8 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Weight

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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:
  • You're skimping on sleep.
  • You don't fit the standard formulas for calorie estimation.
  • Your "cheat days" are cheating you.
  • You're battling chronic stress.
  • You're eating too many or too little carbs, protein or fat.
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.

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KOALA_BEAR 10/19/2019
Would like to see more detail on how chronic stress contributes to the plateau problem, & best methods of dealing w/ it. That seems to be my life. Report
KOALA_BEAR 10/19/2019
Would like to see more detail on how chronic stress contributes to the plateau problem, & best methods of dealing w/ it. That seems to be my life. Report
BULENT1 10/15/2019
Spark people is litterally the best weight loss community anywhere. I read it evreday.
and i’m also so grateful i found http://bit.ly/33utXh0 , it helped me not only lose weight but keep it of, hope it helps some others. Report
JANEYTANG 9/27/2019
Sparkpeople is literally the BEST weight loss community anywhere, I read it everyday , and I’m also so grateful that I found http://bit.ly/howtolosefattfastt it helped me not only lose weight but keep it off, hope it helps some others! Report
ALLTHINGSNEW81 7/22/2019
I wish I could figure out what caused me to gain weight while following the right nutrition/caloric goals this week. I measured food, I walked, I did everything the right way that I can think of and I gained weight. I'm not blaming anyone else, I just wish that I could figure it out so that I wouldn't have to deal with the emotional backlash of gaining weight when trying to lose it. Report
BLHEALTH 7/10/2019
I needed this to help me on my diet Report
KHALIA2 6/15/2019
Great article! Report
DRAGONFLY631 3/30/2019
Good tips Report
Makes sense. I did find it noteworthy that this article is featured right underneath one on CORN CHOWDER, which is not a heathy choice. Report
TNPEACH5 1/11/2019
Great clean, and very helpful information! Report
KELLY_SS 11/20/2018
Thanks Report
Thank you for these great tips, Coach Nicole! Report
Thank you for the information. Report
Great article pointing out the obvious facts that we often choose to ignore! Report
We also need to take responsibilities on what we are or not doing, SparkFriends. Report
Important article with lots of good info and a come to reality approach on this subject of weight loss. Report
Having the tools to lose weight is very important Report
Gratitude builds a bridge to abundance. ~ 3/27/18 Report
thanks Report
Since Jan 1 I have been eating healthy and I mean, Green smoothies all day and boneless skinless chicken breast with veggies for dinner. I lost 4 gained 2, lost 5 gained 3 you get the drift. Right now I am at 5 lbs lost. I don't drink anything but water, no soda, no chemicals, no fast food, no white, bleached anything, no sugar, no coffee, tea.

I over estimate my calorie intake and although I use spark for my calories burned, I never eat more as Spark says I need to. I stay 1200 calories or under.

If I don't keep my calories under 1000 or really even less than that I will not lose weight. I don't know if its my age, my desk job or what it is. I am trying really hard and I am so frustrated.

I have a friend who says I burned 2000 calories on my elliptical so now I can eat lunch at pizza hut. She is losing. I ignore calories burned and starve and its getting old. Report
Well... Reading others' comments about gaining 30 lbs no matter what they do, makes me wonder if the comment that says we want to way less than our bodies want to is the reason for our slow, laborious weight loss. Are we meant to add 30 lbs as we age? I add weight so easily, I've always been afraid it wouldn't stop at 30. Report
One of the most honest articles I have ever read on this site. Report
Good information to think about. Consistency is important for me because I have the kind of personality that needs a routine. That is why my journey is more about building healthy habits. Report
This is so true. Until recently (starting about mid Jan) i did not measure my food. I thought that I knew what a cup of cerial looked like...or a serving of meat...to my surprise I was eating 2 or 3 x the actual serving size! Now I measure every thing...and it's getting easier for me to see portion sizes that are actually real portion sizes. I also thought just eating the right food and eating less would make me loose weight...i was never successful. Report
So much of the time, people don't lose weight because they may not have the right tools, information, support and plan necessary for success. For instance, exercise is a poor weight loss tool. It's essential for health but you literally have to run 33 miles just to burn one pound of body fat. Counting calories doesn't do it either. A short-term diet delivers short-term results. Lifestyle change is essential for long-term success. Work with a Health Coach who will help you achieve your goal and help you with lifestyle change. Report
Thanks for sharing info.This is very useful for us.Its better result for losing weight.
A few of you in the comments seem to get the calorie estimates wrong. You may very well burn 400+ calories with a 3 mile walk, but that's including what you burn while you rest. What's important is the *additional* calories burnt during a walk, which is what Ms Nichols presumably meant in the article.
Another point: The SparkPeople daily calorie goal is based on an algorithm, presumably the MSJ-equation or the Harris-Benedict-equation (5% difference, give or take). This formula works for "average Joe", so to speak. You may very well be well over or under the BMR. It's best to have it measured by a professional. The problem is, if you're obese, your body-fat percentage exceeds 25% (for men) and 36% (for women). The key fat burner is muscle (which is incidentally why I disagree with Ms Nichols statement that cardio is better for weight loss, because it's not as lasting as muscle mass). So the fatter you get, the bigger the discrepancy between the calorie goal set by SparkPeople and your actualy calorie intake necessary to lose weight. It's also why it's harder for women to lose weight.
Last but not least: If your circumference shrinks, you're doing it right. Don't step on your scale and cry bitter tears over losing only a pound or two or even gaining a few pounds. Circumferences is where it's at, seeing as muscle has four times the density of fat.
If you're not willing or able to take measurements, take pictures. Always at the same time and place, every week or so. And do the "jiggle-test". Tense all your muscles, jump up and down in front of a mirror and see what jiggles. Report
...well written... again, learned something... Report
Interesting and thoughtful comments from RROHLIN. Especially reference the diet soda. Thank you! Report
Thanks. Report
Seems to me as others have noted that other reason are omitted - like stress - cortisol really screwed up my metabolism. Lost 20 lbs since since 7 of January. Report
ANOTHER REASON: Your liver removes toxins from your blood that are not excreted by the kidneys or eliminated by the colon. Your body can only eliminate so many toxins / day. When the liver cannot remove toxins, it stores them in fat tissue to protect the rest of the body. The more toxins that it must store, the more fat tissue is required as a storage facility. Here's an example. A lot of people drink diet drinks because they are zero calories and it sounds like it makes better sense to drink the diet drink than to have the sugared variety. (The average can of sugared cola has 14 teaspoons of sugar in it.) But Nutrasweet becomes a toxin in your body. The combination of aspartame and caffeine produce "excitatoxins" in your body while cause the liver to have to go into almost immediate store-toxins-in-fat mode. Additionally, aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde (used for enbalming cadavers) and wood alcohol in the blood stream. So now the liver has 2 more toxins to deal with. In one study, regular diet soda drinkers stopped drinking diet drinks and the average participant lost 19 lbs over the study period. I drank 1-2 Diet Coke 2-liter bottles / day for a long time. When I found out I had type 2 diabetes with an average blood sugar of 220 and an A1C of 9.6, I quit drinking diet coke. So far, I have lost 26 lbs. in 3 months with few other dietary changes. Additionally, my A1C is now 6.2 (pre-diabetic, no longer diabetic) and I continue to improve. Diet drinks greatly increase your chance of Type 2 diabetes because the toxin storage is done in visceral fat (the fat that surrounds your pancreas and makes it hard for insulin processing). If you can't lose weight, start with a detox diet. Then refuse to put any chemicals or processed foods back into your diet. Chances are that your weight loss will get started again if you pay attention to the other factors in the author's well-written article. Report
good points Report
Very sensible suggestions. If I'm not losing weight, the first thing I do is give myself a reality check. I am responsible for what I do or do not put into my body. I am responsible for how much activity I get. If I am truly meeting my goals, the next step is my doctor's office. Thank you for sharing! Report
The user comments are poof that this pudding is bad. Each time an article is published that suggest that the problem of not losing weight or being overweight is the fault of the individual, the comments explode with excuses and lash-backs. This is the very root of the weight problem. Until the individual accepts responsibility for their weight gain, they will not be able to lose. Even when diseases work against the efforts, weight loss is in the control of the individual. Report
Glad to be prepared with this article! Report
I am 9 months pp and bfing my son. I gained 40 lbs with my baby and was unable to get rid of those stubborn pounds stuck with my body, but once I started drinking "Mummy Magic Weight Loss Tea", within three months I lost all the extra weight. Report
Gives you something to think about and put in action too. Report
Thanks I need this Report
This is the harsh reality I needed this morning. Report
I need to be more consistent with Healthy eating and exercise and really work on moderation 👍👍 Report
Hmmm...I really need to start doing measurements... Good idea :) Report
Great info! Report
Stay the course and don't try to sabotage yourself in the process. Its hard enough as it is to stay on track. Report
I know I am eating the wrong foods and not reaching my calorie range. Can't get back on track right now but hoping within a couple weeks as we begin our travels, that will change. Will be preparing our own foods and not eating out as much as now when we are all saying so long for the summer. Report
I just had a conversation about this very issue with my gyn; he said that I'm doing everything and I weighed less than my last visit, I'm not going up, and encouraged me just need to keep at it. Report
How many times will this keep coming up? I read comments on Facebook and frankly, it's really frustrating to "hear" the fat hate. I think SP needs to do an article about fat discrimination and fat hate, post that up on FB rather than this article that basically states "you are the problem" because all this is doing is leading to more fat hate. This is from 2012, the research done in the past year has been incredible around weight and I'd rather read that, then this recycled blog. Report