6 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight and How to Start Making Progress

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If you're not losing weight after making diet and exercise changes, you may need to examine your sleep and stress levels.
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You're doing the whole balanced diet thing and trying to get some exercise most days of the week to try to lose some weight. But so far the scale isn't budging. What gives?


While any efforts to improve your health are worth applauding, "weight loss requires self-awareness," says Abraham Betancourt, MD, a bariatric surgeon at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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Yes, losing body fat and keeping it off usually involves cutting back on your portions. But there are other factors you also need to pay attention to that could end up influencing whether you're able to reach your goal.

Some of the most common culprits? Not choosing the most nutrient-dense foods, skimping on sleep and letting your stress levels snowball, experts say. Here's a closer look at why these things (and others) can thwart your weight-loss success, and what to do about them.

1. Your Calorie Count Isn't Individualized

Weight loss isn't ‌just‌ about calories, but they do matter. So if you're consistently taking in more calories than your body needs you may not reach your weight-loss goals. Ultimately, "you need to be eating fewer calories than you're [burning]," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, professor of nutrition at New York University and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, also known as a calorie deficit.


The ideal size of that deficit depends on your age, sex assigned at birth, height, current weight and your activity level. "It's very individual-based," Young says. But trimming around 500 calories a day is a good starting point for most people, according to the Mayo Clinic.

And it's also possible you're not eating enough: Getting fewer than 1,200 to 1,500 daily calories could actually stall weight loss as your metabolism slows and harm your health.


Fix It

While it can be helpful to have a general idea of how many calories you're taking in each day, you don't necessarily need to track every morsel that goes in your mouth.

"Personally, I'm not a big fan of calorie counting alone as a method of weight loss, as I've found that after a period of time people just stop," Dr. Betancourt says.

Instead, you can achieve lasting, sustainable weight loss by building and maintaining healthy habits, Dr. Betancourt says. A registered dietitian can help you get started. "They can determine your caloric needs and give you a foundation from which to start your journey."

With the right roadmap in place, you'll have an easier time sticking to your healthy path.

2. You're Choosing Less Nutritious Foods

Highly processed foods and drinks like fast food, white bread, packaged snacks, processed meats, fried food and soda might satisfy a craving in the moment.

But they actually might drive you to eat more: In a small July 2019 study in Cell Metabolism, people who could eat as much as they wanted on an assigned ultra-processed food diet ended up taking in around 500 more calories per day on average than people assigned to a unprocessed food diet.



Processed foods are engineered to make us want to eat more of them, and eating them teaches our bodies to crave them, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But when it comes to reaching a weight-loss goal, "food quality is just as important as the number of calories consumed," Young says.

Fix It

Aim to fill your plate with weight-loss friendly foods. These are whole, minimally processed foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, Young says.

Try to include a source of lean protein (like legumes, fish, Greek yogurt, eggs or poultry) and a source of fiber (like beans, lentils or brown rice) at each meal. They'll fill you up and keep you satisfied for longer, so you're less tempted by processed snacks.

3. You're Stressed

Unchecked tension leaves you feeling lousy, and that stress can affect your weight.


The stress hormone cortisol ramps up your appetite and can send you scrounging for comfort foods, which tend to be higher in sugar, refined carbs and unhealthy fats, says Steven Batash, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist at the Batash Endoscopic Weight Loss Center in New York City and Miami. In short, "stress makes us emotional eaters," Dr. Batash says.

Fix It

Managing your stress can make it easier to manage your appetite, especially when it comes to limiting your intake of processed or sugar foods.

In a small December 2018 study in the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry, adults who participated in an eight-week stress-management program involving deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and visualization lost more weight than adults who weren't in the program.

To start taming your tension, try one of these stress-busting workouts, take up a meditation practice or turn on your favorite music.

4. You're Gaining Muscle

If you're losing inches but not weight, the scale might not be budging because you've put on some muscle. "If you're exercising regularly and doing a mix of cardio and strength training, it's very likely that the ratio of muscle to fat, or body composition, is changing," Dr. Batash says. Even though your weight might read the same, you're likely leaner and stronger.


Fix It

If you're sticking with smart eating habits and exercising regularly, your health and fitness are improving regardless of what the scale might say. "The scale can't tell the difference between fat and muscle," Dr. Batash says.

Rather than focusing on pounds, try tracking your progress in other ways, like measuring your waist size. A smaller circumference is generally a sign you've lost fat, even if your weight reads the same, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

5. You're Not Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation leaves you tired and cranky. And if you're falling short night after night, it can start to affect your weight.

Getting fewer than seven hours of sleep a night was linked with a higher risk of obesity than getting seven to eight hours of shuteye in a May 2022 ‌Nutrition Reviews‌ analysis. Sleep deprivation can ramp up appetite-boosting hormones, driving you to crave high-calorie foods that can contribute to weight gain, Dr. Betancourt explains.



Fix It

Try get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night. (These tips for better sleep can help.)

If you can stick to a healthier sleep schedule, it'll make a difference: When adults with overweight increased their sleep from 6.5 hours to 8.5 hours per night, they ended up taking in around 270 fewer calories per day than people who didn't up their shuteye, according to a small February 2022 study in ‌JAMA Internal Medicine‌.

6. You Have an Underlying Medical Condition

If you're not losing weight with diet and exercise, you could have an underlying medical condition that makes it harder to shed pounds, like an underactive thyroid, Cushing syndrome or Prader-Willi syndrome.

Certain medications — like steroids, some antidepressants, antiseizure medications, diabetes meds, antipsychotics and beta blockers — can also make weight loss more challenging, as can conditions like arthritis that may make physical activity more difficult, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Fix It

Talk to your doctor about your experience. It's possible there's a better treatment plan for you that helps you reach your weight-loss goals.

In other cases, weight loss might require additional effort: You may need to exercise a little more or pay closer attention to your food intake, for instance. "In my experience, any patient with a medical condition is likely never 'stuck' at their current weight, but may require extra steps to achieve their weight-loss goals," Dr. Betancourt says.

When to Talk to Your Doctor

Lasting, sustainable weight loss tends to happen slowly. So if you're eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, managing your stress and getting enough sleep, you should start to make some headway.

If you're checking all the boxes and still not losing weight, let your doctor know, Dr. Batash says. They can help you figure out whether there's an underlying medical problem or another issue that's making it harder to lose weight — and help you come up with a plan to make progress toward your goal.




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