Nutrition Articles

3 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Weight

Why Weight Loss is Harder for Some People than for Others

3.1KSHARES
You've been sticking faithfully to your calorie range and exercise plans for awhile now, but you're not seeing the results you want on your scale. Meanwhile, your weight -loss buddy is happily watching the pounds melt away week after week. Not fair!

Or maybe you're losing weight but not from the areas where you really want to shed some fat. (Skinny feet are nice, but not so much when your muffin top is still as big as ever.) And then you have that other friend who can eat anything and everything without gaining a pound, while just watching him or her eat seems to make you gain weight.

What's going on here? Why don't your efforts seem to be paying off while weight loss seems so easy for other people? Is there anything you can do to get better results?

Sometimes there is a simple, general reason why one person loses weight faster than another. For example, men tend to lose weight more quickly than women, mainly because most men naturally have more lean muscle mass (thanks to their higher testosterone levels), and more muscle translates into a faster metabolism. Men and women also tend to store excess weight in different places—men in the abdominal area ("apple" body type), which is usually easier to lose; women in the hips and thighs ("pear" body type), which is usually harder to take off.

People who have more weight to lose may also drop the pounds more quickly in the beginning of a weight-loss program. This is because the more you weigh, the more calories you burn during any given activity. (Walking with an extra 50 pounds on your frame is harder than walking with 20 extra pounds of weight.) A person who weighs more can also cut more calories from his or her diet without jeopardizing the body's ability to function efficiently. If you weigh 300 pounds, you may need 3,500 calories per day or more to maintain that weight; cutting 1,000 calories from your diet (down to 2,500/day) will let you safely lose 2 pounds per week. But if you weigh 150 pounds, you may only need 1,800 calories to maintain your weight, and if you try to cut the 1,000 calories from your diet (down to 800/day), your body won't have enough fuel and your metabolism will slow down drastically, making fat loss harder, not easier. Therefore a person with less weight to lose needs to aim for a smaller calorie deficit, which will translate to a slower rate of weight loss.

Likewise, factors like age and body type can affect how fast you can shed extra pounds. Older people, for example, often lose weight more slowly, perhaps because of hormonal changes and/or because they have less muscle mass or may be less physically active.

So, if you're comparing your weight loss to someone else's, make sure you're not comparing apples to oranges (or pears)—that's just going to be frustrating and won't tell you anything useful about your own efforts.

Sometimes, though, people who seem to share a lot of these factors—similar body size, weight, age and activity levels—just don't get the same results, even when they do the same things. A lot of individual factors, including your individual genetics and quite a few medical conditions (like hypothyroidism, PCOS,and insomnia) and medications (like corticosteroids, or antidepressants), can make weight loss difficult. If you're in this boat, you may need to work closely with your health professional to find an individualized approach that will maximize your weight loss results without jeopardizing your health.

But more often, slow or non-existent weight loss can be traced to very common problems that can be identified and overcome with the right kinds of changes in diet, exercise, or daily activity patterns. That's what we'll be looking at below.

The No. 1 Problem: Your numbers aren't right.

In a healthy, "normally" functioning body, weight loss occurs when you use (burn) more energy (calories) than you take in from food. This calorie deficit forces your body to take fat out of storage and turn it into fuel that your cells can use to maintain necessary body functions. A pound of fat represents about 3,500 calories of stored energy, so you can predict that a calorie deficit of 3,500 will translate into one lost pound, give or take a little.

By far the most common reason why weight loss seems to be going slower than people expect is that their calorie deficit is not as large as they think it is. Either they're not burning as many calories as they think they are, or they're eating more than they think they are, or a combination of both.

The formulas used to estimate how many calories people need to maintain their current weight aren't accurate for everyone—they can be off by as much as 30-40%, especially if your body fat percentage is pretty high, your physical activity level is significantly higher or lower than average, or you're counting almost everything you do (e.g., light housework, grocery shopping, walking up one flight of stairs) as "exercise" even though it doesn't actually meet the parameters of what counts as fitness (a high enough intensity to elevate your heart rate to an aerobic range; a duration of at least 10 continuous minutes for the activity; the moving of large muscle groups in a rhythmic way).

You can have the same problem on the other end of the energy equation: calorie intake. It's very common to underestimate how much you're actually eating, even when you're tracking your food consistently. If you just eyeball your portion sizes instead of measuring them, or if you tend to forget the little "extras" you eat during the day (like licking peanut butter off the knife while making your sandwich, or tasting your pasta sauce while you're cooking it), you can easily add a few hundred uncounted calories to your daily total.

To fix this problem, make sure your calorie numbers are as accurate as you can get them. Track your calorie intake carefully and diligently, until you can recognize portion sizes of the foods you eat often without measuring. And don't count the regular activities of daily life you've always done as part of your "exercise."

Remember that fitness trackers and cardio machines only estimate how many calories you truly burn, and these trackers and machines tend to overestimate how much you're really burning. For a more accurate reading, you could invest in a good heart rate monitor that better estimates your calorie burn based on how hard you are actually working during exercise.

The Second Most Common Problem: Excess muscle loss

We'd like to think that every pound lost is a pound of fat, but in reality, all weight loss involves some combination of fat loss and muscle loss. To get the best results from your weight-loss efforts, you want to maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss. The best way to do that is to include adequate strength training in your exercise routine. Without strength training, a substantial amount of the weight you lose could be muscle (lean tissue), which can reduce your fitness and lower your calorie burning capacity. To avoid these problems (and make it much easier to keep the lost weight off), be sure to include at least two full-body strength training workouts in your weekly routine. You can get plenty of strength-training ideas from SparkPeople's workouts, videos and fitness resource center.

The Final Problem: WHAT you eat may matter almost as much as HOW MUCH you eat.

How your body handles the food you eat is governed by a very complex set of biochemical interactions that determine when and where any excess calories are stored, and how easily this energy can be retrieved for later use. For some people with certain genetic predispositions, a diet high in fast-digesting carbohydrates like refined sugar and refined grains can make it easier for their bodies to store excess calories as fat and harder to get that energy back out of fat cells later on when it's needed. It can also lead to increased appetite and more cravings for high-sugar foods. There aren't yet any easily available tests that can identify people with this problem, but if you've been significantly overweight for a long time and you struggle with appetite, carbohydrate cravings, and slow weight loss, it may be worth your while to experiment with a diet higher in protein and healthy fats, and lower in refined carbohydrates and sugar. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor first, especially if you have any medical conditions/medications that can be affected by your diet.

Weight loss seems so simple on the surface: Eat less than you burn and your body will drop pounds. But for many people, there's more to the equation than counting calories in and calories out. We are all an experiment of one; you cannot compare your results to someone else's, just as you can't expect to have the same results as another person, no matter how similar you may seem to be. Think of your weight loss as a continuous journey. There will be bumps in the road, along with times when the sailing is smooth, but no matter what, you'll just have to pay attention to the route and be open to making changes in your approach or direction along the way. When you follow those guidelines, weight loss will become that much easier!


Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
3.1KSHARES

Member Comments

  • Yet an other reminder of things I knew but chose to ignore
  • BILLTHOMSON
    I've reached a level where my weight loss has slowed down, but I have to also be careful on changing my diet too drastically being diabetic 2
  • Lots to think about here.
  • TOMATOCAFEGAL
    ONCE I GET IT UP, IT STAYS CONTINUOUS, BUT SINCE SURGERY I HAVE TO WORK AT IT. BEFORE YOU COULDN'T SLOW ME DOWN
  • There is another possible of not getting your heart rate up. Medications. Some, like a beta blockers don't allow much of a variance in the heart rate. Good article! Thanks!
  • Lot's of good information contained in this article. Thanks.
  • Ordered book by Recitas. Interesting article.
  • Not all calories are created equal - it all depends on your body chemistry.
    I recommend "The Plan" by Lyn-Genet Recitas, it is a 20 day "test" to see which foods work for you and which don't. The recipes are delicious.
  • I like that he gives ideas on what to look at and try for each individual. There are no 'one size fits all' answers. I was vegetarian for 27 years and grazed the entire time. I could be full but not satiated. I was told I needed more protein and tried all the fake meats & tofu to no avail. Now that I am back on meat I can eat a 100 gram pork steak and I am good for hours. No snacking, no craving. Not sure if it is the type of protein, or the fat content, but it works for me. And I am losing weight for the first time in over 20 years!
  • I highly recommend reading the book "The Obesity Code" by Jason Fung, MD.
  • Reading this article, it has opened my eyes to a few things I need to change.
  • Or: you eat too much.
    Ever watch the show about the 600-pounders, where they swear up and down that they're following the prescribed diet? So they stick them in a controlled situation and actually restrict their calories...and the weight falls off.
    You're probably underestimating how many calories you take in. Also, everyone is different. Where one person can lose on 1500 cals a day, I can't budge unless I knock it down to 1,000-1,100. Figure out what works for you, and NO EXCUSES.
    "I'm on medication, I have fibromyalgia, it's the GMOs, it's food additives, it's the evil corporations and their high fructose corn syrup, it's gluten, it's stress, it's depression, blah blah blah..." Nonsense.
    You eat too much.
  • SMITHNANCY
    Most of the time I agree with this type of articles. In reality, it's not tough to loose weight but its tough to maintained the weight we have loosen.
  • CRAZYCOUTER
    Its more about the food you are eating. I have had to eliminate all man made ingredients, especially emulsifiers / thickeners and Vegetable oils. I was eating 1200 to 1400 calories, exercising and getting enough sleep and not losing weight. I would gain weight when I got emulsifiers / thickeners and plateau when I got even a little Vegetable oil / margarine (trans fats). Calories in / Calories out does not necessarily equal weight loss. I read Eat Fat Lose Fat by Mary Enig/Sally Fallon and have added good fat for my diet increasing my calorie intake to 1600 to 2000 a day and eliminated everything that is not a whole food and I am losing weight and not hungry. Its ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. Nourish your body and it will love you.
  • Great article. Very informative too! Thanks SP.

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

x Lose 10 Pounds by August 4! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.