WHY AM I NOT LOSING WEIGHT?
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 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.
1. 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. 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 regulate 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. Make getting better quality sleep a priority and you may just see some weight loss.
2. 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 which are high in sugar and fat, comfort foods to make us feel better.
- Skipping workouts because you just feel too stressed out to exercise.
3. 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. Careful scrutiny of your diet is the only way to know how much you’re really eating.
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.
4. 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:
- Either you need to increase your workout time and intensity to match your weight loss goals, or
- 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. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
Experts agree that a realistic weight loss goal is to focus on losing about 0.5 to 2 pounds a week. Any more than that and you would have to cut your calories so low, it may not be sustainable. 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.
7. 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 on 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:
- Some thyroid conditions
- Some diabetes medications
- Some antidepressants, including Prozac and Zoloft
- Beta-Blockers for high blood pressure
- Some antipsychotics and anticonvulsants
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.
8. 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.
Weight loss is not always easy and numerous factors can bring it to a standstill. At the most basic level, weight loss failure occurs when calorie intake is equal to or higher than calorie expenditure. Try strategies ranging from mindful eating to keeping a food diary, from eating more protein to doing strength exercises. In the end, changing your weight and your lifestyle require dedication, self-discipline, perseverance and resilience.
- 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.
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