8 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Weight


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  150 comments   :  4,047,047 Views

Sometimes, people can diet and work out and track their calories and do everything right—but still not lose weight. I can't begin to tell you how often members, friends and even acquaintances ask me why they're not losing weight despite doing X, Y or Z. It's one of the most common questions I get as a trainer. Sometimes, the answer isn't that easy to come by.
But usually, when someone seems to be doing the right things but not making progress, a list of possible problems runs through my head. These are the most common scenarios I tend to see that stop people from getting results—and they could be the culprits for your weight woes, too.
So here are a few cold, hard truths about why you're not losing weight.
You're eating back all the calories you burn.
When you work out, you're burning extra calories. That's why exercise is so important in the weight-loss equation. But a lot of people overestimate how much they burn—and even use the "I exercised today" excuse to later overeat, overdrink (think alcohol) or overindulge. How many times have you faced a food temptation and thought, "Well, I worked out today, so it's OK this time." Or even, "I'll have this now, but work out extra hard tomorrow to burn it off." If that sounds all-too-familiar, this is one major reason why you're not losing weight. For the exercise to help you lose, you can't re-eat all those extra calories you burned. And in most cases, we overestimate how many calories we actually burned and underestimate how many calories we're actually eating, which means using that 3-mile walk (240 calories burned walking) to justify that restaurant meal (1,000+ calories, anyone?) leaves you in a worse position than if you may realize: at a calorie surplus. If this sounds like you, you may be interested in our guides on what to eat before you workout and what to eat after you workout.
The Takeaway: Exercise can help you lose when you're really using it to burn extra calories, not as a reason to eat more.

You're relying on exercise alone to do the trick.
Yes, exercising can help you lose weight (and it has so many other health benefits) because it helps you create that calorie deficit needs to drop body fat. But here's the truth: Exercise alone will not help you lose weight. For emphasis, I'll say it again. If you are relying on exercise alone to lose weight, you are fighting an uphill battle. Here's why.
Exercise burns calories, but not as much as people think. When you consider how many calories you burn in a day, exercise burns very little. And it takes a lot of time and effort to burn even a few calories. A full hour of intense exercise may only burn 400-500 calories for a lot of people. On the flipside, it's easy to eat hundreds or thousands of calories in even a few minutes. But it would take hours of exercise to offset those calories. If you are not changing your diet and reducing your calorie intake, exercise alone probably won't help you much. As they say, "you can't out-train a bad diet." No amount of exercise can make up for a poor or high-calorie diet. You've got to have both (calorie reduction through diet and exercise) for optimal weight-loss results.

The Takeaway: The best way to lose weight is to cut back on what you eat and increase your burn through exercise—not one or the other.
You're not eating as healthfully as you think.
We know that Americans and others who eat a Western-style diet have a lot of health problems—and weight problems. The vast majority of people are overweight these days. Yet research shows that the vast majority of people also think they eat healthfully and consider eating healthy a priority. Are you as confused about that as I am? Clearly, we are not eating that well if we continue to see steady increases in heart disease, type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity.
Here's the thing: We all think we eat pretty well. Even people who eat a pretty bad diet don't think it's that bad. No one really wants to admit that their diet might be pretty unhealthy. We all think we're probably doing better than others. This is especially true if you compare your diet to what you see your friends, family or co-workers eat and consider your choices to be "better." Whether that's actually true or not, the truth is that the vast majority of people could (and probably should) improve their diets immensely. 
The Takeaway: If you're not meeting basic guidelines for a healthy diet (which involves way more than just counting calories alone) and/or you don't actually track your food/nutrition to see how it all adds up in black and white, don't make assumptions about how "good" you really do eat. Research confirms that people underestimate the quantity of food they eat, so read labels and measure.
You're doing the wrong kinds of exercise.
If you are exercising regularly, you're already doing a very important thing to improve your health. But when it comes to exercising for weight loss, there's a lot of confusion out there. One day you hear that strength training is the best way to lose weight. The next day you're told to focus on cardio—but not just any cardio, intervals. Then you hear it has to be high intensity intervals or Tabata training. What gives?

The truth is that all types of exercise will burn calories, which can help with weight loss. But when it comes to losing weight, it's all about burning calories. And in most cases, cardio is the calorie-burning king. Strength training is important, too (for many reasons), such as reducing the amount of muscle loss that occurs during weight loss, but it's typically not a major calorie burner. So if you are relying almost exclusively on strength training as your weight-loss strategy, it could backfire.
The Takeaway:  The best exercise plan emphasizes cardio for calorie burning, but still includes strength training to preserve lean muscle. Both are important; neither option can do everything.

You're not being consistent enough.
When you're struggling to lose those final 5-10 pounds or to overcome a plateau, consistency in your efforts is even more important.  A lot of people stick to strict diet and fitness programs for days or weeks at a time, but their habits simply aren't consistent for long enough. Ever eat "perfectly" and exercise "religiously" for a whole week, only to step on the scale that weekend to see that you haven't lost an ounce? "What's the point!" you may think as you go on an all-out eating fest and skip the gym for a couple days. Maybe you don't even make it a few days "on track," but rather you eat right for one day, then fall of the wagon the next.
Or perhaps you do feel pretty consistent in your habits, but the occasional slice of birthday cake or drinks with friends happens more often than just occasionally. Eating that restaurant dessert that's 4-5 times a standard serving size (and packed more sugar and fat than seems physically possible) doesn't really count as moderation, even if it's the only sweet treat you've had all week. Moderation needs to apply not just to the frequency of treats or rest days, but the amount, too. Practice portion control—so that you don't go overboard and set yourself back.
The Takeaway: Eat right and exercise as consistently as possible and apply both moderation and portion control when it comes to indulging.
You're not measuring the right things.
A lot of people complain that they're not seeing the scale move, even though they are losing inches and clothing sizes. Despite these obvious signs that they're getting leaner, they still want to see the scale change.
If you are noticing other improvements in your body shape or size, you are losing fat. The scale might not always reflect that you've lose weight—but ultimately it is the shape of your body and the amount of lean muscle vs. body fat you have that shows you're making progress.
The Takeaway: Don't just rely on the scale to measure your weight loss. That number won't really tell you everything you need to know.
You don't need to lose weight.
If you are at a healthy BMI or a body fat percentage in the healthy range, you probably don't need to lose weight for any health or medical reasons. Still, you may want to lose some pounds for vanity's sake, or even to improve your athletic performance. There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to lose weight when you're already at an acceptable weight. But, when you only have only a little body fat to lose, it can be extremely challenging for some people.
Your body is usually content to be right where it is, weight-wise.  For many, their body has sort of settled in to what it feels like is a good, natural weight—which may not be your ideal weight in your head. It's certainly possible to drop your body fat percentage and get leaner, but it will often take even more dedication—and time—than it will for someone who has a lot of weight to lose. For some, it may involve dieting or exercising to extremes rather than a moderate amount. But with diligence and some experimentation, you can get there—especially if you follow the other tips outlined here (consistency being #1).  
The Takeaway: When you have less fat to lose, the road may be harder and longer; consistency is key!
You have an underlying issue.
When all else fails and you've truly adhered to your program—and all the advice here—and you're still not losing weight, you may secretly wish you had some kind of underlying medical problem that would explain it—a slow thyroid, some kind of hormonal disorder, or something that popping a pill could fix and then magically help melt away the pounds. While it is true that people with certain medical issues or on certain medications can have trouble losing weight, most people struggle with losing it because they struggle with consistently burning more calories than they eat. The only way to do it is to track, measure and weigh your food honestly and accurately, and burn excess calories through increased physical activity.  

The Takeaway: If you've truly tried everything discussed here and more—and simply aren't making progress—it would not hurt to check in with your medical provider to see if any underlying issues are at play.
Here are a few other common reasons you may not be losing weight despite doing everything right:
Weight loss seems simple, but it doesn't happen easily. But many, many people just like you have fought the battle and won—and you can, too. Just be consistent. Track, track, track. Ask for help and support. And slowly but surely, you will get there.
Can you relate to any of these tips? What do you think is the main reason people struggle with weight loss? 

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  • 100
    Should people eat what they exercise, if you've eaten 1200, and burned 600? So that you're always at least at the minimum? - 5/4/2013   4:07:41 PM
  • 99
    great article which I have bookmarked so I can come back to! I'm down to 8llbs from a healthy BMI, so semi-stalling is the name of the game. S--L--O--W but progressing! Thanks for a good reminder :) - 4/30/2013   12:06:08 PM
  • 98
    Another recycled blog from 2012 that we can't get points for - 4/26/2013   12:46:43 PM
  • 97
    I am at my last 15 pounds and I am struggling a bit. So I started a running routine, actually training to be a runner,this is is my first week. We see how that goes. My thinking behind it is, if I do something different perhaps that will get my weight loss back I gear. I have to fight for every pound. my husband can lose so easily lucky man, ha - 4/23/2013   10:37:03 PM
    I have found out that my weight is coming off from smapp portion of food and exercising everyday. I know that I have to really hang in to lose the extra pounds that I put on over eating. - 4/21/2013   6:46:45 PM
  • 95
    Interesting... - 4/21/2013   2:35:37 AM
  • 94
    disappointing, bio on the author states she's a certified personal trainer, how is it that she's completely skimmed over the rest of the story on strength training? Like anything else in life, Balance is important. A combination of both is cardio and strength with a good diet when done right will give short term results and make long term maintenance easier to avoid gaining it all back - 4/18/2013   10:34:32 AM
    this article sucked, i thought it was going to tell me how i can lose weight when i am doing all the right things, i am doing all of that, tracking my food and exercise so i eat the right amounts of calories and eating my 3 serving of veggies a day and 2 fruits and i try and get in protien with every meal, so what am i not doing that i need to. - 4/17/2013   3:36:02 PM
  • 92
    Having seen the same before and believe me to see it again and again is a real motiving factor for me. To return back to blogs and/or articles that make me take stock of who I am, where I am and where I want to go/be. I can’t say enough about how I need to be reminded again and again, I didn’t gain my weight in a year and I sure as heck better believe it will take me more than a year, if not longer to rid my body of the excess pounds. I know my weaknesses and short comings and slowly am learning how to face them, make better/wise choices, stop dressing like a “slob”, and stop blaming others for my poor choices. I can overcome my weight and I will overcome my weight, I will be a healthier me. Thanks Nicole! - 4/16/2013   8:33:23 PM
  • 91
    Wow. I wish I knew what my RMR was. I've been trying to lose weight for over 20 years. At one point I was exercising every single day until it became routine. I didn't lose an ounce. I didn't gain weight so I guess the exercise just supplemented my diet. I never ate often because I worked too much but when I did eat, boy did I eat. I love the good stuff but it's never around when I do decide to eat. I love my vegetables but they're so boring. My main problem is drinking water. I absolutely do not drink enough of it. It's almost 5pm now and I think I've only had about 2oz. Anyway I've jumped off script. That test is unaffordable but I really do wish I knew what my RMR was. Great information. - 4/16/2013   5:44:40 PM
  • 90
    This is a REALLY good article, Nicole! I concur on every point. I'm sharing it on my FaceBook page. - 4/16/2013   12:46:35 PM
  • 89
    cardio was the key for me, i was losing consistently, about 2 to 3 lbs a week, walking 2 hours a day, then broke my foot and strength training wasnt doing anything for me, and i hated the bike more than a bee sting!!! so im slowly adding my walks back now that my foot is healing and hoping to start seeing a weight loss again after nearly 3 months of being stalled. - 4/16/2013   9:52:35 AM
    Try menopause! - 4/16/2013   9:45:33 AM
  • 87
    Great blog. Thanks - 4/16/2013   1:26:25 AM
  • 86
    Great blogging here and so true. I'd even like to think I've inspired some the points in this blog. I've been losing weight slowly, but my clothes are getting lose, but my fav comment in this that people think they eat healthier than they might be. I eat extremely healthy, COMPARED TO MANY around me, but still, I've always been more disciplined than most my family and friends. Still, I'm learning even healthier habits everyday!
    - 4/15/2013   8:34:08 PM
    There were alot of good points in this article. I really needed to be reminded that I have to be honest with myself if I want to improve my life and health. Thanks for the slap. - 4/15/2013   4:55:19 PM
  • 84
    thanks - 4/15/2013   4:01:38 PM
    My biggest issue is DEFINITELY consistency.

    I don't think this article is trying to say "You aren't trying hard enough!" I feel it is more a gentle reminder (okay, the picture says 8 Cold Hard Truths, so maybe not so gentle) that we often have a tendency to only see the RIGHT things we are doing as opposed to the WRONG things.

    I see the foods I put in my grocery cart (usually 1/2 from the produce section) compared to what most people put in their carts (usually 1/2 frozen pizza boxes) and think "But I eat so healthy--- why are these last 10-15lbs hanging on to me so desperately???"

    Well, for me it is mostly because, sure, most of my groceries are healthy. But I also go on weekly candy binges whenever a holiday comes up. I will miss a day at the gym which becomes 2-3 weeks of no gym. I will think "oh, I did YOGA for an hour, so obviously it's okay if I go eat at a Chinese BUFFET." (Yoga is wonderful, but it surely doesn't balance the calories I can consume at a buffet.)

    I think the point of this article is to say "Yeah, you are probably doing a lot of things right, but there is more to it than just the things that come easily to you. You have to have a consistent, thoughtful, ALL AROUND effort." - 4/15/2013   11:53:13 AM
  • 82
    I am confused by this article. It said it was going to be about why you don't lose weight when you are doing everything RIGHT. Instead, it talks about why you don't lose weight....when you are doing everything WRONG. I was really hoping for new info. It turns out, this is the same old blame game. You aren't losing weight, because you just aren't trying hard enough! *Sigh* - 4/15/2013   10:43:25 AM
  • 81
    Thank you for this excellent and informative blog! Really worth reading it! - 4/15/2013   10:10:51 AM
    A big thank you for a timely article in my case. Am finishing up the 8 week Diabetes Challenge and have not lost weight. But I recognize myself in several paragraphs above. So, as someone said, it is a big (and helpful) slap in the face. - 4/15/2013   9:05:07 AM
  • 79
    Good blog.

    The only piece missing from the puzzle is the one about the body's rhythm (because Coach N. doesn't say for HOW LONG one hasn't been losing weight).

    Many/most bodies seem to go through lose/plateau patterns without anything being 'wrong' with the person's plan. So sometimes patience and determination, rather than change, are what's needed.

    The poster who commented about the SP ranges not being appropriate for all weight categories has a very good point...and how is one to know? - 4/15/2013   8:38:10 AM
  • 78
    This is an excellent blog. It is like a cold hard slap to the face but one that can do so much good when understood. Thank you for this. - 4/15/2013   7:53:23 AM
  • 77
    stress and hypothyroid,, I don't count my exercise... - 2/17/2013   7:32:38 PM
  • ACHAP2
    This is an excellant article. Very helpful - 2/1/2013   9:41:27 AM
  • 75
    When I starting my weight loss journey this year, I was suffering from a SEVERE hormone imbalance. Doctor told me that no matter what I did to try and lose weight, I probably wouldn't see much success until I got my hormones back on track.

    At 49, I was experiencing some really severe pre-menopausal symptoms. Without going into the gory details, I immediately started a HRT program. WHAT A LIFESAVER!!! In less than a year, my pre-menopausal symptoms are almost non-existent and I've lost 60lbs. While some women may experience nothing more than some minor inconveniences during this time in their lives, there are so many of us that are going through a living nightmare during this process.

    Don't be ashamed or embarrassed to get the help you need, whatever it may be, and don't let anyone else (especially other women) tell you that you're problems are "no big deal" or that "taking a pill" is not the answer. This is what Coach Nicole would call "an underlying issue". I assure you, for any women with this issue, no matter what you do to try and lose weight, you won't see any "real" progress until you address your hormone imbalance. I speak from experience when I say that.

    On another note, I feel for AZUREBREEZES. A few months ago, I hit a plateau for nearly two months. It wasn't until I discovered that the pre-determined ranges that SP had set for someone of my height and weight were probably contributing to my plateau.

    After reading a bunch of stuff about diet, exercise and weight loss, I adjusted my nutritional ranges to what I had determined them to be. Within two weeks, I had broke my plateau and have been losing again ever since.

    I 'm almost to my goal (six lbs away) so my weight loss has definitely slowed down but I am still losing. I also no longer weigh myself every week either; once a month these days and I am still losing weight every month.

    Sorry to hear you had to pay extra to get your ranges right but if that ever happens again, try and do some research on the problem first. There is so much info on the topic and I'm sure you would be able to fix the problem yourself without having to pay extra for it. Just a suggestion. - 12/27/2012   2:42:49 PM
  • 74
    a very GOOD blog - 12/19/2012   10:19:06 PM
    Ummm not quite. Calories in -calories out has no medical or scientific support for weights loss. Want to lose weight? Read Why we get fat by Gary Taubes....it is a science book that reviews decades of medical research on obesity. Incredible and will change how you think completely. Boils down to INSULIN. - 11/15/2012   11:09:36 PM
    Plantar fascitis...that will stall it - 11/12/2012   11:10:18 AM
  • 71
    wowww... just what i need to know. thankx Coach Nicole. - 11/12/2012   11:02:58 AM
  • 70
    I am 373 pounds and SparkPeople recommended I use a calorie plan for 2,300-2,600 calories. I gained 7 pounds in a month. I wrote to SparkCoach and they told me that SparkPeople have problems recommending the correct calorie plan for someone my weight. The SparkCoach talked with a dietitian who recommended I go on a calorie plan for 1450-1700 calories. I was upset by this because had I not paid extra money for SparkCoach I would have never known that SparkPeople recommended the wrong calorie plan for me. How many other people in my weight category are gaining extra weight because SparkPeople recommended too many calories for them? - 10/15/2012   4:48:27 PM
  • 69
    PCOS :( - 9/22/2012   7:56:36 PM
  • 68
    Ummm, and sometimes you just don't lose weight because your body is taking a break and there is not much you can do about it. This especially happens with the last ten pounds or so. I have been five pounds from goal for months. It does not seem to matter what I do or do not do, I go down two pounds and up two pounds but that is all. - 9/22/2012   3:16:21 PM
    Best blog I've read to date! Tells it like it is! I'm bookmarking this one for future reference.
    - 9/21/2012   6:37:57 PM
    Best blog I've read to date! Tells it like it is! I'm bookmarking this one for future reference.
    - 9/21/2012   6:37:52 PM
  • ERICA727
    Love this!! So true!!! - 9/20/2012   9:30:53 PM
    Great article. It's all about personal responsibility and educating yourself about the foods your eat and how they affect your body. I can't say it enough, I would scream it from the rooftops if I could: Stay away from processed food. - 9/19/2012   4:52:14 PM
  • 63
    very informative and useful....yes it is difficult to lose weight but once you decide this is my way of life...I am 50+ and I was diagnosed with diabetes and other problems related to it....that gave me a scare of my life and since 2 months now I go to the gym everyday and eat healthy!!! Never too late....this is my new way of life. From 230 to 218 on the scale and a lot better on the numbers @ health front!!
    - 9/19/2012   2:36:43 PM
  • JPEARL127
    All of these points make so much sense--I need to post them on a prominent wall by the scale and by the food pantry!!!! - 9/19/2012   9:27:01 AM
    Another important point is that in order to see results from cardio workouts is to get your heart rate into the "fat burning zone". You need to get your heart rate up! Just going for a leisurely stroll on the treadmill won't make a difference. Yes any exercise is good, but if you want too reap any rewards make the workout worth it by pushing yourself - 9/19/2012   7:10:44 AM
    I agree with most points, but I must respectfully disagree with the point about cardio being more important than strength training. In my experience, strength training is the single most useful tool (perhaps other than diet) towards getting in shape. While it is true that cardio burns more calories at the time of the workout, strength training means your body continues to burn more calories throughout the rest of the day, and increased muscle mass means a higher metabolism as well. Cardio, on the other hand, tends to drastically increase appetite, and all-too-often causes people to cave into temptation and eat back all the calories they burned and then some, which returns to the first point of the article. If you really enjoy cardio then by all means keep doing it, but most people should supplement strength training with cardio, not the other way around. - 9/18/2012   3:22:51 PM
    So many people I hear complain about the weight sticking around should be required to read this. But they won't believe, some of them, because they are enslaved to the scale. Only the mighty scale can say you're loosing weight. I think people should have to get a perscription to get on a scale - 9/18/2012   3:07:52 PM
    When the subtle hints don't work, and the excuses are getting old, sometimes you need a good dose of "Cold Hard Facts". This article is a Classic! Should be saved to everyones' 'Favorites' to pull out for cases of forgetfulness or cluelessness. After all, while science supports it, Losing Weight is not "Rocket Science"! Of course what may be easy in Brainpower, is very challenging in Willpower... and that's where Friends, Fun, Motivation, Rewards, & "Spark" come in. or as Nike would say, "Find Your Greatness" (see 'find your greatness. UK' version) - 9/18/2012   2:03:48 PM
    One more comment: I'm a bit concerned that the point about "you may not need to lose weight" didn't go far enough. It's fine to be a bit lower than your supposed "ideal" weight. But as we know, some people strive to be so thin as to be unhealthy, and/or develop eating disorders. Are there some hints or tips to determine if that might apply? Such as "if a lot of people seem to be telling you that you SHOULDN'T lose weight, check with your doctor to make sure that you're not taking this so far as to harm yourself". I am no expert in this field, just asking. - 9/18/2012   11:52:54 AM
    Excellent article! One stumbling block to be aware of when tracking calories: Nowdays, it's fairly easy to get objective information about food calories, as long as you accurately measure the amount. It's more difficult to accurately measure the calories burned during exercise, since it partially depends on "intensity", which is subjective. Need to be careful not to overestimate how hard you're working, and it can help to err on the low side when tracking how many calories you burned. Also, many people take a lot of breaks during their workout -- remember, the calorie amounts apply to the minutes spent actively exercising, not resting, so factor that in when determining how many minutes you worked out.
    Tracking calories is truly the way to go! If you know you are being honest and accurate, and have accurately calculated how many calories you need in order to lose weight, tracking can (1) help you stick to your plan and (2) serve as a confidence booster during the plateau times -- if you KNOW and can SEE the data that you have been following your plan, it helps give you confidence that the plateau is temporary, just stick with it another week, and you'll see a loss next time. - 9/18/2012   11:43:37 AM
    Funny, I just went through this scenario, and came to most of the same conclusions for myself. I'm now back on track and losing again, but it helps to print this out and keep reminded. Thank you for a great article! - 9/18/2012   11:39:52 AM
    First poster, Woubbie, got it right! It's the sugar and carbs that are doing us all a huge disservice. They promote hyperinsulinemia (too much sugar in the blood from the carbs/sugars in the diet, which causes too much insulin to be released, too often). This stifles weight loss because it doesn't allow for body fat to be mobilized for energy. Instead, the body learns to prefer/depend on sugar in the diet (carbs). Thus, we feel the need to eat every 3-4 hours in order to keep the carbs coming. Cut out the carbs (grains, cereals, rice, sweets, sodas--even diet) and I guarantee you can lose weight without calorie counting.

    Also, while I'm preaching, cardio is not the answer either. Chronic cardio promotes indiscriminate weight loss---muscle tissue as well as fat. Yes you lose weight, but also lose muscle mass, which leads to lower basal metabolic rate, and more importantly, less functional capabilities, especially as you age. Lift weights, do sprints, walk a lot, run sometimes, avoid carbs, feel great! Eating less than 50g carbs/day will really get the weight coming off. Thank you for listening to my preaching. - 9/18/2012   8:52:07 AM
  • 53
    The main reason people don't lose is that metabolism is chemistry, not math. The kind of food you eat is even more important than the amount you eat. I lost 25 pounds eating 2000-2200 calories per day with no exercise (starting weight 226) because the food I ate promoted weight loss rather than weight gain. Insulin is the fat storage hormone - drop the insulin level and you will drop the weight, as well as the blood pressure and triglycerides. :) Chemistry, not math. - 9/18/2012   8:12:22 AM
  • 52
    This is great! I'm so glad you separated healthy BMI and body fat percentage. BMI is so frequently inaccurate that is a good reminder to Sparkers that it's not the only measure of progress! - 9/16/2012   10:57:49 PM
  • MYCAM1
    Great tips here! I think I overdue it on my cheat days. The article mentioned something I'm guilty of, but didnt think it was so bad " Eating that restaurant dessert that's 4-5 times a standard serving size doesn't really count as moderation, even if it's the only sweet treat you've had all week"
    Wow! I totally do that! - 9/16/2012   3:19:22 PM

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