescription Medications

There are any number of drugs that may have weight gain as a side effect for some people.

Some common medications include:

You should get a diagnosis from a professional in order to determine whether your weight problems are medically-related. Don't stop taking anything just yet. There may be another solution to your situation.

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 over and over. 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.

Learn more about whether you've hit a plateau by keeping an exercise calendar and tracking your workouts, how often you change them and whether you're working too hard or need to boost your intensity. Get more tips at Understanding Weight Loss Plateaus.

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?

More About Body Image

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Losing Those Last Few Pounds


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.2007.08.008.

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