When you lose weight, your body fights back.
You may be able to lose quite a lot of weight at first, without much effort. However, weight loss may slow down or stop altogether after a while.
This article lists 20 common reasons why you're not losing weight.
It also contains actionable tips on how to break through the plateau and get things moving again.
If you think you are experiencing a weight loss plateau, you shouldn’t fret just yet.
It is incredibly common for the scale not to budge for a few days (or weeks) at a time. This does not mean that you are not losing fat.
Body weight tends to fluctuate by a few pounds. It depends on the foods you are eating, and hormones can also have a major effect on how much water your body retains (especially in women).
Also, it is possible to gain muscle at the same time as you lose fat. This is particularly common if you recently started exercising.
This is a good thing, as what you really want to lose is body fat, not just weight.
It is a good idea to use something other than the scale to gauge your progress. For example, measure your waist circumference and body fat percentage once per month.
Also, how well your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror can be very telling.
Unless your weight has been stuck at the same point for more than 1–2 weeks, you probably don't need to worry about anything.
Summary A weight loss plateau may be explained by muscle gain, undigested food and fluctuations in body water. If the scale doesn’t budge, you might still be losing fat.
Awareness is incredibly important if you are trying to lose weight. Many people don't have a clue how much they're really eating.
Studies show that keeping track of your diet helps with weight loss. People who use food diaries or photograph their meals consistently lose more weight than people who don’t (1, ).
Summary Keeping a food diary can be helpful when you are trying to lose weight.
Protein is the single most important nutrient for losing weight.
Eating protein at 25–30% of calories can boost metabolism by 80–100 calories per day and make you automatically eat several hundred fewer calories per day. It can also drastically reduce cravings and desire for snacking (, , , , ).
This is partly mediated by protein's effects on appetite-regulating hormones, such as ghrelin and others (, ).
If you eat breakfast, be sure to load up on protein. Studies show that those who eat a high-protein breakfast are less hungry and have fewer cravings throughout the day ().
A high protein intake also helps prevent metabolic slowdown, a common side effect of losing weight. Additionally, it helps prevent weight regain (, , ).
Summary Low protein intake may bring your weight loss efforts to a standstill. Make sure to eat plenty of protein-rich foods.
A large number of people who have trouble losing weight are simply eating too many calories.
You may think that this does not apply to you, but keep in mind that studies consistently show that people tend to underestimate their calorie intake by a significant amount (, , ).
If you are not losing weight, you should try weighing your foods and tracking your calories for a while.
Here are some helpful resources:
- Calorie calculator — Use this tool to figure out how many calories to eat.
- Calorie counters — This is a list of five free websites and apps that can help you keep track of your calorie and nutrient intake.
Tracking is also important if you're trying to reach a certain nutrient goal, such as getting 30% of your calories from protein. This can be impossible to achieve if you're not tracking things properly.
It is generally not necessary to count calories and weigh everything for the rest of your life. Instead, try out these techniques for a few days every few months to get a feel for how much you’re eating.
Summary If your weight loss seems to have come to a standstill, it’s possible you may be eating too much. People frequently overestimate their calorie intake.
Food quality is just as important as quantity.
Eating healthy foods can improve your wellbeing and help regulate your appetite. These foods tend to be much more filling than their processed counterparts.
Keep in mind that many processed foods labeled as "health foods" aren't really healthy. Stick to whole, single-ingredient foods as much as possible.
Summary Make sure to base your diet on whole foods. Eating too much processed food could ruin your weight loss success.
One of the most important things you can do when losing weight is to do some form of resistance training, such as lifting weights.
This can help you maintain muscle mass, which is often burned along with body fat if you are not exercising ().
Lifting weights can also help prevent metabolic slowdown and ensure that your body stays toned and muscular ().
Summary Strength training is an effective way to lose fat. It prevents the loss of muscle mass often associated with weight loss and helps maintain long-term fat loss.
Binge eating is a common side effect of dieting. It involves rapidly eating large amounts of food, often much more than your body needs.
This is a significant problem for many dieters. Some of them binge on junk food, while others binge on relatively healthy foods, including nuts, nut butters, dark chocolate, cheese, etc.
Even if something is healthy, its calories still count. Depending on the volume, a single binge can often ruin an entire week's worth of dieting.
Summary If you frequently binge on food, it may explain why your scale doesn’t seem to budge.
Cardiovascular exercise, also known as cardio or aerobic exercise, is any type of exercise which increases your heart rate. It includes activities such as jogging, cycling and swimming.
It is one of the most effective ways to improve your health. It is also very effective at burning belly fat, the harmful "visceral" fat that builds up around your organs and causes disease (, ).
Summary Make sure to do cardio regularly. It helps you burn fat, especially around your midsection. Lack of exercise could be one reason for a weight loss plateau.
Sugary beverages are the most fattening items in the food supply. Your brain doesn’t compensate for the calories in them by making you eat less of other foods (, ).
This isn't only true of sugary drinks like Coke and Pepsi — it also applies to "healthier" beverages like Vitaminwater, which are also loaded with sugar.
Even fruit juices are problematic, and should not be consumed in large amounts. A single glass can contain a similar amount of sugar as several pieces of whole fruit.
Summary Avoiding all sugary beverages is an excellent weight loss strategy. They often make up a significant portion of people’s calorie intake.
Good sleep is one of the most important factors for your physical and mental health, as well as your weight.
Studies show that poor sleep is one of the single biggest risk factors for obesity. Adults and children with poor sleep have a 55% and 89% greater risk of becoming obese, respectively ().
Summary Lack of quality sleep is a strong risk factor for obesity. It could also hinder your weight loss progress.
If you have a lot of weight to lose and/or metabolic problems like type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, you may want to consider a low-carb diet.
Low-carb diets can also lead to improvements in many metabolic markers, such as triglycerides, “good” HDL cholesterol and blood sugar, to name a few (, , , ).
Summary If you are unable to lose weight, consider trying a low-carb diet. Many studies show that a low-carb diet can be an effective weight loss strategy.
It is a myth that everyone should be eating many small meals each day in order to boost metabolism and lose weight.
Studies actually show that meal frequency has little or no effect on fat burning or weight loss (, ).
It is also ridiculously inconvenient to be preparing and eating food all day, as it makes healthy nutrition much more complicated.
On the other hand, one effective weight loss method called intermittent fasting involves deliberately going without food for extended periods of time (15–24 hours or more).
Summary Eating too often may result in excessive calorie intake, curbing your weight loss efforts.
Drinking water can benefit weight loss.
In one 12-week weight loss study, people who drank half a liter (17 ounces) of water 30 minutes before meals lost 44% more weight than those who did not ().
Drinking water has also been shown to boost the number of calories burned by 24–30% over a period of 1.5 hours (, ).
Summary To reduce your calorie intake, drink a glass of water before meals. Drinking water may also increase the number of calories you burn.
Also keep in mind that the alcohol itself has about 7 calories per gram, which is high.
That being said, studies on alcohol and weight show mixed results. Moderate drinking seems to be fine, while heavy drinking is linked to weight gain ().
Summary Alcoholic beverages are generally high in calories. If you choose to drink alcohol, spirits mixed with zero-calorie beverages are probably the best options when you are dieting.
A technique called mindful eating may be one of the world's most powerful weight loss tools.
It involves slowing down, eating without distraction, savoring and enjoying each bite, while listening to the natural signals that tell your brain when your body has had enough.
Numerous studies have shown that mindful eating can cause significant weight loss and reduce the frequency of binge eating (, , , ).
Here are some tips to eat more mindfully:
- Eat with zero distractions, sitting down at a table with just your food.
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. Try to be aware of the colors, smells, flavors and textures.
- When you being to feel full, drink some water and stop eating.
Summary Always eat mindfully when trying to lose weight. Mindless eating is one of the main reasons people struggle to lose weight.
There are some medical conditions that can drive weight gain and make it much harder to lose weight.
These include hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and sleep apnea.
Certain medications can also make weight loss harder, or even cause weight gain.
If you think any of these apply to you, speak to your doctor about your options.
Summary Medical conditions like hypothyroidism, sleep apnea and PCOS may be hindering your weight loss efforts.
According to a 2014 study, about 19.9% of people in North America and Europe satisfy the criteria for food addiction ().
People who have this problem use junk food in a similar way as drug addicts use drugs ().
If you are addicted to junk food, then simply eating less or changing your diet can seem downright impossible. Here’s how to get help.
Summary If you have strong food cravings or food addiction, weight loss can be very difficult. Consider seeking professional help.
It may not be a good idea to "diet" for too long.
If you've been losing weight for many months and you've hit a plateau, then perhaps you just need to take a break.
Up your calorie intake by a few hundred calories per day, sleep more and lift some weights with the goal of getting stronger and gaining a bit of muscle.
Aim to maintain your body fat levels for 1–2 months before you start trying to lose weight again.
Summary If you have reached a weight loss plateau, you may simply have been dieting for too long. Maybe it’s time to take a break.
Weight loss is generally a slow process. Many people lose patience before reaching their end goal.
Although it is often possible to lose weight fast in the beginning, very few people can continue to lose weight at a rate of more than 1–2 pounds per week.
The truth is, not everyone can look like a fitness model or bodybuilder. The photos you see in magazines and other places are often enhanced.
If you have already lost some weight and you feel good about yourself, but the scale doesn't seem to want to budge any further, then perhaps you should start working on accepting your body the way it is.
At some point, your weight is going to reach a healthy set point where your body feels comfortable. Trying to go beyond that may not be worth the effort, and may even be impossible for you.
Summary People’s expectations are sometimes unrealistic when it comes to weight loss. Keep in mind that losing weight takes time and not everyone can look like a fitness model.
Diets almost never work in the long term. If anything, studies actually show that people who diet gain more weight over time ().
Instead of approaching weight loss from a dieting mindset, make it your primary goal to become a happier, healthier and fitter person.
Focus on nourishing your body instead of depriving it, and let weight loss follow as a natural side effect.
Summary Dieting is not a long-term solution. If you wish to lose weight and keep it off in the long term, focus on adopting healthier lifestyle habits.
Weight loss is not always easy and numerous factors can bring it to a standstill.
At the most basic level, weight loss failure occurs when calorie intake is equal to or higher than calorie expenditure.
Try strategies ranging from mindful eating to keeping a food diary, from eating more protein to doing strength exercises.
In the end, changing your weight and your lifestyle require dedication, self-discipline, perseverance and resilience.