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Nutrition Articles  ›  Pitfalls and Plateaus

3 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Weight

Why Weight Loss is Harder for Some People than for Others

-- By Dean Anderson, Fitness & Behavior Expert
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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

  • 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
  • YOOVIE
    What about - YOU AREN'T WORKING OUT HARD ENOUGH?

    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
  • Thanks Dean.....that was a great article and so true. It's hard to understand why things don't go as expected until you look at all the factors you mentioned. For me I'm carb sensitive, have hormonal changes, and need to boost my cardio and strength training. - 1/25/2013 5:28:16 AM
  • I read an article in a reputable - not quacky - magazine where a trained nutritionist explained that ALL grains (rice, wheat, oats, quinoa, pasta) whether whole grain or highly processed turn to sugar in the bodies digestive process... which FREAKED ME OUT! Grains are the building blocks of the western diet: Toast for brekkie, sandwich for lunch, stir fry with rice for dinner...

    So, I am trying to plan my meals with less of a grain component. It's only been a week so I don't have any results to post, but it would be interesting to hear from anyone who has an opinion on this. I am in no way trying to push a dieting solution on anyone - if it works for you = cool, if not, then all good. - 10/7/2012 2:19:32 AM

  • Is this a reasonable format or setting for inquiring about the graphs for Calorie Differential Over Time - gauged or evaluated week to week.

    I understand discouraging folks inclination to perhaps focus on day to day differentials, however it seems that with the month to month, or perhaps even better would be the week to week graphing might well be quite interesting and helpful?

    I have notions as to what is happening with the graphing of my week to week calorie intake and burn rate ... however I have notions only, and would certainly welcome specific feedback regarding same.

    I noted that the caloric intake line was gradually climbing and had even cut up from about 2/3rds of the height of the into the BMR on up to about 1/5th portion of the bar graphing.

    Thanks for any assistance you may be able and willing to provide. - 8/24/2012 12:07:10 AM
  • GFIKE1566
    I eat a good breakfast every day, yet crave sugar in the mid-morning hours. It's a temptation that I cannot seem to avoid (no willpower) as my secretary continues to put out peanut M&Ms and fun size candy bars. The only way I can overcome this is during Lent, when I give up all sweets, successfully, for those 6 weeks. However, during the rest of the year, I seem to have problems avoiding them....I've asked my office manager to not put them out, but she continues to do so. HELP! - 7/24/2012 12:01:50 PM
  • THEWAYGIRL
    Weight watchers online! Finally I am seeing results. - 7/24/2012 7:42:19 AM
  • Good article. Another point is to be eating the right foods at the right time. Very small breakfast for those who are slow to get going in the morning, ie, slower metabolism. And dinner is the main meal of the day when their metabolism is highest. When eating right for your metabolism and body type the weight loss happens naturally. I completely transformed my health this way. I have so much more energy! - 7/24/2012 6:56:02 AM
  • BOOPISH
    This article is fantastic. My weight has me sitting on the top of the healthy end of the BMI scale, and occasionally I dip over to the less healthy side. My goal has been to get to the middle of the scale, but after 3 weeks of effort my weight fluctuates but basically stays the same. This article and the comments have helped me realize that because I was already eating healthy and exercising, I can't expect huge results, and should not be weighing myself daily. I feel better than I have in a long time, and my clothes fit great. As long as I continue to be diligent with a healthy diet and limit those extra treats, over time everything will work out well. - 5/21/2012 2:51:14 PM
  • Very good article for beginners! But for those that support low-carb diets, the kind of carbs do matter. For example, eating donuts, pretzels, some bagels, etc (that are low in nutrients and high and fat) are very different from eating whole wheat bread, pitas, fiber cereals, rice and, fruits and veggetables (that are high in nutrients and lower in fat). It is recommended to get about 50% of your diet from carbs of the latter source and is especially important for exercise... and functionning basically.

    - 4/21/2012 5:12:55 PM
  • Wow, this article was just what I needed, very timely indeed. Just today I have been comparing my weight loss with someone else's from the same SP class as I am. Even as I was doing it, I knew I shouldn't and this article just reinforced that for me.
    Thanks! - 3/15/2012 9:58:45 PM