When you lose weight, your body fights back.
You may be able to lose quite a lot of weight at first, without much effort. However, weight loss may slow down or stop altogether after a while.
This article lists 20 common reasons why you’re not losing weight.
It also contains actionable tips on how to break through the plateau and get things moving again.
1. Maybe you are losing without realizing it
If you think you are experiencing a weight loss plateau, you shouldn’t fret just yet.
It is incredibly common for the scale not to budge for a few days (or weeks) at a time. This does not mean that you are not losing fat.
Bodyweight tends to fluctuate by a few pounds. It depends on the foods you are eating, and hormones can also have a major effect on how much water your body retains (especially in women).
Also, it is possible to gain muscle at the same time as you lose fat. This is particularly common if you recently started exercising.
This is a good thing, as what you want to lose is body fat, not just weight.
It is a good idea to use something other than the scale to gauge your progress. For example, measure your waist circumference and body fat percentage once per month.
Also, how well your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror can be very telling.
Unless your weight has been stuck at the same point for more than 1–2 weeks, you probably don’t need to worry about anything.
Summary: A weight loss plateau may be explained by muscle gain, undigested food, and fluctuations in body water. If the scale doesn’t budge, you might still be losing fat.
2. You’re not keeping track of what you’re eating
Awareness is incredibly important if you are trying to lose weight. Many people don’t have a clue how much they’re eating.
Studies show that keeping track of your food intake helps with weight loss. People who use food diaries or photograph their meals consistently lose more weight than people who don’t.
At the same time, there is a potential downside to food tracking, especially when it’s used for weight loss. For people with eating disorders, calorie counting, and food tracking have been shown to aggravate potentially harmful side effects.
Summary: Keeping a food diary can be helpful when you are trying to lose weight.
3. You’re not eating enough protein
Protein is an important nutrient for losing weight.
Eating protein at 25–30% of calories can boost metabolism by 80–100 calories per day and make you automatically eat several hundred fewer calories per day. It can also drastically reduce cravings and desire for snacking.
This is partly mediated by protein’s effects on appetite-regulating hormones, such as ghrelin and others.
If you eat breakfast, be sure to load up on protein. Studies show that those who eat a high-protein breakfast are less hungry and have fewer cravings throughout the day.
A high protein intake also helps prevent metabolic slowdown, a common side effect of losing weight. Additionally, it helps prevent weight regain.
Suggested read: Does weightlifting help women lose weight?
Summary: Low protein intake may bring your weight loss efforts to a standstill. Make sure to eat plenty of protein-rich foods.
4. You’re eating too many calories
Many people who have trouble losing weight are simply eating too many calories.
You may think that this does not apply to you, but keep in mind that studies consistently show that people tend to underestimate their calorie intake by a significant amount.
If you are not losing weight, you should try weighing your foods and tracking your calories for a while.
Here is a helpful resource:
Calorie Calculator & Counter
Enter your details in the calculator below to figure out how many calories you should be eating per day to either maintain, lose, or gain weight.
Tracking is also important if you’re trying to reach a certain nutrient goal, such as getting 30% of your calories from protein. This can be impossible to achieve if you’re not tracking things properly.
Suggested read: 13 ways to stop eating when you’re bored
It is generally not necessary to count calories and weigh everything for the rest of your life. Instead, try out these techniques for a few days every few months to get a feel for how much you’re eating.
Summary: If your weight loss seems to have come to a standstill, you may be consuming too many calories. People frequently overestimate their calorie intake.
5. You’re not eating whole foods
Food quality is just as important as quantity.
Eating whole foods can improve your well-being and help regulate your appetite. These foods tend to be much more filling than their highly processed counterparts.
Keep in mind that many processed foods labeled as “health foods” aren’t healthy. Be sure to read the ingredients on the package and watch out for foods containing extra carbs.
Summary: Make sure to base your diet on whole foods. Eating too much processed food could negatively affect your weight loss success.
6. You’re not lifting weights
One of the most important things you can do when losing weight is to do some form of resistance training, such as lifting weights.
This can help you maintain muscle mass, which is often burned along with body fat if you are not exercising.
Lifting weights can also help prevent metabolic slowdown and ensure that your body stays toned and muscular.
Summary: Strength training is an effective way to lose fat. It prevents the loss of muscle mass often associated with weight loss and helps maintain long-term fat loss.
7. You’re binge eating
Binge eating involves rapidly eating large amounts of food, often much more than your body needs.
This can be a significant problem for many people trying to lose weight. Some may binge on highly processed foods, while others binge on relatively healthy foods, including nuts, nut butter, dark chocolate, cheese, etc. Even if something is deemed “healthy,” its calories still count.
Summary: If you frequently binge on food, it may be the reason why your weight loss journey seems to be at a standstill.
8. You’re not doing cardio
Cardiovascular exercise, also known as cardio or aerobic exercise, is any type of exercise that increases your heart rate. It includes activities such as jogging, cycling, and swimming.
It is one of the most effective ways to improve your health. It is also very effective at burning belly fat, the harmful visceral fat that builds up around your organs and causes disease.
Summary: Try to do cardio regularly. It helps you burn fat, especially around your midsection. Lack of exercise could be one reason for a weight loss plateau.
9. You’re still drinking sugar
Sugary beverages are significantly fattening items in the food supply. Your brain doesn’t compensate for the calories in them by making you eat less of other foods.
Suggested read: The 17 best ways to maintain weight loss
This isn’t only true of sugary drinks like Coke and Pepsi. It also applies to “healthier” beverages like Vitaminwater, which are also loaded with sugar.
Even fruit juices are problematic and should not be consumed in large amounts. A single glass can contain a similar amount of sugar as several pieces of the whole fruit.
Summary: Avoiding all sugary beverages is an excellent weight loss strategy. They often make up a significant portion of a person’s calorie intake.
10. You’re not sleeping well
Good sleep is one of the most important factors for your physical and mental health as well as your weight.
Studies show that poor sleep is one of the single biggest risk factors for obesity. Adults and children with poor sleep have a 55% and 89% greater risk, respectively, for developing obesity.
Summary: Lack of quality sleep is a strong risk factor for obesity. It could also hinder weight loss progress.
11. You’re not cutting back on carbohydrates
If you have a higher amount of weight to lose and/or you have a metabolic condition such as type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, you may want to consider a low-carb diet.
In short-term studies, this type of diet has been shown to cause up to 2–3 times as much weight loss as the standard “low fat” diet that is often recommended.
On the other hand, a more recent trial in 2018 found little difference in the results of a nutrient-dense, low-fat diet versus a nutrient-dense, low-carb diet. Finding a sustainable meal plan that you can enjoy long term is key.
Suggested read: 6 ways sleep may help you lose weight
Low-carb diets have many positives beyond just weight loss. They can also lead to improvements in many metabolic markers, such as triglycerides, HDL (good) cholesterol, and blood sugar, to name a few.
Summary: If you are unable to lose weight, consider trying a low-carb diet. Many studies show that a low-carb diet can be an effective weight-loss strategy.
12. You’re eating too often
It is a myth that everyone should be eating many small meals each day to boost metabolism and lose weight.
Studies show that meal frequency has little or no effect on fat burning or weight loss.
It is also ridiculously inconvenient to be preparing and eating food all day, as it makes healthy nutrition much more complicated.
On the other hand, one effective weight-loss method called intermittent fasting involves deliberately and strategically going without food for extended periods (15–24 hours or more).
Summary: Eating too often may result in excessive calorie intake, which curbs your weight loss efforts.
13. You’re not drinking water
Drinking water can benefit weight loss.
In one 12-week weight loss study, people who drank half a liter (17 ounces) of water 30 minutes before meals lost 44% more weight than those who did not.
Drinking water has also been shown to boost the number of calories burned by 24–30% over 1.5 hours.
Summary: To reduce your calorie intake, drink a glass of water before meals. Drinking water may also increase the number of calories you burn.
14. You’re drinking too much alcohol
If you like alcohol but want to lose weight, it may be best to stick to spirits (like vodka) mixed with a zero-calorie beverage. Beer, wine, and sugary alcoholic beverages are very high in calories.
Also keep in mind that the alcohol itself has about 7 calories per gram, which is high.
That being said, studies on alcohol and weight show mixed results. Moderate drinking seems to be fine, while heavy drinking is linked to weight gain.
Summary: Alcoholic beverages are generally high in calories. If you choose to drink alcohol, spirits mixed with zero-calorie beverages are probably the best options when you are trying to lose weight.
15. You’re not eating mindfully
A technique called mindful eating may be one of the world’s most powerful weight loss tools.
It involves slowing down, eating without distraction, savoring, and enjoying each bite while listening to the natural signals that tell your brain when your body has had enough.
Suggested read: Meal planning for weight loss: Tips, recipes, and more
Numerous studies have shown that mindful eating can cause significant weight loss and reduce the frequency of binge eating.
Here are some tips to eat more mindfully:
- Eat with zero distractions, sitting down at a table with just your food.
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. Try to be aware of the colors, smells, flavors, and textures.
- When you begin to feel full, drink some water and stop eating.
Summary: Always eat mindfully when trying to lose weight. Mindless eating is one of the main reasons people experience challenges in losing weight.
16. You have a medical condition that is making things harder
Some medical conditions can drive weight gain and make it much harder to lose weight.
These include hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and sleep apnea.
Certain medications can also make weight loss harder — or even cause weight gain.
If you think any of these apply to you, speak with your doctor about your options.
Summary: Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, and PCOS may be hindering your weight loss efforts.
17. You have a junk food addiction
According to a 2014 study, about 19.9% of people in North America and Europe satisfy the criteria for food addiction.
Suggested read: Detox water: Health benefits and myths
If you feel you have a junk food addiction, simply eating less or changing your diet can seem impossible.
Summary: If you have strong food cravings or food addiction, weight loss can be challenging. Consider seeking professional help.
18. You’ve been dieting for too long
It may not be a good idea to “diet” for too long.
If you’ve been losing weight for many months and you’ve hit a plateau, perhaps you need to take a break.
Try increasing your calorie intake by a few hundred calories per day, sleeping more, and lifting weights to get stronger and gain more muscle.
Aim to maintain your body fat levels for 1–2 months before you start trying to lose weight again.
Summary: If you have reached a weight loss plateau, you may have been dieting too long. Maybe it’s time to take a break.
19. Your expectations are unrealistic
Weight loss is generally a slow process. Many people lose patience before reaching their goal.
Although it is often possible to lose weight fast in the beginning, few people can continue to lose weight at a rate of more than 1–2 pounds per week.
Another challenge can be having unrealistic expectations of what is achievable with a nutrient-dense diet and exercise.
The truth is, not everyone will be able to look like a fitness model or bodybuilder, and that’s OK. The photos you see in magazines and other places are often enhanced.
If you have already lost some weight, but the scale doesn’t seem to want to budge any further, perhaps trying to redirect your focus to accepting your body the way it is your next goal.
At some point, your weight will reach a set point where your body feels comfortable. Trying to go beyond that may not be worth the effort or realistic, and may even have potentially negative effects on your health.
Summary: People’s expectations are sometimes unrealistic when it comes to weight loss. Keep in mind that losing weight takes time and not everyone will look like a fitness model. Focus on developing an individualized weight loss plan and goal based on your needs.
20. You’re too focused on dieting
Diets rarely work long-term. If anything, studies show that people who diet gain more weight over time.
Instead of approaching weight loss from a dieting mindset, make adopting health-promoting habits your primary goal. Examples include eating a nutrient-dense, balanced diet, exercising as much and as often as possible, and doing those things that make you happy regularly.
Suggested read: The 20 best ways to lose weight after 50
Focus on nourishing your body instead of depriving it and letting weight loss follow as a natural side effect.
Summary: Dieting is not a long-term solution. If your goal is to lose weight and keep it off long term, focus on adopting health-promoting lifestyle habits.
Weight loss is not always easy and numerous factors can bring it to a standstill.
At the most basic level, not reaching your weight loss goal can occur when calorie intake is equal to or higher than calorie use.
Try strategies such as mindful eating, keeping a food diary, eating more protein, and doing strength exercises.
In the end, changing your weight and your lifestyle requires patience, dedication, perseverance, and resilience.