Sometimes losing weight seems impossible. You’re doing everything right and still, the scale won’t budge. You keep asking yourself, “Why can’t I lose weight???” Arggh! The frustration is enough to make you want to eat an entire bag of fun-size Snickers bars. (Don’t ask me how I know…)
If this sounds like you, don’t despair. Even if it seems like you’re doing everything right, there still may be some fixable reasons your weight loss has stalled.
1. Portion Distortion
It would be AMAZING if we could just focus on eating healthy foods and have the weight drop off. But it’s more complicated than that even if you are making good food choices.
Let’s talk about portion sizes…because research shows that the rapid increase in serving sizes directly contributes to our obesity epidemic.
Portion sizes began to grow in the 1970s, kept increasing in the 1980s, and have continued to track right alongside the ever-increasing body weight for the average person.
As a matter of fact, restaurant meal sizes have about tripled in the last 20 years. And it’s not just restaurants that are to blame.
It seems like every time you turn around, you’re encouraged to eat more than you need. And way more than you used to.
For instance, the average bagel used to be only 3 inches in diameter. Now the average bagel clocks in at around 6 inches. That’s a huge difference in calories.
Super-sized portions have changed the way we look at food. A medium bag of popcorn at the movies used to be about 5 cups. Now a medium serving size is around 11 cups. So even if you haven’t changed the size you order, you’re eating way more.
I have a friend who loves those little color-coded serving size containers. She swears using them has not only helped her learn portion control, but it cuts down on the time it takes to pack her lunch each morning. Win-win!
If You Can’t Lose Weight Try Tracking Your Food
I’m not a big believer in counting calories, except when you aren’t sure what a healthy portion looks like anymore.
One of the best things you can do if you are having trouble recognizing a healthy, reasonable portion size is to try tracking your food for at least a week.
Measure and record everything you put in your mouth: the amount, the ingredients, etc.
Try using a free app like My Fitness Pal to give you a breakdown of your daily calories, fat intake, sugar intake, etc. Do this for at least a week and then take a look at your numbers.
I like to divide my plate into fractions:
- 1/4 lean protein
- 1/4 or less complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice
- All the rest should greens, and non starchy vegetables
Seeing everything broken down can really be eye-opening. You may be consuming way more than you thought you were.
2. Too Much Restaurant Food
If you eat a lot of your meals out, you have another tricky dieting problem.
It’s very hard to know just what is going into your restaurant meal, what kinds of oils are used for cooking, and how much butter goes into your meal.
Even if you do order a healthy meal, restaurant portion sizes are almost always way more than you need. Make up your mind that you will take half of your meal home to eat the next day. And then do it.
If you really want to lose weight, you should be making the majority of your meals at home in your own kitchen.
3. Sneaky Snacking
Even if you are limiting your snacking to healthy foods, it is possible to overdo it!
There are lots of healthy foods that when eaten to excess, can really throw off your weight loss progress.
Nuts for instance. Nuts can be a healthy addition to any good diet. They’re a source of protein, healthy fat and fiber. But, they are also high in calories and even a handful can really add a ton of calories to your daily intake.
A serving of almonds is about a handful, or a 1/4 of a cup. That serving size has about 162 calories, 14 grams of heart-healthy unsaturated fat, and 6 grams of protein.
So when you’re snacking, always measure out a serving. It’s just too easy to mindlessly eat out of a bag. Trust me, I’m guilty of this too.
If you’re trying to lose weight and love fruit, make sure you’re choosing berries or green apples. Both of these are lower in sugar than other fruits and are good choices if you’re trying to keep up your weight loss progress.
4. You Need To Eat More Protein
Research has shown that one of the best ways to kick up your weight loss is to make your first meal of the day protein rich.
In one study, people ate either an egg breakfast or a bagel breakfast with the same amount of calories.
After two months, those who ate the egg breakfast had way better results than the bagel eaters: 65% more weight loss, 34% reduction in waist measurements and a 61% reduction in BMI.
So try trading your usual oatmeal with an egg or some greek yogurt.
5. Is Stress Making You Fat?
Can stress in your life make it really hard for you to lose weight? Yep.
Stress is something that we all have to live with – it’s wired into our systems as humans. It’s the old “fight or flight” response that helped us survive since the dawn of time.
When your body senses an emergency or dangerous situation, your levels of cortisol and adrenaline skyrocket. And once that situation has passed, those hormone levels return to normal.
But….it’s chronic stress that’s causing the ruckus with our weight loss. With chronic stress, those hormone levels get jacked up and then stay elevated. And that’s when the problems start.
Chronic stress can be caused by our crazy busy lives (always on the go, trying to get every last thing done), stressful jobs, relationship problems, money problems, you name it.
Multiple studies have shown a link between stress and stubborn weight loss. Chronically elevated cortisol has even been shown to cause weight gain!
So what can you do when you can’t just take off to a tropical island for a relaxing vacation?
The answer is simple but boring: to reduce stress try exercising, meditating or any other self-care that helps you regroup, center and calm down.
6. You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
I can’t stress enough the importance of getting enough, good-quality sleep when you’re trying to lose weight.
Multiple research studies have linked sleep loss to obesity. Sleep loss has also been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, mood problems and decreased productivity.
One recent study showed that sleep deprivation led to the participants eating an extra 385 calories a day, compared to those who got more rest.
If you’re tired, you may decide to skip exercise, which we all know is a slippery slope when it comes to weight loss.
Besides, when you’re tired, you’re more likely to look to food for comfort and more likely to make bad food choices like choosing a salty or sweet snack over fruit.
So seriously, get enough sleep. Here are some tips, if you just can’t sleep.
7. If You Can’t Lose Weight Change Up Your Exercise
If you haven’t added exercise to your weight loss routine, now is the time. And if you are already active, it’s time to mix things up a bit.
If You’re Already Active
If you’re already working out, try these to bump up your weight loss progress:
- Add some HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) to your week. Tabata workouts are designed to burn more calories in a short amount of time.
- Add some more time to your workouts: either an extra workout session each week, or 10-15 minutes more each time.
If You’re A Couch Potato
Any activity you add to your day is going to help you lose weight.
- Try adding a couple of short walks to your day. Ten minutes in the morning, at lunch and after dinner can make a big impact.
- Get a pedometer. It can be fun seeing your steps add up and it’s a great way to challenge yourself to get your steps in each day. Don’t want to wear something on your wrist all day? Try a pedometer that you can just slip in your pocket.
If You’re Getting Older (Who Isn’t???)
Your metabolism slows down every decade.
As soon as you hit your 30’s your body naturally starts to lose muscle mass. That lower muscle mass is what leads to a slower metabolism. This means that even if you change nothing, you probably will gain weight over time.
To counteract this lovely side effect of getting older, make sure you’re doing weight-bearing exercises to keep your muscle mass, and your metabolism up.
8. If I Can’t Lose Weight, Is It My Medication?
I want to make one thing clear: DO NOT EVER STOP taking medication without consulting your doctor.
That said, there are some medications that can contribute to weight gain.
Some drugs can slow your metabolism. Others can make you feel hungrier, or cause fluid retention.
The effects aren’t the same for everyone, but it’s worth having a discussion with your doctor to see if there are any replacements if you just can’t lose weight and are taking any of these medications for:
- Depression (SSRIs)
- Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia
- Birth Control
- Seizures and Migranes
- Beta Blockers
- Allergy Medicine (Claritin, Allegra, Benadryl, Zyrtec)
Once again: Do not ever stop taking medication without consulting your doctor.
9. Health Issues
If you haven’t had a physical in a while, it may be time to check in with your doctor. Certain disorders and health issues can make it super hard to lose weight.
- Hypothyroidism: When your thyroid gland isn’t making enough hormone, it can lead to a sluggish metabolism that can work against your weight loss efforts.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS can cause insulin resistance which can cause weight gain and fat storage around your belly.
- Lipedema: This condition causes a woman to accumulate excess fat, usually below the waist. This condition affects an estimated 11% of all women. This number is just astounding to me since I had never heard of lipedema until I started writing this article.
What To Do If You Just Can’t Lose Weight
If you’ve looked at all 9 of these ideas above and you still can’t figure out why your weight loss has stopped, maybe you just need to step back for a moment.
The whole weight loss thing can really turn into a vicious stressful cycle: you want to lose weight, you watch what you eat, you fall off the wagon, you feel like a failure which makes you want to eat more, and on and on and on.
Unfortunately, our society values being rail thin and we are bombarded with unrealistic images every day. And if your doctor has told you to lose weight for health reasons, that’s definitely something you should take seriously.
But for the rest of us, trying to make our individual bodies fit into some unrealistic and unhealthy “ideal” can cause more harm than it’s worth.
Shift Your Mindset
There’s research that shows that being happy with your weight, regardless of your size, can lead to better overall health and healthier behaviors.
Here are some things to think about while you learn to love and accept yourself just as you are:
- You are not your weight. You are so much more than just a number on a scale or a dress size.
- Comparison is the thief of joy. So don’t compare yourself to others. One thing I love about my pilates class is that when I’m on the reformer, I can’t see anyone else. I can focus on doing my best and not comparing myself to thinner, fitter, more flexible women.
- Think about becoming fitter, rather than just losing weight. Studies have shown that it’s more important to be fit than it is to be thin.
- Pat yourself on the back for any progress. Even a loss of two pounds a month can really add up.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Stay positive, and focus on being healthier and you will get there.