Why Can't I Lose Weight?

Bowl of fresh spinach
Bowl of fresh spinach. Flavia Morlachetti/Getty Images

If you're like most people, you've probably followed a diet and exercise program in the hopes of losing weight. And, like a lot of us, you end up frustrated when you're not seeing the results you think you should.

So what's going on? The best way to tackle the problem is to look into what you're doing and see if there are changes you can make. There are a number of reasons you may not be losing weight, but there are a few key areas to look at first.

Eating Too Many Calories

Humans are notorious for underestimating how many calories we're eating.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that adults underestimated the caloric content of large meals by an average of 175 calories and a quarter of adults underestimate the number by 500 calories or more.

It's frighteningly easy to eat too many calories. If you have one donut, one soda, one more piece of bread, or even an extra tablespoon of salad dressing, you can easily go over your calorie allotment without realizing it.

Then there are the secret calories we eat each day, mindless eating that we barely remember, much less count: That handful of M&Ms at work, the nuts you nibbled on during a meeting, the food you helpfully ate to clean your child's plate. It all adds up, sometimes to a point where you're eating more calories than you're burning.

Not Exercising Enough

Just as we underestimate how many calories we eat, we tend to overestimate how many calories we burn with exercise. This may be because we don't have a good idea of how many calories different workouts should burn or because we're relying on gym machines, which are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to calorie counts.

Unrealistic Expectations

If you ever talk to or read about successful weight losers, you'll find that it took years for them to lose the weight and learn how to keep it off. In fact, according to the National Weight Control Registry some people who have successfully lost weight took up to 14 years to reach their goal.

Think about your timeline for losing weight and how long you've been working on it. If it's only been a few weeks, you may need to give your body more time to respond to what you're doing.

Think of that time as a period of adjustment, a time when your body is learning how to assimilate all these new changes in a way that makes sense.

Ignoring Success

It may take some time to see the results that you're looking for. Patience is key during your weight loss journey. It's important to give yourself credit for the daily steps you take and for the consistent efforts you make to change diet and exercise habits. These are indications of success, regardless of whether or not you see the physical changes that you want.

Here's another common problem: You're getting results, just not the way you wanted or expected. If you're losing inches, but not losing weight, you may think you're failing, but that's a sign of success. For instance, keep track of the way that your clothes fit. Are they looser? That's success! You might also notice that you can exercise with greater ease or have more energy throughout the day. These are signs of success.

If you gain muscle as you're losing fat, the scale may not change, but you'll see more definition in your body, a sure sign that you're losing body fat.

We also sometimes ignore results if we're not getting them in the right place. Most of us have places where we store excess fat (the belly, hips, butt and thighs come to mind) and if you don't see changes in those areas, you chalk it up to failure.

Remember, it isn't possible to tone certain areas of your body with specific exercises. Your body, as well as your genes, hormones, gender, age, etc., determines where and when you lose fat. It's a good bet that if you have excess fat somewhere, it will take longer to lose from those areas.

If you're seeing changes somewhere, even if it's not exactly where you want, that's a sign you're on the right track and, if you keep losing fat, your body will eventually get to those areas.

Careful tracking of your diet, exercise and daily activity levels may tell you what you need to know about why you're not losing weight. Your next step is to figure out what to do about it

Quick Tips for Weight Loss

If you are struggling to lose weight, a reasonable first step is to re-evaluate your goal. Perhaps weight loss is not necessary. If you are already at a healthy weight, your body may resist further change. But if your weight falls into the overweight or obese category and weight loss has stalled, consider these tips.

  • Get a general idea of how many calories you need to burn to lose weight.
  • Keep track of the calories you're eating if that works for you.
  • Keep an exercise journal so you can keep track of the workouts you're doing.
  • Reach out to a behavioral health professional with a specialization in issues related to body weight issues to address daily habits, stress, or emotional eating.
  • If you feel frustrated, consider hiring a personal trainer to help.
  • Speak to your healthcare provider about possible medical causes of slow or difficult weight loss.
  • Work with a registered dietitian to evaluate food logs and make changes.
  • Find other ways to measure your success, like completing a certain number of workouts each week.
  • Remember all the reasons that making health changes is good for you beyond weight loss.
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2 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. Block JP, Condon SK, Kleinman K, et al. Consumers’ estimation of calorie content at fast food restaurants: cross sectional observational studyBMJ. 2013;346(may23 3):f2907-f2907. doi:10.1136%2Fbmj.f2907

  2. NWCR Facts. National Weight Control Registry.

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