Nutrition Articles

3 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Weight

Why Weight Loss is Harder for Some People than for Others


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).
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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.

Member Comments

  • Terrific information in this article!! Thank you! - 12/14/2014 3:12:44 PM
    I'm puzzled. After loosing 20 lbs & being just 5 lbs from my goal I had lab work done & I've learned my total cholesterol has gone up (205 from 176) & my blood pressure is borderline too high. I am consistant with at least 30 minutes, sometimes more, of activity most days. Any thoughts? Could it be what I'm eating? I eat very little bread, when i do it's always whole grain/sprouted. No red meat ever, poultry 1-2 a week, loads of cooked & raw fruit & veggies. Splenda or stevia when I want to sweeten something, just can't figure it out. - 10/13/2014 5:07:38 PM
    This is a great article, and many of the member comments are most informative and helpful. I'm glad I joined SparkPeople! - 9/21/2014 9:47:29 AM
  • I thought this article would be simplistic, but it was actually quite thorough. Cramperella's comment about the effect of yo-yo dieting on metabolism is well worth considering too. - 9/21/2014 7:19:29 AM
  • Very informative. I've been sitting at the same weight from the start although I have made changes to diet and activity. I just changed thyroid med to synthroid maybe that will help.. - 9/20/2014 6:49:09 PM
  • The culprits are sugar and carbs. Believe me...reduce unnecessary sugar at first then learn to do without it. Reduce carbs (white flour, bread, crackers, etc). Whatever you not eat LOW-FAT anything. You will gain weight because low fat foods are high in sugar. Processed foods contain sugar too! Learn more about a low carb lifestyle. - 9/3/2014 1:00:56 PM
  • 1254KATE
    I just want to get off to a good start - 8/22/2014 10:09:34 PM
  • There was no mention in the article of the effect of repeated weight loss on your metabolism. If you have been a serious yo-yo dieter like myself, your body may not respond normally anymore. My body doesn't trust me anymore. It is always on the look out for the next famine and hangs on to weight for dear life. I can religiously follow a strict program for weeks on end and lose absolutely nothing and then one day, bam! I step on the scale and it appears as if I have lost 8lbs overnight! It can be depressing to not have your body respond like everyone tells you it is supposed to. Weighing myself weekly is pointless. - 8/6/2014 5:37:42 PM
  • ALJ218
    The article makes some pretty good points. However, I do think some people can count everyday movement as activity. When I was coming down from a much larger weight, taking the stairs, doing light housework, and parking at the end of the grocery store parking lot made all the difference.

    I still count some things as activity that are not considered traditional exercise (for example, my walk to and from school, laundry,) but they're not all I do. - 7/2/2014 9:18:46 AM
  • The point which the article I believe is making; Everyones body and reactions to weight loss will be different. I can usually tell before I get on the scale if I lost weight or not. I cant lose weight unless I starve myself Im a man on a 1300 cal diet a day. the scale has read 202 for 4 weeks now. Ive been walking every other day for 3 miles and riding my bike for 20 min a day hard. On the other hand ..... You hear about Snooky loosing 40 lbs in six months. Is their a secret weapon for for people on tv. Im not giving up . I keep in mind it took 25 years to get this fat and ive only been at it for 3 months - 9/20/2013 7:56:18 AM

    and this: "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."

    No you cant. You cannot predict methodical weight loss. There are too many factors involved for each person and telling them that they can predict a 1 pound loss by burning 3500 calories is setting them up for failure. You cannot do that. You have to do this with something other than that number in mind - otherwise you are teaching people that the only function of exercise is to eradicate calories and that is messed up. I cant read any further. Sometimes the reason you arent losing weight is because you are letting yourself get away with mediocre effort.

    throws hands in the air. - 1/29/2013 9:59:23 AM
  • This article reminded me about some key factors that I have overlooked lately in terms of my own weight loss. Thanks! I got more out of this article than many I have read. - 1/25/2013 10:00:10 PM
  • These are all very good and valid points. Another one is that a lot of times people aren't eating ENOUGH. They think that because they bring their calories down uber-low they are doing great, when in all reality their metabolisms are lowering in self-defense against starvation and they wind up losing less than if they ate at a higher caloric level. - 1/25/2013 3:07:34 PM
  • I struggled for a long time with mixed success and lots of yo yo weight loss/gain. I went on a low carb diet because a friend of mine convinced me to try it. Never thought I would do it since I loved bread so much. I've never felt so good or had such success. I've lost 68lbs and best of all no longer have cravings. The carbs are hard to give up, very similar to giving up caffiene (i.e. headaches, feeling crappy, cravings). If you are like me, once you get them out of your system, the difference can be amazing. - 1/25/2013 9:03:17 AM
  • I was so glad to read this artical. I am 58 been on SP since November and lost only 8 pounds. I weigh everything that I eat and I try to enter everything I eat of course there are times I miss somethings. I also exercise everyday either walking or interval walking and running I do at least 4 miles a day. I knew there was a reason for not losing weight faster but really just blamed myself for doing something wrong. I have 13 pounds to lose so I guess it will be a long hall before I see that number on my scale. But I actually enjoy watching what I eat and planning my meals ahead of time so I guess I will keep doing it. - 1/25/2013 8:53:54 AM

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