Here are six things that are potentially keeping you from losing weight, plus ways to address them and give you a starting point for new progress.
1. Your Mindset Is All or Nothing
Committing to healthy eating and exercise is key for reaching your weight-loss goals. But standards that are too high can be tough to stick with, and might end up backfiring.
"The feeling like you have to eat 100 percent perfectly and eliminate less healthy foods you love like chocolate or pizza only makes you want to eat them more," explains Keri Gans, RDN, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet. And there's a good chance you'll end up caving to temptation by binging, followed by feeling regrets and possibly abandoning your goal altogether.
A more moderate approach is easier to stick to in the long run.
"If you make room for your favorite foods in your eating plan, like a slice of pizza every other Friday, the feeling of deprivation won't overpower you to the point of giving up altogether," Gans says.
Same goes for exercise: Instead of forcing yourself to exercise every single day no matter what, plan one or two rest days each week to give yourself a break.
2. Your Genes Might Be Working Against You
Depending on your physiology, you might gain and hold on to weight more easily than others. While some body types are naturally more muscular and tend to have speedier metabolisms, others tend to carry more fat and burn calories at a slower rate, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
"Everyone has different metabolic rates, genetics and even different personalities, which can all impact weight-loss efforts," says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat for Dummies. That's not to say you're doomed to stay at your current weight forever. But if it seems like your body tends to be stubborn about hanging onto fat, you might need to work a little harder to burn it off.
Try cutting your calories just a little bit lower, keeping a closer eye on your refined carb intake and incorporating high-intensity interval workouts to boost your calorie burning, per the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
3. You’re a Little Too Consistent
Doing the same exact workout and eating the same exact foods day in and day out? While routines and habits can make it easier to stick to your plans, too much of the same can make it harder to lose weight.
When you repeat an exercise over and over, it eventually gets easier, per the ACE, meaning you'll burn fewer calories. But mixing up your workouts — say, doing interval sprints one day and taking a long, slower jog the next — keeps your body challenged so your calorie burn doesn't drop off.
As for repeating your menu over and over? Having the same salad for lunch every day won't affect your metabolism, but the lack of variety can get pretty boring. "And being bored can lead to rebellion," Gans says. "Mix up your meals to include a variety of foods so you don't get stuck in a rut." If you have a chicken salad for lunch one day, try a hummus and veggie sandwich the next.
4. You're Working Out Too Much
Being active on the regular is great. But pushing yourself to exercise for hours on end every single day probably won't speed your fat burning and might actually backfire. The bulk of your weight-loss progress comes from eating less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But often, we feel like working out means we can eat more. In one study, researchers divided up participants into groups — some maintained their everyday habits, while others upped their exercise by various levels of intensity. Participants who exercised more also often increased their calorie intake, and so did not lose weight overall, per the September 2019 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Overexercising, too, stresses your body and puts you at higher risk for developing an overuse injury, per the ACE. And if that happens, you could end up totally sidelined from exercise for days, weeks or even longer.
What's the sweet spot, then? Aim for at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of intense exercise, per according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
5. You're Not Eating Enough
There's no way around it: You need to cut your calories in order to lose weight. But eating too little can actually get in the way of your progress. When you take in too few calories, your body's metabolism will slow down in response to conserve energy, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Extreme calorie restriction also leads to loss of muscle, which is the tissue that's most metabolically active," Palinski-Wade says.
Instead of crash dieting, aim to curb your food intake by 300 to 500 calories a day. "That will promote a loss of .5 to 1 pound per week," Palinski-Wade says. To keep your metabolism humming at a steady rate, you should always consume at least 1,200 calories per day.
6. Your Stress Is Out of Control
Stress isn't just emotionally taxing — it can also confound your weight-loss efforts. People with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol are more likely to be overweight and have higher levels of abdominal fat, per February 2017 findings published in the journal Obesity.
And there are plenty of reasons why. Unchecked stress can trigger you to snack more, Gans says, especially on comforting fare that tends to be high in sugar or refined carbs. And it can even slow down your metabolism, causing you to burn fewer calories, according to an April 2015 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
If you're racked with tension on the regular, find ways to work some relaxation into your day. "Try a daily meditation practice, even for just five minutes. Daily physical activity like yoga, walking, cycling or jumping rope can be stress outlets too," Gans says.
- American Council on Exercise: "How to Eat and Train for an Endomorph Body Type"
- American Journal of Physiology: "Effects of experimental weight perturbation on skeletal muscle work efficiency, fuel utilization, and biochemistry in human subjects"
- ACE: "When is it Time to Change Your Workout?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effect of different doses of supervised exercise on food intake, metabolism, and non-exercise physical activity: The E-MECHANIC randomized controlled trial"
- ACE: "Weight Loss Plateaus and Pitfalls"
- Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "4 Ways Low-Calorie Diets Can Sabotage Your Health"
- Obesity: "Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population‐based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years"
- Biological Psychiatry: "Daily Stressors, Past Depression, and Metabolic Responses to High-Fat Meals: A Novel Path to Obesity"