Why Am I Not Losing Weight? 10 Ways to Handle a Plateau
You’re doing everything right to meet your weight loss goals — exercising more, watching your macros, and even watching your stress eating — but the scale doesn't budge. At this point, you keep wondering, “Why am I not losing weight?" It’s a very frustrating experience, but you are not alone.
The trouble is, your body doesn’t always want you to lose weight — it wants to hang onto every calorie it can get. It’s very common for people to reach a weight loss plateau before they’ve hit their goals. That said, it’s also common to have unrealistic goals.
Read on to learn some of the most common reasons why you’re not losing weight despite doing everything right, and how a personal trainer can help.
Why Am I Not Losing Weight? Some Tips for Your Health Journey
There are many reasons why your weight loss journey might be stalled. The following suggestions can help you improve (or reframe) your weight loss plan.
1. Look Beyond the Scale
Depending on how you’re tracking your weight loss progress, it’s possible you’re losing fat without realizing it. When we talk about wanting to lose weight, the kind of weight we really want to lose is fat – not muscle. And our body weight may not be the best metric of our body fat.
The thing is, muscle weighs more than fat. This is because muscle is more dense, meaning it has more mass per volume, than fat. If you’re doing lots of strength training, you’re increasing your muscle mass while experiencing fat loss, and there’s a chance this could actually show up as weight gain on your scale.
Not to worry! A better way to track your progress would be to measure your waist circumference or body fat percentage.
By the way, measuring your body fat percentage is not quite as easy as stepping onto a scale. Here are some suggestions from Healthline for how you can accurately measure your body fat.
It’s also possible you’re using the scale inconsistently or weighing yourself too frequently, which is unnecessary and can cause additional stress when your weight appears to fluctuate. It’s normal for our body weight to fluctuate throughout the day and even throughout the week or month.
Healthline recommends weighing yourself once a week, and doing so in exactly the same way each time, ideally in the morning. The effects of weight loss aren’t immediate and can take a little while to show up, so take some time after beginning a workout routine to step on the scale again.
2. Set Reasonable Goals
At some point on your weight loss journey, it’s important to ask yourself: What constitutes a healthy weight for you? If you’ve hit a weight loss plateau but are otherwise eating healthy foods and getting plenty of physical activity, it’s possible your body has reached a healthy weight, and you don’t actually need to lose any more weight.
Of course, it is also possible an underlying, untreated health condition is preventing you from losing more weight. If you’re not sure, consider speaking to a doctor or healthcare professional.
3. Reframe How You Think About Calories
When seeking advice to lose weight, you’ll find advice telling you to carefully measure portion sizes and count the number of calories you eat each day, but Harvard Health explains why this might not actually work: Not all calories are created equal.
An extremely low-calorie meal plan or restrictive fad diet might seem to cause rapid weight loss progress at first, but our bodies tend to burn calories more efficiently when we have a calorie deficit. (Remember, your body doesn't want to lose weight.) A study from the journal Obesity shows how the body responds to an extreme, extended calorie deficit by lowering its resting metabolic rate.
Worse still, calorie counting is associated with eating disorders. A study from the journal Eating Behaviors suggests calorie counting can both contribute to and exacerbate eating disorders. Focus more on eating for wellness and less on counting every single nutrient you consume, which is not a reasonable long-term goal.
For all we've said about rethinking your approach to calories, it’s also important not to eat back all the calories your fitness tracker says you burned. After all, a 2017 study from the Journal of Personalized Medicine suggests most fitness monitors substantially overestimate how many calories we’ve burned.
4. Combine Cardio and Strength Training
When we think of weight loss, we probably think of cardio – and lots of it. Running, jogging, walking, hiking, biking, and other cardiovascular activities are great for our overall health as well as weight loss, but they are not the only type of exercise that matters. If all you’re doing is cardio, you might hit a plateau.
Strength training and resistance training help to build your muscle mass, but more than that, they also assist with weight loss. A literature review from the Journal of Health Sciences Institute found strength training alongside cardio can cause more weight loss than cardio alone, in part because it raises your resting metabolic rate.
5. Watch Out for Refined Carbs
You know how not all calories are created equal? The same is true of carbohydrates. For instance, fiber is a type of carbohydrate, and it’s also an incredibly beneficial nutrient when it comes to weight loss, in part because it helps keep us full for an extended period of time. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other whole foods that come from plants are all high in fiber.
However, refined carbs – such as refined sugar and white flour – can make weight loss even harder. Make sure you’re checking for added sugar on the labels of the food you’re buying, keeping in mind it comes in many forms: dextrin, dextrose, maltodextrin, maltose, barley malt, rice syrup, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, etc.
It’s especially important to avoid drinking added sugar. A systematic review and meta-analysis from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests sugar-sweetened beverages specifically promote weight gain. Choose water, fruit-infused water, unsweetened tea, or any other beverages that are low in sugar.
6. Drink More Water
Drinking enough water is crucial for weight loss. Dehydration is common: As many as 17-28% of older adults may be dehydrated, according to a book from StatPearls. Perhaps more troublingly, thirst is often mistaken for hunger. The Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation claims the two sensations are very similar, and it’s a common problem to mistake thirst for hunger.
It’s easy to see how this can spell trouble for weight loss. We’re thirsty, we mistake this sensation for hunger, and then we eat a bunch of calories we don’t need. But since we’re not getting the thing we actually need (water), the sensation doesn’t go away, and we may well overeat.
The simple solution is to drink more water! Because the sensations of hunger and thirst are similar, drinking more water can actually help you feel less hungry.
7. Get More Sleep
If we’re otherwise doing everything right but not getting enough sleep, we’re sabotaging our weight loss goals. Sleep helps to regulate your hunger and fullness hormones (ghrelin and leptin), but a lack of sleep might cause excess ghrelin and insufficient leptin, leading to excess hunger (according to a clinical trial from the Annals of Internal Medicine).
For this and other reasons, lack of sleep is associated with weight gain. Make sure you’re getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night to help you on your weight loss journey.
8. Treat Underlying Medical Conditions and Health Problems
Some health conditions can make it difficult for you to lose weight. For instance, hypothyroidism can slow your metabolism down and cause excess weight gain even when your habits are otherwise healthy. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your thyroid or other underlying issues if you feel you are inexplicably gaining weight.
Additionally, while some conditions don’t necessarily cause weight gain on their own, their treatments might. Antidepressants, diabetes drugs, oral corticosteroids, migraine drugs, and beta blockers all have the potential to contribute to weight gain, according to AARP.
Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you’re concerned about whether a specific health condition or medication might be preventing weight loss for you.
9. Be Consistent
It happens to all of us: You had the most noble intentions, and for a little while, you were sticking to them. Then life got in the way.
This is especially common when we try to do too much at once. In order to be consistent with your plan, it’s important to make small, incremental changes, and to give yourself time to adjust to them. It may be a while before you see results, but you’ll be more likely to stick to a sustainable plan you can keep up even when outside challenges come in.
10. Seek Help From a Professional
Weight loss can be difficult to manage (or even just track) on your own, and guidance from professionals can make a huge difference. A dietitian, a nutritionist, a weight loss trainer, or any other personal trainer can help tailor a weight loss plan to your specific needs and concerns.
Why am I Not Losing Weight? Finding Healthy Solutions
As we’ve seen, weight is affected by a wide variety of factors. Sometimes, we’re simply measuring our weight ineffectively, and we are in fact losing fat or otherwise at a healthy weight. Other times, we genuinely struggle to lose fat despite seeming to do everything right. When this happens, it’s important to look closely at our diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits.
It’s also important to consider working with a personal trainer. A successful weight loss journey is long and complex, and professional guidance might be the extra nudge you need to get past that weight loss plateau.
The online trainers from Kickoff are all qualified to help you with your diet as well as your fitness and workout plans. Each trainer specializes in a different area, so you can find the trainer who’s right for your personal needs. Get started today by taking this quiz to find out which trainers can help you with your weight loss journey.