12 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight
Feel you are eating well and exercising regularly but the scale just won’t budge? It’s only human nature to get frustrated by this and wonder if you will ever get those pounds off, but it is likely not as complicated as you think. More often than not, people are simply missing one or two key pieces to the puzzle and addressing them can help keep the pounds off for good. So, if you are struggling to lose weight and keep it off, here are 12 of the most common reasons you’re not losing weight, and what to do instead.
1. You’re not addressing food quality.
When it comes to weight loss, there are many things that need to be addressed, however, the single most important factor when it comes to long-term weight loss is food quality. Although many people focus on food quantity, meal timing, portion sizes, supplements and exercise, the foundational piece to the weight loss puzzle is the quality of the food that you eat. It doesn’t matter if you are eating the perfect amount of food at the perfect time if you are doing it with processed food it is going to make weight loss a whole lot harder. It is important to understand that a calorie is not a calorie, and that everything we put in our mouth affects every system of our body. The carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals present in the food that you eat all determine whether or not your body can and will lose weight. If you are eating processed food with refined sugar, vegetables oils, additives and preservatives it is going to make weight loss a whole lot harder.
2. You’re only restricting calories.
Calories in vs. calories out, right? Wrong. If our bodies were simple math equations we would all be able to lose weight by the flip of a switch, but that’s just not the way things work. Our bodies are smart, and their job is to protect us, and although calorie restriction may work in the short-term, in the long-term it is a flawed plan. The more you cut calories the more your body will adapt and fight against it, so over time, the more you cut your calories, the more your body will slow your metabolic rate, meaning that it will force your body to burn fewer calories. As you continue to restrict calories, your body will adapt to the amount of energy (calories) that you give it and burn less energy (calories) in order to balance the amount of energy (calories) you are eating. So, in the long-term, your body will burn fewer and fewer calories forcing you to eat fewer and fewer calories in order to continue to lose weight and, at some point, you will just run out of calories to restrict.
3. You’re eating too frequently.
Think multiple mini meals per day is the key to weight loss? Not so much. Although we have been told for years that eating smaller meals more frequently will help to burn more body fat, it turns out that’s not actually the case. In fact, the frequency at which you eat does not help to “boost” your metabolism, if anything, it slows it down. Every time that you eat you are triggering your insulin and your blood sugar, and this is actually the key to success when it comes to weight loss. Chronically elevated insulin will makes weight loss more difficult and your body less efficient at burning body fat. In order to trigger weight loss, you need to keep your body in a fat burning state and eating frequent meals keeps you out of a fat burning state. Instead, eating appropriately sized meals that keep your full for multiple hours with little snacking in between is a far better strategy when it comes to weight loss which is why eating too frequently is one of the most common reasons you’re not losing weight.
4. You’re not eating balanced meals.
Weight loss is not only dependent on how much you eat and when you eat but what you chose to eat in those actual meals. Ensuring that your diet is well-balanced with carbohydrates, proteins and fats is essential to helping you reach and maintain your weight loss goals. Although many people recognize it is important to monitor carbohydrate intake when it comes to weight loss, especially refined carbohydrates, the amount of protein and fat that you eat also plays an very important role. Eating adequate protein and fat in your meals can help to balance your blood sugar, keep your body in a fat burning state, and minimize your hunger cues and cravings. Implementing the 3 for 3 rule is a simple way to ensure that you are eating well-balanced meals that support your weight loss goals.
5.You’re using artificial sweeteners.
Although created with good intentions, artificial sweeteners are not all they are cracked up to be. Artificial sweeteners are just as the name describes, a mix of artificially sweet chemicals that are combined to create a sweet taste, and were originally created as a “guilt-free” alternative to sugar since they contain zero calories. However, studies have found that artificial sweeteners disrupt the body’s natural ability to regulate calorie intake, interpret hunger signals, and deal with food cravings. When we consume something sweet our brain assumes we are consuming sugar and therefore calories as well, but when we consume the sweet taste of artificial sweeteners no calories follow and our brain is triggered to continue eating until calories are found. Moreover, the sweet taste of artificial sweeteners has been shown to trigger the production of insulin, your fat-storage hormone. When our bodies release insulin, we are in a storage-mode since insulin’s job is to put nutrients into your cells, however, in the case of artificial sweeteners, there are no nutrients present. As no nutrients are present to the body, the signal loop becomes damaged, our hunger cues remain, and this can lead to overeating. Although often overlook, artificial sweeteners are often one of the biggest reasons you’re not losing weight.
6. You’re avoiding fat.
If you are still avoiding dietary fat to lose body fat, you are impeding your own weight loss progress. Although they share the same name, body fat and dietary fat have very little to do with each other, and focusing on whole food sources of fat can actually help to keep your body in a fat burning state for longer periods of time. In reality, it is sugar and refined carbohydrates that are problematic, given insulin and blood sugar play a much larger role in weight. Every time that you eat something you are sending a signal to the body that “gasoline” is coming into the “gas tank”. Insulin is the body’s traffic controller that tells the body where to send the incoming “gasoline”; either to be burned for energy or to be stored for later. However, fat, carbohydrates and protein do not all affect insulin, the traffic controller, in the same way. Insulin is very sensitive to carbohydrates, namely refined carbohydrates, and insulin gets overwhelmed where there is too much carbohydrate, or too much too frequently, coming into the body. When this occurs, insulin will send carbohydrates to the cells for storage, to be used for energy at a later date, where it will be kept as body fat. On the contrary, consuming whole food natural sources of fat does not affect insulin in the same way. If anything, eating quality sources of dietary fat helps to manage this process, balance our blood sugar for longer periods of time, and produces fewer cravings. Fat is actually the body’s preferred source of energy, as it can be burned more efficiently for longer periods of time, while carbohydrate-rich foods spike our blood sugar and cause unwanted excess “storage”, or body fat.
7. You’re using vegetable oils.
Although they many be a source of fat, they are not a whole food source of fat and can actually contribute to inflammation and weight gain. The term “vegetable oil” is a blanket term used to describe oils that are plant-based and not from animal sources and includes oils that have been extracted from seeds including canola oil, corn oil, soy oil, rapeseed oil and safflower oil. The concern with these types of oils is their rancidity, the types of fat that they contain, and the inflammation that they cause in the body. While eating seeds and grains is not a bad thing, concentrating the oils from them is. Seed and grain based oils contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, and although they are necessary for human health, they are only necessary in appropriate amounts. In excess, omega-6 fatty acids are incredibly inflammatory to the body and can, therefore, make weight loss much more difficult. Additionally, vegetable oils are commonly found in packaged food items like crackers, breads, granola bars and cookies, which only compounds the problem given they are paired with refined carbohydrates which are detrimental for weight loss. Instead, it is best to opt for whole food sources of cooking fats and oils to reduce inflammation and support weight loss.
8. You’re not sleeping well.
The first and most obvious reason why sleep matters for weight loss is because the amount of sleep you get directly affects how much food you put in your mouth. The later you stay up the more you will eat and snack and the more it will impede your progress. However, the second (and more important) reason why lack of sleep or poor sleep affects weight loss is hormones. Lack of sleep can increase both insulin and leptin levels causing the body to become desensitized to their response. What that means is that insulin is more likely to store food as fat, and due to the reduced sensitivity in leptin, you are more likely to still be hungry after eating. Additionally, poor sleep has also been shown to affect the body’s natural cortisol levels; our primary stress hormone that manages our energy levels. Because lack of sleep is a form of stress on the body, cortisol responds to help the body manage this stress response, however, this becomes problematic for weight gain given chronically elevated cortisol levels lead to increased insulin, which means your body will hang on to stored body fat and resist weight loss. Quite frankly, sleep is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reasons you’re not losing weight.
9. You’re too stressed.
Similar to the role of sleep, stress plays a huge role in weight loss. Although most people believe it’s simply a calculation of calories in and calories out, weight loss is largely controlled by hormones and stress has a large impact on our hormones. In the short-term stress can be beneficial; it helps you finish a project for work, helps you get things accomplished on time, helps you get through an important life event, but long-term chronic stress can be detrimental to our weight as it affects our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone, or your built-in alarm system, and has many beneficial functions in the body; it manages the body’s use of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, helps keep inflammation down, manages blood sugar, regulates blood pressure, controls our sleep-wake cycle, and boosts energy so you can handle stress and restores balance after stressful periods. However, research shows that chronic stress can increase absolute cortisol levels, and disrupt the natural cortisol rhythm, and this becomes problematic for weight. Not only can high cortisol level cause us to crave more sweets, sugar and junk food, but our body will store energy as a protective mechanism, particularly in stressful situations, in the form of visceral fat on and around the belly. Although this stress may be more perceived, or lifestyle-based, this fight or flight response makes it more difficult for us to lose weight as our body is actually working to protect us against this chronic stress.
10. You’re over-exercising.
News flash – even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Although you may not consider it one, exercise is a form of stress to the body and in small doses is very beneficial, however, in excess can impede weight loss. If you are constantly exercising or over-exercising you are constantly putting your body in a fight or flight mode and constantly elevating your cortisol and adrenal levels which can actually contribute to weight maintenance or gain, not weight loss. Although high-intensity exercise does have a time and place, when coupled with lifestyle stress it can prove to be too much, and there is a fine line between training hard and overtraining. Over-exercising, be it frequency, intensity or a combination, can push the body’s stress response too far and slow down weight loss instead of increasing it, and this is especially true for high-intensity cardio exercise. So, if you are spinning or running or bootcamping your days away, but are not seeing the scale move you may need to dial things back. Try reducing the frequency, intensity, or doing more low impact and resistance based training to help manage your stress and support your weight loss goals.
11. You’re not addressing digestion.
Yes, you are what you eat, but just because you put something in your mouth does not mean that it’s going where it needs to go. In order for your body to actually utilize the food that you eat, it must be able to digest and assimilate it appropriately, so although someone may be eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, if you have poor digestion it may not be doing the full job it was intended to do. Not only does poor digestion impair the body and the cells from getting the nutrients they need, causing you to eat more food to seek more nutrients, but it can also cause an inflammatory response in the body which makes weight loss less of a priority. If you have unidentified food intolerances, leaky gut or a disrupted microbiome it is going to be more much difficult for your body to focus on weight loss when it is working to reduce inflammation. Everything from where you eat to how you eat and when you eat can impact your digestion and is important to address since this is one of commonly overlooked reasons you’re not losing weight.
12. You’re not listening to your body and your hunger cues.
Food and exercise can work hand in hand when it comes to weight loss, but it is important to understand that food and exercise are not a transaction. If you’re using a Fitbit, Apple Watch, or heart rate monitor to track the amount calories you are burning and using it as a tool to determine how much to eat, you may be making things harder on yourself. Yes, having an idea of how much you exercise and how much you need to eat can be beneficial BUT there is a lot more to it. There are lots of fancy calculators, macro trackers and nutrition coaches who can help you determine how much you need to eat, but you already have the best built-in nutrition coach you will ever need, yourself. In order to learn to eat well, lose weight, and keep it off for the long-term you need to learn to listen to your body and trust yourself. You need to learn to listen to your own hunger cues and learn to identify when you are actually hungry vs. when you are having a craving. There is a big difference between being hungry (like tummy growling, really needing to eat), having disrupted blood sugar, and having a craving. So, if you can learn to pay attention to your body, listen to your body, and learn how to give your body what it needs when it needs it, you will have the best weight loss coach you could ever find.
The Bottom Line
If you are struggling to lose weight, you need to get real with yourself and get back to basics. Not only is it important to pay attention to how much you are eating, but what you are eating, when you are eating, why you are eating and how you are eating. Weight loss is not simply about calories in and calories out, it is about taking your whole body and lifestyle into account. If you want to lose weight, and keep it off for the long-term, you need to focus on food quality, creating balanced meals, supporting digestion, adding more natural movement to your day, managing stress and getting good sleep. You don’t need fancy bells, whistle, spells and potions to lose weight, you need to focus on the basics, do them well and repeat them day after day after day.