Sometimes when trying to lose weight, it may feel like your body is against you. Slowed or completely stalled weight loss despite your best efforts is a common complaint among those seeking to become more trim and healthy.
The tricky part is figuring out the root of the problem. Let’s dive into three of the most common reasons you’re not losing weight even though you’re exercising, and what to focus on besides the scale.
1. You’re Eating Too Much
Starting with the most obvious, it is likely that if you are exercising but not losing weight, you are overconsuming calories. Weight loss is achievable by creating a calorie deficit in two ways:
- Burning calories with exercise
- Taking in fewer calories through your diet
Physical activity, although incredibly beneficial for your health in numerous ways, is often not enough to ensure consistent weight loss. Unfortunately, the number of calories burned through activity typically pales in comparison to what is taken in through diet.
Here are a few examples based on a 150-pound individual:
- Two slices of toasted whole wheat bread with one tablespoon of butter (255 calories) = 40 minutes of jogging
- 13 ounce Chilled Coffee Drink from Starbucks (292 calories) = 1 hour 30 minutes of weight training
- Yogurt parfait with granola (201 calories) = 30 minutes on a rowing machine at a moderate pace
Sometimes people who exercise think their activity gives them a free pass to eat a little more. Or that they’ve earned a reward like ice cream or a brownie. It’s difficult to out-exercise calorie-dense foods like these. If you end up frustrated with a lack of weight loss, it might increase your chances of giving up entirely.
Instead, try thinking of your diet and exercise as two parts of a whole. You need both to achieve your weight loss goal. Indeed, cutting calories by a small amount is more effective than exercise. Putting both together is a tried and true power team that will provide much more significant results.
Keep in mind that you should never have to go hungry to achieve results. Choosing foods that are whole and fresh, adding sources of protein that increase feelings of fullness and keep hunger at bay, and reducing your intake of processed and sugary foods will help you avoid energy crashes and cravings.
2. You’re Not Eating Enough
The flip side of the coin when it comes to calorie consumption is that you may not be eating enough to support your training.
If you are exercising consistently at high volume and intensity, you need a lot of high-quality nutrition to aid in your recovery. Trying to limit calories while exercising at high levels can cause metabolic adaptations to occur that will make weight loss more difficult and weight re-gain more likely.
Too much calorie deprivation will:
- Affect your hormones that increase feelings of hunger while decreasing feelings of meal satisfaction, even after eating.
- Reduce your natural energy expenditure throughout the day, making weight loss more difficult (metabolic adaptation).
- Cause a fixation on food and increase cravings for high calorie, fatty and sugary foods.
- Result in lasting changes to your metabolism and hormones even years after you stop depriving yourself.
Going slowly with your weight loss and pairing healthy, nutritious, energy-boosting foods with your exercise regime is a much better plan of attack when trying to lose weight.
3. You’re gaining lean mass
If you’ve been working out consistently and including strength training in your regimen, chances are you’ve gained some hard-earned muscle mass. If the weight on the scale has remained the same or even gone up a little bit as you’ve been eating well and exercising, your body could be undergoing a process called recomposition.
It is essential to note that weight loss and fat loss are not the same. Losing body fat is the actual goal for most people trying to tip the scales in their favor. If you lose weight too quickly or only through cardio or diet, you’ll lose lean mass. Muscle is metabolically active, meaning it helps you burn more calories even at rest. Losing this muscle mass is not ideal.
If you are already relatively lean, losing half a pound per week is very reasonable, especially if you are strength training and gaining muscle mass. You can reduce your body fat and gain muscle effectively with strength training as well as give your metabolism a boost. If you’ve been a chronic dieter in the past, strength training could be your ticket to a better functioning metabolism.
Better Ways to Gauge Success Than the Scale
The scale can be deceiving, and weight loss is not often linear. Plateaus and stalls are normal and can even be a good sign if you are gaining muscle. There are better ways of gauging your success, especially if you recognize the many benefits of exercise beyond the number on the scale.
Focus on habits
- Stick to a consistent workout routine that includes strength training. Instead of choosing a weight that you will see on the scale, select a weight that you hope to lift. Work towards your goal progressively.
- Choose wholesome, quality foods instead of focusing on quantity. If you are eating filling, high fiber, and protein-rich foods, including plenty of fruits and veggies, you won’t feel hungry. Rather than fixating on how little you should eat, focus on the quality of food you are putting into your body.
- Do not focus on outcomes like a certain amount of weight loss by a specific date. Outcomes are not able to be controlled, but behaviors and habits can be. Taking responsibility for your choices and repeating them with consistency will result in the outcomes you want.
Focus on how you feel physically
- A healthy weight loss journey should have you feeling energized. If you are lethargic and experience frequent mood swings or sleep disruptions, there’s something wrong. Get enough sleep, fuel yourself with nutritious foods, and practice recovery and de-stressing activities. More energy is one of the best perks of regular, healthy exercise.
- Your clothes feel looser and fit better. Paying attention to how your clothes fit you is a better indicator of your fat loss success than the scale. Since you could be gaining lean mass or just losing fat very slowly, your clothes will tell you the real story.
- You feel strong and have better stamina. Being able to efficiently complete daily tasks, carry groceries and chase after your kids is a fantastic indicator that your hard work is paying off.
Focus on how you feel mentally
- How are your moods? If you are feeling happier, more peaceful, and less stressed, you’re on the right track. If your weight loss plan is causing you to feel anxious, stressed and moody, there’s something wrong. Step back and evaluate if you are getting enough rest and eating quality foods in the right amounts.
- A more confident you. Sticking to your healthier habits should bring you feelings of achievement and confidence. You’ll feel better about your choices and your ability to make them.
Remember that slow weight loss is more likely to be permanent weight loss. Give your body time to adjust and treat yourself like a person you care about. Focus on the positive changes you’ve made, and don’t forget to celebrate your success.