17 Reasons Your Diet Isn't Working

Young woman on scale
Rick Gomez / Getty Images

"I can't lose weight no matter what!" Sound familiar? You're doing everything right and your diet isn't working. You're not eating a lot, but you're still gaining weight. Is it your fault? Are you doing something wrong? Did you choose the wrong weight loss plan? Are you simply meant to be overweight? The answer to all of those questions is probably no.

No matter what diet you're on, no matter which weight loss expert you follow or workout program you practice, the secret to weight loss success is finding the right energy balance for your individual needs. While burning more calories than you consume is one piece of the weight loss puzzle, it's more complicated than it sounds because there are many other factors that can affect both your energy input (calories consumed) and your energy output (calories burned).

17 Reasons That Your Diet Isn't Working

There are many factors that affect your daily calorie intake. Any of them could be the reason that you can't lose weight, no matter what. It may be likely that the problem is a combination of several factors. Evaluate each of the following to see where you can make adjustments, but be sure to chat with a registered dietitian or another healthcare provider to determine your personal needs.


Feeling hungry is the most obvious reason that we eat. But oddly, it is often not why we eat. If you find yourself eating too often or eating meals that are too big, you may not be eating enough at each meal or you may not have the right combination of nutrients to keep you satisfied.

Pick foods that are higher in fiber and build meals around protein. Additionally, including a source of heart-healthy fat (think: olive oil, nuts, or chia seeds), will also help you to feel full longer.


Mindless eating happens when we're bored and we need a distraction. It's one of the most common reasons we eat when we're not hungry. So what's the solution? Find another distraction (call a friend or go for a walk) or try to determine if you are truly hungry versus eating out of habit or boredom by making a tea or drinking water first.

Low-Fat Pitfalls

Foods that are high in fat often contain more calories than low-fat foods, however, they also provide greater satisfaction or satiety when eaten in proper portions. Low-fat foods may sound like a healthier option, but this may provide a false health halo and therefore may lead you to consume the low-fat food in greater quantities than a higher fat option. Be aware of these differences and choose appropriate portions for all foods based on your fullness and satiety cues.

Meal Frequency

Eating more often may help you to avoid overeating at mealtime, but eating more often also increases your chances to consume too many calories. While it is possible to consume too many calories for your needs with any number of meals, many people find it helpful to include one or two snacks throughout the day to bridge the gap between meals. This helps avoid extreme hunger when mealtime rolls around and therefore may avoid overeating.


Many of us manage emotions with food. Food provides comfort, often gives us a sense of control and is a source of enjoyment. But those comfort calories add up.

If you suspect that emotional eating is derailing your diet, consider healthy alternatives reduce stress. Take yoga, reach out to friends and family for support or find a behavioral health specialist who has expertise with food-related issues.


What do you do when your body begins to lag in the afternoon? Many of us head to the kitchen. It's natural to look for energy (i.e. calories) when you need a quick pick-me-up.

The problem is that when your activity level lags, you may be reaching for a snack out of boredom or habit versus true hunger. If hungry, a snack may be exactly what your body needs for a boost of energy, but you're tired, a 15-minute nap or quick break may help you refresh.

Portion Size 

Portion sizes can be tricky for many, as most people are not familiar with what a serving actually looks like. If you are not familiar with portion sizes, get a small digital scale and start to measure to see what an appropriate portion looks like for your caloric needs.

You may find that you are eating more than a single serving of many foods, like cereal, bread, or popcorn. A small adjustment to the quantity could make a big difference in your caloric intake.

Food Choices

Many people who are trying to lose weight fall victim to the health halo effect. That is, they consume too many calories from foods that they think are healthy. Avocados, for example, are full of healthy fat. But as a high-fat food, avocados are also naturally calorically dense, so proper portion size is key. Remember, any food that is consumed in excess of your caloric needs will cause weight gain - no matter how healthy it is.

Intense Workouts

Believe it or not, but your workout might be the reason that you're not losing weight. Some programs like CrossFit could actually be harmful to your weight loss program if it causes you to take too much time off or worse, causes injury.

Try to get some physical activity throughout the week. That means you should schedule moderate workouts along with the high-intensity fat burners.

Non-Exercise Activity Level

If your fat-burning Tabata workout exhausts you to the point that you spend the rest of the day on the couch, then you are not benefiting from NEAT. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis can account for up to 2000 calories burned per day. Make sure you keep moving all day long. Take the stairs, carry your own groceries, stand while you chat on the phone. It all adds up.

Stress-Induced Inactivity

Some people react to stress by moving. But others take to the couch in times of trouble. If you are going through a difficult time, give yourself permission to rest. But try to incorporate easy workouts with a friend to gain support and stay active.

Lack of Sleep

The simple act of dieting can cause stress and fatigue. Even if your weight loss program is not at fault, daily exhaustion is likely to hinder your workouts and your NEAT. Learn how to sleep better for weight loss. Take simple steps like charging your phone in the kitchen or changing the lighting in your bedroom to get a better night's sleep.

Physical Factors

Medical conditions, like thyroid disease, can affect your daily caloric expenditure. Factors such as age and genetics also play a role in the number of calories you burn. Talk to your doctor about factors that affect your metabolism. Sometimes there are things you can do to give it a boost.

Body Composition

Muscle burns more calories than fat. To increase your calorie burn all day, boost your lean muscle mass. Eat enough protein to fuel your day and build strong muscle. Then complete regular strength training workouts at home or at the gym to increase metabolically active tissue and support muscle strength.

Your Job

Occupations that require you to sit at a desk will decrease your daily energy output. You're not likely to change jobs to lose weight, but you may be able to make simple changes in your office to increase your daily caloric burn. 

Stand while you type, skip the elevator and walk the stairs, turn sit-down meetings into walking meetings. Some companies are even installing treadmill desks to help workers increase their daily activity level and improve health.

Exercise Habits

The way you schedule your workouts can make a difference in the number of calories you burn during each one. For example, if you schedule a long run on a day after a tough boot camp workout, you may be too tired during the run to gain a real benefit. Create a balanced exercise program to burn calories with consistent but reasonable workouts.

Exercise-Induced Overeating

Believe it or not, one of the most common mistakes that people make when they are trying to lose weight is eating too much and justifying the episode with exercise. In fact, it is not uncommon for new marathon runners to gain weight for this reason. Make sure you are properly fueled for your workouts so that you don't binge when you're done.

A Word From Verywell

Trying to find the reason your diet isn't working can be a pain. But your diet isn't doomed to fail. One of these factors is contributing to your weight loss woes, and you can address it if you want to slim down. Get creative and try different tweaks. And don't forget to reach out to friends and family for support and motivation.

12 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. Burls A, Price AI, Cabello JB, Roberts NW. Drinking extra water or other non‐caloric beverages for promoting weight loss or preventing weight gainCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019;2019(3):CD012211. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012211.pub2

  2. Godman H. Extra protein is a decent dietary choice but don't overdo it [Harvard Health Blog]. Harvard Health Publishing.

  3. Koball AM, Meers MR, Storfer-Isser A, Domoff SE, Musher-Eizenman DR. Eating when bored: revision of the Emotional Eating Scale with a focus on boredom. Health Psychol. 2012;31(4):521-524. doi:10.1037/a0025893

  4. Harvard Health Publishing. Eating frequency and weight loss.

  5. Braden A, Flatt SW, Boutelle KN, Strong D, Sherwood NE, Rock CL. Emotional eating is associated with weight loss success among adults enrolled in a weight loss programJ Behav Med. 2016;39(4):727–732. doi:10.1007/s10865-016-9728-8

  6. Chapelot D. The role of snacking in energy balance: a biobehavioral approachJ Nutr. 2011;141(1):158–162. doi:10.3945/jn.109.114330

  7. Rolls B. What is the role of portion control in weight managementInt J Obes. 2014;38:S1–S8. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.82

  8.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Appendix 1: physical acivity guidelines for Americans. In Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. 8th ed. 2015

  9. Villablanca PA, Alegria JR, Mookadam F, Holmes DR, Wright RS, Levine JA. Nonexercise activity thermogenesis in obesity management. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(4):509-519. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.02.001

  10. Heindel JJ, Blumberg B, Cave M, et al. Metabolism disrupting chemicals and metabolic disordersReprod Toxicol. 2017;68:3–33. doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2016.10.001

  11. Carbone JW, Pasiakos SM. Dietary protein and muscle mass: translating science to application and health benefitNutrients. 2019;11(5):1136. doi:10.3390/nu11051136

  12. Taylor WC, King KE, Shegog R, et al. Booster Breaks in the workplace: participants' perspectives on health-promoting work breaksHealth Educ Res. 2013;28(3):414–425. doi:10.1093/her/cyt001

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.