5 Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight

Are you like most people who struggle with their weight and find yourself either gaining weight despite your best efforts or failing to lose weight?

This has got to be THE most common problem people collectively complain about. You’ve probably spent hours or days saying “why can’t I lose weight?” The answer is because so many people make many mistakes during the weight loss process. So here are the top five reasons why you can’t lose weight, continue reading to learn what you’re doing wrong—and figure out what you need to do right.

1. You focus on the number you see on the scale

Many people aim to lose weight and hit a certain number, so they spend a lot of time weighing themselves. But how much you weigh actually doesn’t tell you much about your weight. I recommend that you instead focus on your waist circumference, because that number is directly associated with the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

It’s also important to recognize that your percentage of body fat versus lean tissue relates to your level of physical fitness, no matter what your weight is. If you are obese or overweight, measure your percentage of body fat relative to your percentage of lean tissue (muscle, bone, and water). If your level of body fat is above 25%, you have a problem.

MORE: How to lose weight, the healthy way

2. You count calories

Calories are a measure of heat energy liberated from a certain food eaten in a given amount. For example, a serving of rice pudding, on average, contains 150 calories. This is determined by the total amount of sugar, fat, and protein in the serving by weight in grams and multiplied by the number of calories per gram. Sugar and protein contain four calories per gram and fat has nine calories per gram. Although you know how many calories are in a food, this tells you very little regarding how these calories will react in your body. If you are obese or overweight, certain calories will cause you to store more energy as body fat. So if you eat 150 calories of rice pudding or 150 calories of brown rice, the effects on fat storage will be quite significant and different; the rice pudding will cause a much more accelerated rise in blood sugar, which triggers fat storage. This is a common reason why people cannot lose weight—they focus on counting calories, instead of realizing that not all calories are created equal.

3. You’re eating three meals a day

When you ask yourself every day “why can’t I lose weight,” here’s some advice: stop eating three meals a day. Consuming five to six smaller, complete meals per day will allow you to feel satisfied throughout the day, because your blood sugar will remain more constant. This type of eating pattern will also not cause large insulin spikes after your meal; large increases in insulin following a meal triggers fat storage and can cause you to gain body fat.

4. You’re starving yourself

This is a common mistake I see many people make when they want to lose weight. Going on a calorie-reduced diet does have its place if it is done correctly. However, starving yourself can cause cravings, low energy, insomnia, depression, and rebound weight gain. Although you will lose weight while you starve yourself, this loss may also include a significant amount of lean tissue which will be utilized for energy, even at the expense of stored body fat! If your food intake is too low, your body will make appropriate adjustments by decreasing fat burning and encouraging fat storage. It will also cause hormones to be secreted which send signals to your brain to eat more food! That’s why starvation is not the answer.

5. You’re not exercising

Many people who are trying to lose weight just focus on their diet, but exercise plays a big role in weight loss success. If you want to lose weight, the most effective way to do that, in my opinion, is a combination of dietary modification and regular, vigorous exercise. The exercise should incorporate cardiopulmonary activity and weight-bearing routines. If performed on a regular basis, your body fat percentage can be selectively reduced while maintaining or improving your percentage of lean tissue. This situation is the best case scenario for weight management and control!

Ruiz, A.J., et al., “[IDEA Study (International Day for the Evaluation of Abdominal Obesity): Primary care study of the prevalence of abdominal obesity and associated risk factors in Colombia],” Biomedica. December 2012; 32(4): 610-6.
Manini, T.M., et al., “Effect of Dietary Restriction and Exercise on Lower Extremity Tissue Compartments in Obese, Older Women: A Pilot Study,” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. May 16, 2013, [Epub ahead of print].