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You’re doing all the things to lose weight, including working out regularly and keeping closer tabs on what you eat. And yet, week after week, the @%! scale still isn’t budging. So what’s going on — and is there anything you can do to start making progress?
Turns out there are tons of factors that can mess with your weight loss progress, even if on the surface it feels like you’re on exactly the right track.
Here’s a look at some of the surprising issues that might be standing in your way, plus how to get moving toward your goal.
You’re hitting the gym a few times per week, which is great. But not all exercise is created equal, and — sorry! — just working out rarely results in weight loss.
You’re not also managing your calories
Yes, working out burns some calories. But even if you do it on the regular, research shows that exercise alone doesn’t usually burn enough calories to lead to significant weight loss. Even if you’re, like, training for a marathon. After all, if you’re working out that much, chances are you’re probably eating quite a bit more too.
In order to make a really significant dent in your calorie deficit — one that’ll actually send the scale downward — you need to exercise regularly and eat less. For more on how much less, keep on scrolling.
You’re overcompensating by eating more
It’s normal for a hard workout to leave you ravenous, and you should feel empowered to eat when you’re truly hungry. The problem? It’s easy to get off track when you use an extra calorie burn from exercise as an excuse to double up on food.
You may think going back for seconds is justified, but remember food isn’t something you “earn.” If you’re eating for the sake of eating (instead of to fuel your body with the nutrients it actually needs when you’re actually hungry), you could be unintentionally erasing all that progress from trips to the gym. Oops.
Your workouts aren’t intense enough
Any amount of aerobic exercise — like walking, jogging, or bicycling — will get your heart rate up and burn some calories. But in order to burn enough calories to actually help you lose weight, you might need to move more than you think.
You’ll torch more calories through vigorous exercises like running or high intensity interval training (HIIT) than through moderate exercises like walking, and they’ll often take up less time.
As an added bonus? Shorter, more vigorous workouts seem to help suppress hunger, possibly by diverting more blood away from your stomach and toward your muscles.
You’re not doing resistance training
Lifting weights itself doesn’t burn a ton of calories. A 150-pound person will burn 214 calories from half an hour of strength training, compared to around 350 calories for the same amount of running.
But building up more muscle mass does. A pound of lean muscle tissue burns slightly more calories than fat tissue. And over time, that can help nudge the scale downward.
The eat less = weight loss thing is a pretty basic concept. But there are some caveats you need to know about.
You’re still eating too many calories overall (yup, protein included)
In order to lose one to two pounds per week, you need to eat between 500 to 1,000 calories less per day. For most people, that means making some fairly significant changes to the way that they eat at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
So, if you’ve just been skipping your afternoon cookie or the sugar in your morning coffee, that might not be enough to make a difference.
Another thing to remember: The calories from all foods, even healthy ones, count. Even if you’re following a low carb diet and loading up on protein, for instance, the scale won’t budge if you’re eating 3,000 calories worth of chicken breast.
No matter where the cals come from, any extra that your body doesn’t need will just get stored as fat.
You’re carb-loading to fuel your workout
Filling up on pasta to prep for tomorrow’s run? There’s probably no need to carb-load unless you’re training for a major endurance event. And if your workout is less than an hour, you probably don’t need to fuel up beforehand at all.
Remember: If you eat more calories than you burn while working out — even from carbs — the extra will get stored as fat and your weight loss will stall. If you feel like you do better with a snack before exercising, have one, just be sure to account for it within your overall calorie budget for the day.
Your little bites are adding up
A handful of crackers when you walk in the kitchen, a few fries from your friend’s plate, a chocolate candy from the secretary’s desk. Most of us tend to underestimate how many calories we take in each day, and little nibbles like these are a prime example of how it can happen.
If you feel like you’re watching what you eat at meal and snack time but your weight isn’t budging, try writing down everything you eat throughout the day. You’ll likely uncover some random mouthfuls that are sending you over your calorie goal count without even realizing it.
You’re ignoring your liquid calories
Just about all drinks other than water, plain seltzer, black coffee, or unsweetened tea, contain calories. And in some cases, the count can be significant.
A small latte made with whole milk or a generous glass of red wine — both around 150 cals — are the caloric equivalent of a small snack. Be sure to factor any calorie-containing drinks into your day just like food. Or just stick with ones that are calorie-free.
You’re not eating enough
It can sometimes be tempting to just eat as little as possible in order to jumpstart your weight loss and get results fast. But cutting your calories too low can actually slow your metabolism and encourage your body to burn fewer calories — making it even harder to lose weight.
How low is too low? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but in general, cutting back by more than 1,000 calories per day is more likely to thwart your weight loss than encourage it.
Your jeans seem to be fitting looser but the scale isn’t budging. What gives? It turns out that losing inches is still a sign that you’re making great progress toward getting leaner.
Muscle is much more dense than body fat. Therefore, a pound of muscle will take up much less room in your body than a pound of fat. Chances are you’ve traded some fat for lean muscle mass.
That’s a good thing for your health, and it’ll probably impact your appearance too. Even if your weight hasn’t changed, if you’ve lost inches, you’re probably feeling stronger, lighter, and more energetic. So keep up the good work.
Even if you’re exercising enough and eating right, there still might be other factors at play.
You’re not getting enough sleep
Not quite logging the recommended 7 to 9 hours of shut-eye most nights? Sleep deprivation is a proven weight wrecker.
Not snoozing enough might make it harder for the body to regulate its hunger signals, which could make you more susceptible to cravings for junky, high-calorie fare.
Plus when you’re zonked, it can be harder to muster the energy to exercise and plan or cook healthy meals.
You’re relying on foods that aren’t actually healthy
Calories count when it comes to weight loss — but so does food quality. Highly processed foods or drinks (like soda or juice) tend to be less filling than their whole counterparts.
That can leave you less satisfied — and more prone to scrounging for another snack in an hour or 2. You’re better off sticking with single-ingredient foods or ones that have been minimally processed.
Think apple instead of a glass of apple juice.
You’re on a fad diet
Diets have a track record of not working and even leading to weight gain — and there are plenty of good reasons why.
Most diets either leave people feeling deprived (you mean I can never have cake again??) or straight up hungry, which can lead to bingeing.
And even if they do help you lose weight? If they’re too complicated or don’t mesh with your lifestyle, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually go back to your old ways of eating.
Rather than dieting, try to just focus on making food choices that will make you feel healthier. Over time, those changes are more likely to add up to weight loss that lasts.
You have a medical condition
Certain health problems can encourage your body to hold onto weight with a tighter grip than most, including hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
If you have one of those conditions or you feel like you’ve tried everything and still aren’t losing weight the way you want to, talk with your doctor. They can help you figure out if an underlying condition is making it harder to lose weight — and help you come up with a plan to get closer to your goal.
You expect change overnight
Sure, we’ve all seen the before and after pictures where someone lost, like, 25 pounds in a month. But losing large amounts of weight fast isn’t the norm, and it isn’t necessarily great for your health.
It’s more typical to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Additionally, as you get closer to your target weight, the pounds may take longer to drop off.
That might seem frustrating, sure, but there’s good news: You won’t reap any additional health benefits by dropping a ton of weight quickly. And taking a slow approach means you’re more likely to adopt eating habits that’ll help you keep the pounds off in the long term.