Why Am I Not Losing Weight? A List of Common Weight Loss Obstacles
By: Julie Mancuso, JM Nutrition, B.A., R.H.N.
In this post:
Reasons why you’re not losing weight: a look at weight loss obstacles
Avoiding weight gain: a part-time job
For some people losing weight comes easy. These people eat what they want, whenever they want and in whatever quantities they want—and still, they don’t gain any weight. Well, these people should count themselves lucky because the rest of us face a number of weight loss obstacles. Essentially, avoiding weight gain becomes a part-time job.
In addition to battling weight gain, many people have a difficult time dropping a few pounds when it appears that they are doing what they should be doing to lose weight: exercising, eating healthy foods and avoiding junk food. This inability of losing weight can be frustrating, leaving people discouraged and devoid of hope.
Weight loss factors
Losing weight, however, can be a complicated matter, especially for some people. Other weight loss factors have to be taken into serious consideration when trying to reach a weight loss goal. Just like in other aspects of life, to some, certain things come easily, whereas others need to sweat a little more to achieve the same results.
But if we take a closer look at weight loss, we can identify some common weight loss obstacles that can get in the way.
Why Am I Not Losing Weight? A List of Common Weight Loss Obstacles
Weight loss obstacle 1: Thinking that exercise is the saving grace, giving you a free ticket to eating what you want.
Without a doubt, exercise is crucial for our overall health and well-being. And although it surely plays an important role in the effort to maintain or lose weight, exercise alone is not enough. Of course, exceptions to this rule exist, but generally speaking, most people cannot simply rely on exercise and maintain the desired weight as they get older.
Despite the fact that exercise, particularly cardiovascular and strength training workouts, is a catalyst for weight loss, proper, well-balanced, sustained nutrition is vastly more important and will see you through in the long-term.
Nutrition outweighs exercise
Why is that?
For one, you cannot exercise and sweat all the harm out of unhealthy foods. Although you may not notice it right away, prolonged unhealthy eating, even with regular exercise, will likely negatively affect your body, whether inside or out.
From weight gain to digestive problems to affected sleep and mood, sustained unhealthy eating can cause all sorts of ailments.
Two, people tend to underestimate the amount of food they consume, particularly the calories contained in food. At the same time, they grossly overestimate the calories burned by exercise.
Regular exercise, however, has many benefits, too, so don’t overlook it if you want to feel and look better.
Just remember, nutrition first, exercise second.
Weight loss obstacle 2: Incorrect portion sizes
Another important weight loss obstacle has to do with incorrect portion sizes.
From my years of experience as a nutritionist, it is quite clear that most people consume food in portions larger than they should.
Here’s the kicker: this applies even to those who eat reasonably healthy.
When you eat more than you should, you effectively put in extra calories at every meal. Doing so can surely contribute to weight gain, even if you’re eating healthy food.
This is a matter of simple arithmetic. Much like exercise, eating healthy does not give you free rein to consume excessive amount of food, at least when you’re interested in losing weight. Calories are calories. Besides, just because a food is healthy, it doesn’t mean it’s low in calories.
It’s very important to understand adequate portion sizes of various foods. It’s something on which I focus a great deal with my clients.
As a result, the meal plans I co-create with them revolve around their food preferences and portion sizes. It is that important. In fact, it’s a key component that hinders weight loss for many people.
Correct portion sizes tips:
- Eat a smaller portion than usual. Wait approximately 20 minutes to see if you feel satisfied. You will often find that you feel satiated after a short wait, not needing any more food. This effectively leads to eating less, and thus, significantly reducing your caloric intake.
- Using a smaller plate on which to place food can also work. You’re simply tricking yourself to think that you still ate a full plate of food, even though the portion was smaller.
Weight loss obstacle 3: Regularly eating foods with lurking unhealthy ingredients
As you are no doubt aware, many of today’s foods undergo processing. They are loaded with sugars and salts, and contain all types of unhealthy ingredients sneaked in to enhance flavour, add colour or improve taste.
For example, many condiments, dressings and sauces contain considerable amount of sugar. A tablespoon of ketchup contains 4 grams of sugar. And many of us drizzle our French fries with a good deal more than one tablespoon.
The sugar content of most barbecue sauces is far greater than that of ketchup.
A little sugar here and some there accumulates quickly.
It is, therefore, important to learn about ingredients and take the time to analyze food labels before purchasing a product at the grocery store.
Many of these additives are slipped in and concealed, so read carefully. Otherwise you risk eating ingredients that can contribute to unsuspecting weight gain or prevent you from losing weight.
Weight loss obstacle 4: Cumulative effect of small doses of unhealthy ingredients and foods
As described above, small amounts of unhealthy additives can lay buried in all sorts of foods and consumed unknowingly by most people.
The small doses of these ingredients pile up over time. They can negatively affect health in the long-term—making it difficult to lose weight, even for those who have otherwise healthy habits.
For most people, identifying this as the root cause that prevents weight loss is difficult. Because these ingredients are found in so many of today’s foods and because their quantities are hard to gauge, they are often overlooked or go unnoticed.
So what’s the solution?
Once again, read labels diligently and avoid purchasing products that can potentially sabotage these goals. Nowadays, you can do this by watching YouTube tutorials. Just make sure you’re getting advice from credible and trusted sources. Seeing a nutritionist or dietitian is also an option. We can certainly help you avoid many of these weight loss obstacles.
Weight loss obstacle 5: Falsely believing health claims
Advertising brings in billions of dollars for one simple reason: it works.
Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to food ads where it doesn’t take much for people to be influenced. After all, we all like food that tastes good, and if it’s healthy, even better.
For this reason food manufacturers place all sorts of health claims on the packaging of their products. Foods profess such things as:
- low in fat
- added Vitamin D
- high in calcium
- get your daily intake of Vitamin C
- contains natural ingredients
- reduced sugar and many more
This is all fine and dandy, but there’s a catch.
Buyer beware: don’t get fixated
The problem centres around the fact that people get so fixated on the purported health benefit that they omit to take a look at the rest of the ingredients lurking beneath the surface.
The companies peddling these claims count on the buyer getting swayed by them, allowing them to sneak in the less desirable and frequently unhealthy additives.
Let the buyer be ware: the product you’re buying may be high in Vitamin C, leading you to believe you’re buying a healthy product. However, it can also be high in sugar, sodium, carbohydrates, trans fats—all of which can prevent you from losing weight.
It’s best to analyze the nutrition label in its entirety before making the decision to buy.
Related article from WebMD: Diet Mistakes: 6 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight
Weight loss obstacle 6: Too many carbs and not enough protein
Because I am a nutritionist and my job is to analyze all aspects of food and its consumption, I often look at what people eat and how much they eat. I do this at the grocery store, restaurants and when analyzing clients’ food logs.
In doing so, one of the first things I notice is that people many people are unable to lose weight because the ratio of carbohydrates to protein is simply too high.
A number of recent studies suggest that reducing your carb intake and increasing protein can and does lead to a reduced appetite.
How many carbs should I consume?
Easy question, difficult answer.
It all depends on your gender, age, metabolism, physical activity level and a few other factors.
But if I were to offer a general guideline, it would be this: 20-60 grams of carbs per day, if you are looking to lose weight.
Again, this is subject to change and depends on a person’s individual situation and how many grams of carbs he or she is presently eating. If your goal is to lose weight a little faster, this number must be lowered to 20 to 30 grams per day. Fruits and vegetables are not included.
While reducing carbohydrates, it is equally important to increase daily protein intake at the same time. Eating more protein can stave off hunger for longer and speed up your metabolism in the long-term. This alone will lead to the ingestion of fewer carbohydrates and calories, leading to weight maintenance, or even weight loss.
Supplementing your meals with good fats is equally important.
Read more about reducing carbs.
How much protein should I eat?
Once again, the answer is multi-layered.
That said, I highly recommend having a source of protein at every main meal. Each meal could range from 15-40 grams depending on gender, activity level and other factors.
Rule of thumb
Furthermore, as a general rule of thumb, half of your dinner plate should consist of vegetables and salads, while protein and carbs should make up the other half.
Unfortunately, the reality often is that carbs and protein make up as much as 80% of some people’s dinner plates. This is an astronomically high number that can certainly pose an obstacle to weight loss.
Weight loss obstacle 7: Medical conditions
Despite the fact that you may be doing everything you possibly can to lose weight, sometimes there are other reasons why you can’t.
One of these could be an underlying medical condition, perhaps one that you don’t know about. Certain medical conditions can sabotage your resolve and prevent you from achieving your goals. This is quite discouraging, naturally.
Because people don’t often associate medical conditions with weight gain, they are one of the most difficult weight loss obstacles to overcome.
If this sounds like what you’re going through, it would be wise to seek the help of various medical practitioners to investigate the situation from all angles. Only then an effective plan, one that is tailor-made to your specific condition, can be made to help you lose weight.
What are some medical conditions that can prevent weight loss?
- Hypothyroidism: an under-active thyroid usually means a slower metabolism; put these two together and the result is difficulty in losing weight.
- Depression: even a mild form of depression can lead to loss of motivation to exercise and an increased desire to binge on feel-good foods such as refined carbs and sugars, as a way of coping. In addition, many antidepressant medications are known to cause weight gain.
- An unhealthy, slow digestive system: can cause irregular or infrequent bowel movements, leading to weight gain. For this reason alone, consider eating foods that help digestion and avoiding those that are hard to digest as the first course of action.
Other medical conditions that cause weight gain exist. A Healthline article delves into the subject in greater detail. Read more
Weight loss obstacle 8: Missing nutrients
Nutrient deficiency can manifest itself in a number of ways.
The lack of iron, magnesium, Vitamins C and D can suck the energy right out of you, by negatively impacting sleep, mood and the ability to fight off infections.
It’s difficult to have the energy and desire to exercise if you’re not well-rested. Similarly, it is near-impossible to have the desire to hit the gym when your mood is down. And it certainly is a challenge to want to exercise or cook a healthy meal while sick.
It is, therefore, important for your body to regularly take in all the essential nutrients to help avoid these side effects. With a strong, healthy and well-supported body you’re more likely to develop greater resistance.
This is precisely why I always encourage people, especially dieters, to ensure they are getting essential nutrients when attempting to lose weight.
There is little point in losing weight if you’re depriving your body of vital nutrients. Doing so can rear its ugly head down the road, resulting in a variety of other ailments.
Apropos, this is one of the reasons why fad diets don’t work in the long-run.
Weight loss obstacle 9: Age
As off-putting as thinking about getting older may be, think about it we must, especially if we want to age well and live as healthily as possible.
As we age, our metabolism slows down significantly. This means it is much more of a challenge to burn off that slice of pizza or piece of cake at 45 than it was at 20.
The problem is that people tend to develop certain unhealthy eating habits in their youth. As with other learned behaviour, they continue indulging in this way well into middle age. And therein lies the problem.
What you may get away with eating at 20 years old, chances are you will not be able to do so at 45, 55, or 65. As your body ages and changes, so should your eating habits.
To underscore the point, I should also mention that well into adulthood our physical activity levels drop as life gets busy and we prioritize parenthood and a career. When reduced exercise is thrown into the mix with a slower metabolism, the end result is weight gain.
To avoid this weight loss obstacle, adjust your eating habits.
Weight loss obstacle 10: You diet
Come again? Dieting is a weight loss obstacle?
But it’s true. In order to maintain a healthy weight or to lose it, sustained healthy eating habits must be developed. The operative word being sustained.
That is not to say that you are not permitted to indulge in your favourite treats, here and there. I’m not suggesting this at all.
But the vast majority of food you consume must be nutritious, well-balanced and in the right portions. Fluctuating between binging on unhealthy food to a near-total restriction of food is highly ineffective.
When you deprive yourself of food, you are depriving yourself of certain nutrients needed by the body, as well as the general feel-good factor of food consumption.
In all likelihood, it’s a recipe for failure, and in turn, weight gain. This phenomenon is referred as yo-yo dieting and should be avoided at all costs.
Some people do experience favourable results by following fad diets, especially in the initial stages, but these tend to peter out with time because they are not sustainable in the long-term and often nutritionally unbalanced.
To change eating habits permanently, behaviour changing methods must be implemented while making small, gradual reductions and healthy substitutions.
Weight loss obstacle 11: Eating at the wrong time of day
Why does eating at a certain time of day matter?
Well, it’s largely because of the way the body processes food.
It is particularly important to avoid eating late in the evening. When you eat late at night, just before going to sleep, the body doesn’t have the opportunity to burn off the ingested calories via normal bodily functions. Instead, it stores them as fat while you are sleeping. This naturally leads to fewer burned calories and more rapid weight gain.
Eat your meals, preferably small, a couple of hours before going to sleep to ensure proper metabolization.
Weight loss obstacle 12: Alcohol consumption
Why does alcohol pose an obstacle to weight loss?
Alcohol is highly caloric, pure and simple. In fact, alcohol contains approximately 7 calories per gram, while carbs and protein carry only 4 calories per gram. Only fat has a higher calorie-per-gram content (9 calories/gram).
When you add mixers, creams or soda to many drinks, the caloric vale skyrockets.
For a more in-depth look at alcohol and weight loss read:
Weight loss obstacle 13: Not drinking enough water
Drinking adequate amounts of water can help with weight loss in a number of ways.
One, if you’re sipping on water all day, you’re less likely to reach for that can of soda, effectively reducing exposure to such temptations.
Two, thirst is sometimes mistaken for hunger. In other words, when you’re thirsty, you may mistakenly think you’re hungry. This may lead to eating rather than drinking and quenching thirst. Doing so throughout the day, every day, can lead to eating when you don’t need to.
Weight loss obstacle 14: Know the difference between cravings and hunger
Not knowing the difference between a craving and actual hunger can pose an obstacle to weight loss.
Once you’re aware that it is one, not the other, you can implement certain strategies that redirect you from habitually unhealthy impulses to healthier ones.
In a nutshell, here’s the difference between the two:
- mental (response to a situation, often a negative one)
- involves immediate satisfaction, often followed by guilt
- only certain foods will satisfy
- physiological (response to a need: growling stomach, lightheadedness)
- involves replenishment and satiety, followed by satisfaction
- any food will satisfy
An example of a strategy you can try when faced with a craving is to wait for the craving to pass instead of giving in. Cravings last only a few minutes, so if you get through this short time, you should be able to resist it.
You can supplement this strategy with distracting yourself when the craving kicks in. You can leave the room, call someone, do yoga, take the dog for a walk–anything to redirect yourself from the urge.
Weight loss obstacle 15: Stress and mental health
There are many reasons why we regularly give in to the temptation of reaching for unhealthy foods.
Growing levels of stress create a strong need for indulgence and relaxation. Sometimes the most readily available, or the only, way to destress is through eating a sugary, salty or fatty snack, receiving immediate relief.
Doing so it’s much easier than going to the gym or meditating. Because we tend to follow the path of least resistance, we take a walk over to the pantry and grab an unhealthy snack.
Mental health plays a similar role. Sadness, frustration, anger and anxiety all play a role in unhealthy food overindulgences.
Rather than dealing with the root cause of how we feel, which can be challenging and prolonged, it’s much simpler to reach for a sugary, salty or fatty snack and receive a temporary form of relief.
It is, therefore, important to be self-aware and mindful of our behaviour patterns, applying strategies that help us cope.
If you feel baffled as to why you are not losing weight, even though it seems that you are doing everything within your power to do so, I strongly suggest to closely look at each one of the weight loss obstacles above and see if any of them may be a weight loss obstacle.
Julie Mancuso is a registered nutritionist and owner of JM Nutrition, who has been counselling clients for over 15 years. Julie’s personalized approach has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals.
Julie regularly lends her expertise to a variety of health publications such as Livestrong, Business Insider, Food Network, MyFitnessPal, Toronto Star, Elle Magazine and many more. For more information, see In The Press.
Julie’s blog has been named one of the Top 100 Nutrition Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow in 2020 by Feedspot. So don’t miss out and subscribe to both her newsletter and blog.