9 surprising reasons why you’re not losing weight and what to do about it

As a personal trainer, I am always answering this question: “Why am I not losing weight?” The people asking this question are usually ones who exercise, diet and are intentionally trying to be healthy. So what trips them up? There are a few obvious factors, like not exercising at all and eating crap. However, there are several surprising reasons why they–and you–are not losing weight.

9 surprising reasons why you’re not losing weight

You’re over-exercising

This is probably the most surprising reason why you’re not losing weight, because exercise is a necessary factor in weight loss. However, over-exercising puts your body in a state of excessive stress by increasing cortisol levels. Heightened cortisol levels can mess up your metabolism and cause weight gain.

Over-exercising comes in multiple forms: exercising too frequently or too intensely. If you’re exercising every day, you’re not allowing your body to adequately recover from your workouts. The exception to this would be if you are doing low intensity recovery workouts like restorative yoga, or light cardio like walking.

Furthermore, if you are doing several high intensity workouts each week, you could be at risk for developing Overtraining Syndrome. Symptoms included decreased athletic performance, physical exhaustion, injuries and even depression.

You are human and your body has limits. Elite athletes have rest periods, because without them they couldn’t perform at their highest level. So, if you want to get the most out of your workouts, you need to make recovery a part of your training regimen.

Wondering which types of exercise you should do, and how much? Read my blog post here.

Your exercise regimen lacks variety

Doing only one type of exercise will eventually lead to a plateau in your weight loss efforts. Your body adapts to the stress imposed upon it–so if you’re always doing the same things, then your progress will eventually come to a halt. This is called the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. So if you’re only doing one type of exercise or aren’t varying the speed, volume, or weight in your workouts, your effort will only go so far. The good news is that this is an easy problem to fix!

The solution is simple: change things up!

If you’re a cardio-only exerciser, add in a few strength sessions and a yoga class. Or, if you only ever do barre or Pilates, try adding in some HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to get your heart rate up. You get the idea. Variety is the key to fitness.

You’re exercising but not cleaning up your nutrition

I have worked with training clients who would kill it at the gym, but their results were limited by their poor nutrition habits. All my clients who have lost weight training with me are the ones who made changes to their diet.

While exercise does promote weight loss, food is a much bigger factor. Nutrition can make or break your fitness. I’d go as far to say that 90% of your health and fitness is a result of the food you eat, with only 10% resulting from exercise.

Which leads me to my next point…

You’re focused on dieting rather than nutrition

Crash diets don’t work. I repeat: crash diets don’t work. Why? Because short term effort does not yield long term results. Pretty straightforward. While cleaning up your nutrition for a short period of time is okay for special events, you will not experience long term weight loss from doing this.

This type of dieting often means eating an unrealistically low amount of calories. Or, it means eating weird foods like cabbage soup (Who the heck came up with that?). As a result, extreme calorie restriction wreaks havoc on your metabolism. Furthermore, it’s not sustainable, and you’ll end up stressed out and hungry. This is why so many people on diets struggle to lose weight and keep it off.

What does work? Long term nutrition plans. This means making informed decisions and changes regarding your diet. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a process of researching and experimenting with clean food. It takes work but it also yields results.

Read more about how to overhaul your nutrition and figure out what’s healthy here.

You’re eating foods that cause inflammation

Many foods that are staples in our American diet cause inflammation in the gut. Foods like grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods could be the source of your weight loss woes. This is not only a surprising reason why you’re not losing weight–it’s a MAJOR one that can have long term health implications.

Moreover, non-organic foods are laden with chemical preservatives, antibiotics and pesticides. These can also cause inflammation among a host of other problems. No one with common sense would take a swig out of bottle of weed killer. But that’s exactly what we consume when we eat non-organic products.

If this sounds alarming–it is! Many foods on the market, even those labeled as “healthy” and “natural” are in fact the opposite. I recommend doing your research and seeing what science has to say. Dr. Gundry and Dr. Mercola are trustworthy sources.

I share more of my experience reducing inflammation in my post about My Experience on the Plant Paradox Program.

You have a “weekend warrior” mentality

A “weekend warrior” describes someone with a job that requires a lot of sitting and tries to reverse the damage via physical activity in their spare time (usually on the weekends). Sound familiar?

The reality is that many jobs require prolonged period of sitting. A recent study indicates that 1 in 4 Americans sit for more than 8 hours per day, and under 3 percent sit for less than 4 hours per day. Prolonged sitting can lead to weight gain, poor circulation and increase risks of cancer and heart disease.

While exercise can help reduce the detrimental effects of sitting, it cannot undo everything. Think about it—if you spend 8 or more hours per day sitting and 1 hour per day exercising, how can you expect that to even things out?

This is a struggle for me, too, even as a personal trainer. Blogging requires me to spend a few hours per day sitting on my computer, and when I’m done working I love to veg out in front of the TV.

So how can we reverse the damage of sitting and lose weight? The key is finding ways to move throughout the day, hence making physical activity a part of your life outside the gym.

Ways to stay active throughout the day

  • Get up every hour and move around for a few minutes to increase blood flow
  • Stretch every hour to give your postural muscles a break
  • Wear a fitness tracker that tracks your stand hours and calorie expenditure
  • Look for ways to be active throughout the day: take the stairs or park farther away; do some bodyweight exercises like squats, planks and push ups at your desk or go walking with co workers at lunch.
  • To avoid the post-workday couch routine, make a habit of going to the gym or do a workout at home, outside, etc. If you’ve already exercised, go for a light walk after dinner. If you have to watch your show, try exercising while you watch!

You aren’t getting enough sleep

We all know that sleep is important. But did you know that sleep can affect the hormones that control your appetite? Yep, sleep deprivation can make you more hungry and your cravings more intense for fatty and sugary foods.

Dr. Breus (known as “The Sleep Doctor”) recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Less than this puts you at risk for a myriad of health issues, including weight gain.

I used to think that sacrificing sleep for the sake of productivity was necessary. But, what I came to realize after struggling with mood swings, intense food cravings, and an inability to concentrate is that I was only sacrificing my health. Once I began sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night, I noticed improvements in all these areas. Now, I consistently sleep 8 hours each night and can’t imagine going back to my old patterns.

I understand that there are circumstances that require temporary sleep deprivation, like becoming a new parent, traveling, work schedules, etc. In these cases, do the best you can to make sleep a priority.

You are overly stressed

Prolonged stress influences the hormones the regulate appetite and fat storage, which can cause weight gain. I know, another reason to be stressed. But that’s where developing healthy coping mechanisms comes into play.

I struggle with anxiety and tend to stress out over minor issues. I’ve gone through counseling and come up with strategies over the years that help me combat this (I’d highly recommend this, as everyone experiences stress differently).

In addition, We have to learn to navigate through stressful situations without relying on food to comfort us. It’s so important that coping mechanisms are not related to eating, and that we have a nourishment mentality rather than emotionally-dependent relationship with food.

For my tips on how to combat stress and anxiety, read here.

You have a hormone imbalance, thyroid issue or other medical condition

This can only be determined for certain by a medical professional. If you’ve tried everything above and still struggle to lose weight, speak with your doctor about testing for medical conditions.

Now you know the surprising reasons why you’re not losing weight

These 9 surprising reasons why you’re not losing weight are meant to empower you with knowledge and practical steps to get healthy. It’s easy to become discouraged when it seems like everything you’ve tried has failed. But, if you have the knowledge and are committed to the process, you will ultimately see change. This will take time, accountability and dedication. It will also be worth it for your long term health!

For more inspiration on jump starting your healthy lifestyle, check out my blog post here and here.