How to Overcome Common Weight Loss Barriers

Woman smiling and flexing after overcoming her weight loss barriers

LeoPatrizi / Getty Images

If you've experienced barriers to weight loss, you're not alone. Everyone experiences challenges that are specific to their individual weight loss journey. Your life circumstances, stress, finances, time, genetics, and body image can all become barriers to healthy weight loss, but that doesn't mean you can't work towards overcoming them.

Most people can expect to encounter roadblocks when trying to reach their weight loss goals. Those who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off are the ones who learn to break through their weight loss barriers as they arise.

Identifying Weight Loss Barriers

The first step is to look within. Know that many of the challenges you're facing have been faced before. Eating healthfully and sticking to an exercise program isn't always easy. Most people experience ups and downs along the way. Once you recognize your personal obstacles, you can develop the skills to rise above them.

Some weight loss barriers are perceived barriers, meaning that the barrier is based on your thoughts or feelings. Perceived barriers can be just as significant and real as concrete barriers, which can include health conditions and physical limitations. Whether your challenges are perceived or concrete, most can be classified into three main categories: physical, environmental, and emotional.

Physical Barriers to Weight Loss

Common physical barriers to weight loss include fatigue, discomfort, and underlying medical issues. Issues such as dehydration and lack of sleep may also play a role in your ability to lose weight. While these barriers can be significant, there are ways to get around them and still lose weight.

Communicate With Your Physician

Talk to your doctor about your struggles to lose weight. Perhaps there is a medical issue contributing to your frustration.

For example, certain medications (including steroids, birth control pills, and some antidepressants) can cause weight gain. If you have recently quit smoking, you may experience weight gain.

Hormonal changes (such as those experienced during menopause) may make weight loss more difficult and contribute to weight gain. Medical conditions including PCOS and certain thyroid disorders are associated with weight gain.

Expand Your Healthcare Team

Ask your primary care physician for referrals to a registered dietitian, physical therapist, psychologist, and/or obesity medicine specialist. These specialists can tailor your treatment program to support your goals.

With a physician referral, there is usually a better chance that services will be covered by insurance. Check your policy to find out what your plan will cover. Speak with the specialist's office to ask about out-of-pocket rates if needed.

Improve Your Sleep

Researchers have found that not getting enough sleep can disrupt your metabolism. Your hormonal balance can shift when you don't get the sleep you need, and you may experience increased hunger and appetite. In fact, evidence shows that people who get fewer total hours of sleep (less than seven hours) are more likely to be overweight or have obesity.

The good news is that making a few changes to your sleep routine may help you reach your weight loss goals. Experts recommend that you go to sleep at the same time each night, sleep in a cool, dark room, and remove electronic devices (such as tablets and cell phones) to encourage a relaxing environment.

Get Hydrated

Simple changes to your daily routine can make weight loss easier. Staying hydrated is one simple change that has numerous health benefits. Studies have shown that drinking more water is associated with better weight loss results.

It is not unusual to confuse the sensations of hunger and thirst. Keep filled water bottles in your fridge to grab and go. Add berries or other ingredients (like basil or cucumber) if you prefer flavored drinks. If you find yourself grazing in the kitchen throughout the day, consider drinking several ounces of water before eating to see if it satisfies your craving.

Do Your Homework

Investigate different exercise plans and healthy cooking tips. Habits that lead to weight loss are more manageable when they're fun. For example, non-weight-bearing activities, such as water aerobics, may be more comfortable if you have obesity, pain, or joint issues.

Make changes to your daily meal plan by signing up for an informative cooking class where you can learn new ways to prepare vegetables or lean meats and enjoy your time in the kitchen.

Environmental Barriers to Weight Loss

When your surroundings don't support a healthy diet and exercise plan, it can feel like you're fighting a losing battle. Environmental barriers, including limited access to healthy food or exercise facilities, poor social support, or a lack of time due to social, family, and professional pressures, can make weight loss seem impossible.

Talk to the People Around You

Get support from family and friends by communicating your needs. Be specific about the ways that they can help make your plan a success. Maybe your partner is willing to take on extra tasks, or your kids could help out more around the house.

Your employer might be willing to support your healthy lifestyle by offering wellness resources or flexibility in your work schedule. A healthier employee is a more productive employee. Luckily, more and more employers have begun recognizing the benefits of wellness programs.

Get Creative With Exercise

If going to the gym is out of the question for you, plenty of at-home workout options are available. You can find free workouts online (check YouTube or Instagram). There are also plenty of smartphone and tablet apps that provide exercise programming. You'll find different types of classes as well as tips, forums, and other resources.

You can also take advantage of the resources right outside of your doorstep to get in shape. Walking is a wonderful way to exercise. Walk on neighborhood paths, climb the stairs in your office or apartment building, or plan a family hike over the weekend. Many shopping malls offer special hours for walkers who want to exercise before the crowds take over.

Emotional Barriers to Weight Loss

It sounds counter-intuitive to say that you want to lose weight, but your feelings about weight loss hold you back. Nonetheless, emotional barriers to weight loss are well-documented and often significant. These barriers may include skepticism about your ability to reach your goals, negative associations with physical activity, high stress levels, or simply a lack of motivation.

Enlist the Help of a Qualified Professional

Many behavioral health specialists (including social workers, therapists, and psychologists) focus on the emotions related to body weight. If you have already investigated possible medical reasons for your weight concerns, consider speaking to a therapist about emotional concerns.

Learn to Motivate Yourself

Motivation is a skill that you can learn. Techniques like positive self-talk and journaling are proven to boost your motivation levels and power you forward in the right direction.

Self-monitoring has also been shown as an effective tool for weight loss. Self-monitoring may include keeping a food diary, regular weigh-ins, or tracking your physical activity with a paper log or an app. Self-monitoring helps you observe your daily behaviors to increase awareness to make changes as needed.

Use Stress-Reduction Techniques

Stress—related to your busy schedule, family issues, a lack of weight loss results, or an ongoing medical condition—can quickly lead to emotional eating and weight gain. Chronic stress is associated with obesity.

On the other hand, stress reduction techniques (such as deep breathing or guided visualization) have been shown to improve weight loss outcomes. Learn stress-reduction strategies such as breathing techniques, meditation, or journaling. Schedule these activities into your day to keep yourself in the right mindset for success.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, attaining and maintaining a healthy weight is a marathon, not a sprint. In the same way that one day of healthy eating won't undo a month of less healthy choices, the reverse is also true.

Take advantage of opportunities in your day-to-day life to make nutritious choices. Balancing your lifestyle with regular physical activity and stress management techniques can go a long way in feeling your best at any weight.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Beccuti G, Pannain S. Sleep and obesityCurr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011;14(4):402–412. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e3283479109

  2. Thomson CA, Morrow KL, Flatt SW, et al. Relationship between sleep quality and quantity and weight loss in women participating in a weight-loss intervention trial. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012;20(7):1419-25. doi:10.1038/oby.2012.62

  3. Dennis EA, Dengo AL, Comber DL, et al. Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adultsObesity (Silver Spring). 2010;18(2):300–307. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.235

  4. Burke LE, Wang J, Sevick MA. Self-monitoring in weight loss: a systematic review of the literatureJ Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111(1):92–102. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.10.008

  5. Scott KA, Melhorn SJ, Sakai RR. Effects of chronic social stress on obesityCurr Obes Rep. 2012;1(1):16–25. doi:10.1007/s13679-011-0006-3

  6. Xenaki N, Bacopoulou F, Kokkinos A, Nicolaides NC, Chrousos GP, Darviri C. Impact of a stress management program on weight loss, mental health and lifestyle in adults with obesity: a randomized controlled trialJ Mol Biochem. 2018;7(2):78–84.

Additional Reading

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.