5 Surprising Reasons You're Not Losing Weight
But the scale isn’t budging. What’s going on?
Weight loss can sometimes be oversimplified. Just eat healthy, work out, and use willpower to stay on the right track. But in fact, there are a lot of factors that goes into the weight loss equation.
So when it’s not going the way you expect, it’s time to take a look at some underlying factors that may be interfering with your efforts without you even realizing it.
1. You’re not eating enough.
Diet culture has brainwashed us into thinking that the best way to lose weight is to drastically cut our daily calorie intake. But it doesn’t necessarily work like that.
While a slight caloric deficit (think 10-15%) does assist with weight loss, too much of a deficit can actually negatively impact our metabolisms and halt weight loss. You may be surprised to hear that you may need 1,800-2,000 or more calories, even to lose weight.
This is because the human body needs a wide range of nutrients for fuel and just to function properly. We get these nutrients from food. Without sufficient nutrition, the body starts to prioritize essential functions and puts other processes on the back burner. The thyroid — our body’s thermostat — slows our metabolic rate to compensate for decreased nutritional intake. When our metabolism slows, our body begins to hang onto body fat.
Some common signs that you’re not eating enough include frequent sugar cravings, feeling hungry and/or tired throughout the day, a change in your menstrual cycle, and a weakened immune system.
What you can do: Calculate your daily calorie needs (TDEE) from a reliable source, such as using the Mifflin St Jeor calculation. If you’re eating much less than this, it may be helpful to up your intake and start tracking your nutrition. If you don’t know where to stay, consider working with a nutrition professional. And lastly, don’t be afraid to eat more food — it can benefit you in many ways!
2. Your exercise routine isn’t right for you.
The same diet culture phenomenon that tells us to eat less also tells us to exercise as much as possible. And while movement is crucial for a variety of reasons, too much of a good thing is never beneficial. Too much stress on the body without enough time to rebalance puts the body into a state of breakdown. Instead of recovering between sessions — restoring energy, building muscle, gaining strength — the body becomes depleted and stress hormones, like cortisol, increase to keep up (see number three).
Besides over-exercising, you may also be focusing on the wrong kinds of workouts. Many people assume cardio is the best and fastest way to weight loss, and as a result they ignore weight training. While you may burn more calories during a cardio workout compared to a weight lifting workout, you stop burning calories as soon as you stop your cardio session. With weight training, though, you continue to burn calories over the next 36 to 48 hours after your workout.
Resistance training also helps build muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn on a daily basis. boost metabolic rate in the long run helping with muscle growth.
What you can do: If you’re not taking at least one full rest day per week, start there. Make sure you’re listening to your body, too. If you have a workout planned but feel exhausted, it’s okay to skip it or opt for something gentle like yoga or a walk. If you’re not doing any type of resistance training, consider adding a few sessions per week into your routine. You can start with just body weight or use equipment like resistance bands, dumbbells, or barbells.
3. You’re too stressed out.
Stress is a necessary and unavoidable part of life, but when it piles up and becomes chronic, it can affect everything from weight loss to energy to athletic performance. The main reason is that chronic stress affects our hormones, which impact all systems of the body.
In time of stress, our adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol levels that remain high can actually signal our bodies to hold onto fat, especially in the midsection, as a backup source of energy. Cortisol also directly impacts thyroid hormones that control our metabolism, and insulin, which has a major influence on how the body uses energy and stores fat. High cortisol can lead to more sugar cravings and poor energy, which can cause us to engage in poor habits that derail weight loss, like skipping the gym and eating processed foods.
Keep in mind that chronic stress can come from both internal and external sources and can be real (such as eating lots of processed foods or skimping on sleep), or imagined (such as constant worry about work deadlines or always comparing yourself to others).
What you can do: Start finding ways to decrease unnecessary stress in your life, and adopt a stress-management practice — ideally something you do every day. This can be anything that helps you feel relaxed and centered, from journaling to meditation to implementing a morning routine.
4. You’re not getting enough sleep.
Sleep is absolutely crucial for maintaining a healthy weight. The amount and quality of the sleep you get not only impacts your food choices, but also influences the way your body stores food and uses it for energy.
Multiple studies prove the importance of sleep for healthy, sustainable weight loss. Sleep-deprived individuals have been found to have increased hunger and a higher tendency to consume more processed foods when compared to individuals who get 8.5 hours of sleep each night. Sleep restriction has also been associated with increased calorie consumption overall.
Poor-quality sleep can also influence our hormones, especially insulin. One study showed that short-term sleep deprivation makes our body’s fat cells less sensitive to insulin. In other words, not getting enough sleep increases your body’s tendency to store glucose in fat cells, leading to difficulty losing weight but also weight gain. In fact, insulin sensitivity decreases with just one night of sleep deprivation.
What you can do: Make sleep a priority and practice healthy sleep hygiene to increase sleep quality. Some ideas include having a routine at night that helps you wind down, blocking or avoiding blue light (from electronics) at night, avoiding caffeine consumption after 2pm, and using black-out shades or a sleep mask. If getting sufficient sleep (at least 7 hours) means skipping a morning workout, it may be worth it.
5. You’re changing your body for the better without realizing it.
The scale should not be the only way you measure your progress. Weighing yourself only tells you your body’s total mass — the scale does not differentiate between fat and muscle. It’s possible to change your body composition by losing fat and building muscle, but not necessarily losing weight. Keep in mind that weight isn’t the sole predictor of health — you can greatly improve your health without decreasing your weight.
There’s also the chance that you don’t actually need to lose weight, a thought that few people consider. Many people have a weight loss goal that’s unrealistic or just plain unnecessary. Think about why you want to lose weight. Is it for health reasons? Will you actually feel better in your body if you achieve this goal? Or do you just want to just feel healthier, have more energy, get stronger, etc.?
It’s quite possible that weight loss isn’t right for you right now. Your body may need a break from trying, especially if you’ve been dieting for a long time. Consider shifting your goals for a little while — focus on building strength or building a specific habit that would give you more energy, like getting 8 hours of sleep a night or eating green veggies at every meal.
What you can do: Take measurements instead of (or in addition to) using the scale to monitor progress. Taking progress pictures is also very helpful, and although it can be uncomfortable at first, you’ll be really happy you did later on in the process. If you can, get your body fat measured using a reliable method (like an InBody or DEXA scan). And don’t forget to focus on non-aesthetic factors like your mood, energy, sleep, and mindset.