Why Can’t I Lose Weight? Help and Advice

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Why Can't I Lose Weight? Help and Advice

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Wondering why you can’t lose weight? Let’s explore some of the most common reasons for this – and what you can do about it.

I can’t lose weight – why?

Being unable to lose weight can be demotivating and disheartening, however, there are many reasons it might be happening. You could well be losing the pounds without realising, but it’s frustrating when the scale doesn’t reflect this.

Here are some of the reasons you might be unable to lose weight:

#1 – You’re putting on muscle

Paying attention to the number on the scale alone doesn’t paint the full picture when it comes to weight loss. Working out regularly, in particular strength training, can build muscle over time. Muscle tissue is more dense than fat tissue, meaning it takes up less space at the same weight.1

What this means is that you could well be losing fat, without necessarily losing weight according to the scale. So, use something else to gauge your progress, such as how your clothes feel, or your body fat percentage.

The scale might not show you what you want to see, but there are many benefits to building muscle, including:

  1. Increased metabolic rate (causing your body to burn more calories)
  2. Fat loss
  3. Decreased disease risks, such as heart disease
  4. Increased strength2

#2 – You’re in a weight loss plateau

If you’ve stopped losing weight, a common reason for this is a plateau. As you lose weight, your metabolism declines. This means you burn fewer calories than you did at your heavier weight3 This, in turn, will make the rate of weight loss slower.

This is extremely common, and while it can be demotivating, it’s easy to get out of. Slightly reduce your calorie intake, or increase the amount of exercise you do to lose weight, to get past the plateau. Simply increasing your everyday activity levels, for example the amount of steps you do, can also help.

Woman doing yoga on grass outside office

#3 – You’re retaining water

Fluid retention is a common reason why the number on the scale won’t budge, or even be the cause of weight gain.4 It’s important to remember that water weight isn’t ‘real’ weight from muscles and fat.5 So, while the scale might show you’ve gained 3 pounds, you may just have too much salt and sodium in your body, or you’ve been very sedentary recently. Excess water can be stored all over the body, for example in the tissue.

Lose water weight by:

  1. Sleeping more
  2. Cutting back on high-salt foods (usually processed foods)
  3. Exercising regularly
  4. Managing your stress levels6

#4 – You have no idea how much you’re eating

Even if eating a healthy diet, it’s still possible to be overeating. While it’s not the full picture, losing weight requires you to be in a (moderate) calorie deficit.7 So, if you’re not in a deficit, it will likely be the reason you aren’t losing weight. Calorie counting, and exercising portion control, can be useful tools to help make you more aware of how much you’re eating.

Dietary self-monitoring (for example keeping a food diary) has been linked to weight loss in some individuals.8 You may well be eating more than you realise.

#5 – Your diet lacks protein

Boosting up protein intake is dieting 101; it’s the most important nutrient for losing weight.9 There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  1. Can boost metabolism
  2. Helps build muscle
  3. Has a higher thermic effect than carbs or fat (meaning your body uses more calories digesting it)
  4. Helps keep you satiated, reducing the temptation to snack10

When compared to low protein diets, consuming 25–30% of your total daily calories from protein can boost metabolism by up to 80–100 calories each day.11

#6 – You’re relying on cardio alone

Doing more exercise is a good idea when trying to lose weight, but don’t just rely on cardio. Ensure you’re doing some form of resistance training, i.e. lifting weights, to build muscle mass.

#7 – You’re not eating enough whole foods

You need to look at the quality of the food you’re eating, not just how much. Ensure your diet is made up of plenty of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. These offer countless benefits, including:

  1. High in fibre (helping promote fullness)
  2. Loaded with nutrients
  3. Help control blood sugar levels
  4. Can help prevent overeating12

Instead of processed options, choose foods that give you energy and keep you going throughout the day.

Woman warming up for a run

#8 – You’re not exercising

While exercise isn’t the whole picture when it comes to losing weight, it can be a useful tool for many. You may not need it to lose weight, but it can allow you to burn more calories and build muscle.

Even if the gym isn’t for you, it’s a good idea to increase your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)13 which consists of activities like walking or cleaning the house. Carrying out more of these can increase metabolic rate.

#9 – You’re drinking your calories

There can be many calories in certain drinks, such as fruit juices that are high in sugar. Even ‘healthier’ drinks marketed for weight loss can have hidden calories – always read the label. These can be fattening, without filling you up like food would.

#10 – You have an ‘all or nothing’ mindset

Many of us fall into the trap of strict dieting throughout the week, only to ‘cheat’ at the weekend. This can involve consuming more calories than you would normally, derailing weight loss attempts. Switch your mindset: everything in moderation, rather than all or nothing. If you ‘ban’ foods, you’ll likely only crave them more. This can ruin your progress on the weekends, making you unable to lose weight despite dieting all week.

#11 – You’re not getting enough sleep

Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, and it’s also key for losing weight. This is for a number of reasons, as a lack of sleep can:

  1. Increase ghrelin (the hunger hormone)
  2. Slow metabolism down
  3. Create more opportunities to eat (longer days!)
  4. Result in less energy and motivation to exercise14

Most adults need between 6 to 9 hours of quality sleep a night.15 Are you getting enough? If you’re struggling, certain foods can actually help you sleep at night, so make sure you’re eating right.

#12 – You’re eating too often

A common weight loss myth is that eating little and often boosts metabolism and causes your body to burn more calories throughout the day16 In fact, there’s little to no evidence to support this.

Eating more than your body needs will not help you reach your weight loss goals. It’s about how much you’re eating, not how often.

#13 – You need to drink more water

Hydration is important for weight loss for a number of reasons. It helps you stay fuller for longer, helps your body burn more calories and is essential for overall health. Aim for 6 to 8 glasses a day!17

#14 – You’re not eating enough

Crash dieting is popular with those who want to notice results as fast as possible. However, while cutting your calories back drastically might help you shift the pounds quickly at the start, it likely won’t be sustainable.18 What’s more, when you lose weight too quickly, a lot of the weight you’ll lose will be from muscle. Muscle loss can slow down your metabolism and make it easier to regain the pounds, which leads to ‘yo-yo dieting’.

If losing weight and keeping it off is your goal, a moderate calorie deficit is key to long-term success. 1-2 pounds a week is considered a healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss.19

#15 – You need to cut back on alcohol

Here’s the bad news – alcohol can slow down your attempts at weight loss. This is thanks to the fact that it can:

  • Be very high in calories (especially drinks like beer and sugary cocktails)
  • Make you tempted to overeat
  • Interfere with body’s fat-burning mechanisms
  • Reduce your interest in exercise20

No one’s saying you have to go teetotal, but opt for spirits instead, and try not to drink too heavily.

#16 – You’ve been unwell

If you’ve been unwell, or are currently unwell, focus on getting back to health rather than on weight loss. It’s normal for weight to fluctuate, and if you’ve been in bed nursing yourself back to health, you’ll be back on your feet sooner if you fuel your body adequately.

#17 – You have a medical condition

Certain medical conditions can make weight loss more difficult, including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which makes it more difficult for the body to use the hormone insulin. This normally helps convert sugars and starches from foods into energy. This causes insulin (and sugar) to build up in the bloodstream. This, in turn, increases the production of androgens, linked to weight gain, particularly around the abdomen.21

#18 – You’re not building healthy habits

Try not to see weight loss as a short-term diet, but a lifestyle change. Many of the things you do to lose weight, such as healthy eating, will also be needed to maintain it. Your primary goal should be to lead a happier, healthier life.

#19 – You’re hungry

Losing weight doesn’t mean you need to feel hungry constantly. In fact, if you’re starving, you’re doing it wrong. This can trigger binge eating and halt your progress. You need to nourish your body, not deprive it.

Suppress hunger by eating right, including:

  1. Filling up on fibre-rich vegetables, such as broccoli
  2. Eating more protein
  3. Drinking more water
  4. Eating healthy fats

#20 – You’re being impatient

Many of us tend to think of weight loss as linear, but it’s a process full of ups and downs. Weight naturally fluctuates due to certain factors out of our control. While it’s frustrating to be putting in the effort and not seeing results, you need to remember this process takes time. You didn’t gain weight in a day, so it’s going to take longer than that to lose it! It might be that your expectations are unrealistic, so you don’t realise you’re making progress, when in fact you are.

#21 – You need to be more mindful

Try to practice mindfulness when eating, which involves:

  1. Slowing down
  2. Removing distractions e.g. the telly
  3. Chewing thoroughly
  4. Knowing when you’re full

This can help you to eat less, while enjoying your food more.

#22 – You’re weighing yourself too often

It’s normal for the number on the scale to fluctuate often, including overnight. For example, you may have eaten later than you normally would the day before, or you’re retaining water. In short: avoid weighing yourself every day, or too often. It may demotivate you, despite the fact you are losing weight.

Unable to lose weight?

Weight loss isn’t always easy, nor will you see progress every time you want it. But, consistency is key, so stick with it. Try different methods to kickstart your weight loss again, such as exercising more regularly. The important thing is to stick with it and be patient with yourself!

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