Aug 14, 2020 / by Jon Bellis / No Comments

Do you struggle to lose weight? Do you feel like you do the right things, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference? There could be one crucial factor that’s preventing progress. Or perhaps there are a few explanations. In this post, we help you figure it out. We offer eight reasons why you’re not losing weight.


It’s not a high enough priority

‘But it is!’ you protest. ‘I really want to lose weight. It makes me miserable. It’s definitely a high priority.’


Common scenarios

But is it high enough? Consider these scenarios

  • You don’t have time! There’s work, and then there are the kids, there are the phone calls you need to make, that TV programme you really wanted to watch. Oh and there’s a good film on. And of course you need a soak in the bath. And allow time to read your book in bed.
  • You’re scheduled to go to the gym in 10 minutes. You get a call. You answer the phone and enter into a conversation. Once you’ve started, you feel it’s rude to tell them you need to leave, so you carry on. You look at your watch. It’s nearly time to go. But instead of apologising and getting off the phone you start to think that if you string it out a little, then it’ll be too late to go to the gym, you’ll have missed your class, or you’ll have so little time it won’t be worth it. So you chat away and watch the time pass, relieved that you have an excuse to give to yourself or anyone else who might ask.
  • You plan to go to the gym, but a friend invites you for a drink. It’s on the way home, and you haven’t seen him for a while. Ah, why not, it’ll be good to catch up, you can go to the gym another night!
  • You’re in a restaurant with friends. You’re going to choose the healthy option. You know what you’re going to have. The waiter comes to take the order. Everyone’s having something mouth-watering and delicious – a big puff pastry pie; battered fish and chips; pasta carbonara. They’re going to think you’re spoiling the party if you go for the healthy option. They’re going to think you’re boring. It’s your turn, what are you going to order…. Lasagne, chips and garlic bread! Oh no! It’s an epic fail!

You get the idea, I’m sure. There’s always a reason why you don’t prioritise the things that will help you lose weight: work, friends, peer pressure.


Make it happen

What should you do?

  • You do have time. Some of the things on your to-do can wait or just not happen at all. Cut some things out, rearrange your day and make time.
  • Don’t take the call! Or answer it and ask them for another time to talk. Or go to the gym before work.
  • Arrange to meet later or on another day.
  • Choose the healthy option and take the flack!

If it’s important, you’ll devote time and stick to the plan. If your weight is making you miserable, give weight loss the highest priority you can.

Of all the reasons why you’re not losing weight, this is probably at the top. And the underlying cause is generally insufficient motivation. You really need that driving motivation to make it happen.

Graphic with the word motivation. Eight reasons why you're not losing weight.


You overestimate your calorie burn

If you’re inactive then this will be one of the the main reasons why you’re not losing weight. If you’re entirely sedentary, then you can expect to burn, on average, 1500 calories a day if you’re a woman, 1900 if you’re a man. That’s not a lot!

Overweight sedentary man slouching on the sofa. Eight reasons why you're not losing weight

I read in the New Scientist the other day that the average daily calorie intake in high income countries is 3400! If you’re average and sedentary, that’s a big gap between input and output. You can see why we have an obesity epidemic.

If you’re walking at lunchtime and taking the stairs rather than the lift, that’s not enough! That will hardly make a dent in your calorie surplus. If you’re doing a bit of housework or parking your car a bit further away, that won’t be enough.

These are all tips you’ll hear from experts about how you can get rid of calories. They’re ok tips, but they’re not enough. You have to make a conscious effort to get rid of a lot more calories. You’re trying to lose weight, not maintain it. You need to burn more than you eat. So even if your calorie intake is sensible, you need to try and get rid of some extra calories.


Ways to get rid of more calories

Exercise is a great way to get rid of calories, and it’s also one of the healthiest changes you can make. Build your fitness so you can expend a lot of calories when you exercise.

Woman pushing a sled in a gym. Eight reasons why you're not losing weight.

Even if you’re not exercising, walk. Walk a lot, get your step count well over 10,000 steps a day. Stay on your feet as much as you can, do stuff around the house and do it on your feet. Although you won’t reap all the benefits of proper panty exercise, at least you’re getting rid of calories.

Make time to get rid of calories and do more of your usual activities standing up.


You underestimate your calorie intake

If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on this being one of the reasons why you’re not losing weight. It’s very common.

There are a lot of calories in food. At least there are in processed foods. Manufacturers and restaurateurs want their food to taste as delicious as possible, so you come back for more. They don’t usually care about calories. So food will often be loaded with fat and sugar to give you that feel-good factor. Anything in batter, pastry, breadcrumbs; creamy or thick sauces; cakes, biscuits, pastries, muffins; products with processed, milled grains stripped of their fibre; fried and roasted foods; buttered food; chocolates and sweets. How much of the food you eat fits into one of these categories?

If all your meals and snacks have these kinds of high-calorie foods, you’re not going to lose weight. You’re going to gain it. And remember – by having a handful of vegetables or an apple afterwards, you’re not reducing the calories in the meal. Adding health does not convey negative calories!


But you’re eating healthy food

Was the paragraph unfair? After all, you don’t eat processed food, and all your meals are healthy – cooked from scratch using unprocessed raw ingredients. But are you getting the portions right? Or perhaps you are adding unnecessary calories in the form of olive oil or trendy cheese? In a previous blog, we highlighted how it’s easy to be healthy but to get the calories wrong.

And what about snacks? Are you grazing on something calorific – perhaps you’re getting through 100g of nuts a day? Maybe you have several lattes a day.

If you want to lose weight, you need to move away from casual eating and start to be more conscious.

That leads us on to the crucial action at the end of our next section.


You do not measure calories

Measure your calorie intake

It sounds like the proverbial ‘ball-ache’, and it is! I won’t pretend that logging food is not time-consuming. It’ll definitely require a few minutes for every meal if you’re going to do it accurately. But it’s worth every minute.

Every time you log a new food, you learn something. You get to understand what’s in it, how many calories it contains, whether the portion size was appropriate. You get to figure out how you might adjust the meal next time and how it fits into your overall meal plan for the day. It helps you make adjustments to your eating over time until you have adopted and embedded better habits.

Research has shown that those who log their food are more successful at losing weight. Make the time; log your food. That’s the best way to measure your calorie intake.


Measure your calorie output

So that’s calorie intake. But what about calories out, how do you measure those? That’s a lot easier. Get an activity tracker. There are plenty on the market these days. Are they accurate? Maybe. Maybe not for everyone. But whether they are correct or not doesn’t matter that much. If they are wrong, at least they are consistently wrong. And that means, on a day to day basis you can track the ups and downs of your expenditure.

If you’re putting weight on, you can be more active so that your activity tracker shows you burning more calories. When your weight starts to come off again, you know where your calorie burn – on the tracker – needs to be. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the number you’d get using calorimetry. It’s the number you’ve found to be right for you according to the device. That’ll do. Now you can move forward, conscious of the potential impact of differences from your ideal number.

So, to summarise, get a handle on calories in and calories out separately. Observe changes in your body weight and then adjust one or both of your calories in or calories out to suit your goals.

If you don’t know the numbers, you won’t know by how much, or maybe even which way, to adjust.


You haven’t set any goals

If you don’t know where you’re heading to, how will you know when you get there?

Set measurable goals. You need numbers, and you need to measure. If you don’t have a target number and you don’t measure, how will you know if you’re making good progress? Example goals might be to lose three stones or achieve 12 stones in weight. If you don’t set a number, you’re more likely to bail out before you get to where you want to be. You’re more likely to say ‘that’ll do’ before you get the body shape you really want.

Next, set a timeframe and make it challenging but achievable. If it’s too far away, you won’t put enough effort into it, and you’re more likely to think you can start tomorrow. But we all know tomorrow never comes! If it’s too soon, you’re going to fail, and that could destroy your self-confidence. For weight loss, expect 1lb per week.

Close up of a set of scales showing 21 stones. Eight reasons why you're not losing weight

Measure regularly, track your progress, chart it, make it part of your life, get a little bit obsessive about it.


You lack self-discipline

This isn’t a criticism or a judgement. We’re all human, and we all give in to temptation. We all have moments of ill-discipline.

But you can make things easier for yourself.


Avoid challenging situations

First, avoid situations that will challenge your self-discipline. Don’t buy unhealthy calorific food so it’s not in the house to tempt you. Avoid food shopping when you’re hungry so you won’t be drawn to the crisps and chocolates. Don’t go home before you go to the gym or you’ll be lured on to the goal-destroying rocks by the sirens of enticing smells, a comfy sofa and a loving embrace. Go to the gym on your way home from work.


Avoid using up your reserves

Second, be aware that self-discipline is an exhaustible commodity. If you have to use a lot of it on work or family activities, then you’re going to have none left for your weight loss goals. Sooner or later you’re going to give in to temptation. Stress counts as something that can empty the self-discipline tank. Try and avoid stressful situations or those situations that will test your willpower. Practise relaxation techniques such as meditation or mindfulness to recharge your stocks of self-discipline.


Train your discipline

Finally, know that self-discipline is trainable. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it, and the greater reserves you’ll have. Get started practising self-discipline as soon as you begin your weight loss journey. Make it one of your (qualitative) goals to get good at it.


You’re not accountable to anyone

Who is going to support you in your journey? Who’s going to check that you’re eating the right stuff? Who’s going to apply a little bit of pressure to make sure you go to the gym?

If the answer is ‘me’ then you’ll probably fail. It’s easy to justify inaction or indulgence to yourself. It’s easy to tell yourself it’s ok to eat that, to start tomorrow, to stay on the sofa.

Find other people to keep you accountable. Tell your friends and family and ask them to support you. Ask them to slap your wrist from time to time. Tell them your schedule and ask them to encourage you to stick to it. Publish your weight loss progress on social media. Get your followers to check in on you.

Or get a coach. Your coach will train you, educate you, ensure you keep your appointments, measure you and mentor you. He or she will support you when it gets tough, or you meet a challenge.


Your metabolism is slow

I’m naughty; I put this in as a tease for those people who say ‘it’s not my fault, I’ve got a slow metabolism.’

There are lots of possible reasons why you’re not losing weight, but ‘your metabolism’ is very unlikely to be one of them.

Yes, some people are indeed more predisposed to gain fat than others. But very few people have a medical or genetic condition that makes it impossible to lose weight. For most people, it’s eminently achievable with the right lifestyle.

So if a slow metabolism is very uncommon, what am I talking about?


Damaging approaches to weight loss

Well, it is possible to slow your metabolism by adopting the wrong approach to weight loss. Your thyroid is the master regulator of your metabolism, and it is sensitive to your energy intake. If you maintain a large calorie deficit in an attempt to lose weight, then several things can happen. First, your testosterone will take a dive, and this will affect your mood, your vitality and your ability to burn fat. Second, your thyroid output will reduce, and this will slow you down. You’ll feel lacklustre, like you want to sit down or lean on things all the time. Your body will do everything it can to make you burn fewer calories. Third, you’ll lose muscle, which is a bad outcome because muscle helps you burn calories. Lower muscle mass means lower resting metabolism and fewer calories burned.

Effectively, your energy output will reduce to the point where it equals your energy intake. You’ll plateau, lose muscle, store fat and feel rubbish all at the same time. Whatever you do, don’t starve yourself to lose weight. When it comes to a calorie deficit, more is not better. Keep the deficit moderate. It’s better to eat more and do more than to eat less and do less.

Also be aware that a low carb diet can have a similar effect. Carbs are great for heating you up and speeding your metabolism. Cut them out, and you risk your metabolism reducing to the point where your output matches your intake. Low carb diets are ok for rapid short term weight loss, but you will plateau and lose muscle. Keep your carbs up, keep your muscle and keep your metabolism ticking over.

A selection of low carb foods. Eight reasons why you're not losing weight.


In summary

So there you have it, eight reasons why you’re not losing weight. The list may not represent all the possible reasons, but if covers almost all the cases of unsuccessful weight loss.

It’s very unlikely you have a medical or genetic condition that prevents you from losing weight. Weight loss should be entirely achievable. You just need the right lifestyle.

That’s easier said than done if you currently have the wrong lifestyle and poor habits. Find your driving motivation so that weight loss become top priority. Then put in place the right structures, practices, tools and support you need to be successful. You can do it!


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