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13 Real Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight

It could be anything from underlying health issues to outdated "dieting" habits.

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You eat when you’re not hungry

A lot of us are slaves to the clock. It’s best to make sure you eat regularly to keep from getting so ravenous that you lose control and can’t stop eating. But if you’re in the habit of eating when the clock says to, instead of when you’re actually hungry, you tend to lose touch with what “hungry” feels like and eat more than you really need. Research shows that mindful and or intuitive eating has health and potentially weight loss benefits, too.

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You eat while distracted

Do you see crumbs or smudges on your computer keyboard, the touch screen of your phone, or your TV’s remote control? That’s a telltale sign that you’re doing other things while you’re eating. Researchers in Ireland interviewed a group of 66 adults on what made portion control difficult. The eating environment plays a big part in how much you pay attention to your food. This includes distractions like watching TV or working on a computer. A review of two dozen studies showed that being distracted at one meal per day may even cause people to eat more later in the day.

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You dine out for every meal

Constant restaurant eating could make it harder to lose weight. Not only do restaurants offer massive portion sizes, but they only have approximate nutrition information—if they list these numbers at all, SFGate reports. Restaurant meals usually have more calories, saturated fat, and sodium, then homemade ones. The restaurant variety is also typically lower in calcium, fiber, and other weight-friendly nutrients. These are the 13 things experts won’t tell you about weight loss.

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You’re a slave to “healthy brands”

Picking healthy foods is not as simple as finding a “healthy” brand and sticking to it. Every restaurant and every brand has some dishes and products that are healthier than others. It’s key to look beyond advertised health claims on the front of the box. In fact, research from Washington State University shows that reading food labels can improve weight loss.

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You starve yourself

Under-eating and skipping meals have various links to weight gain, not weight loss. Alyssa Ardolino, RD, Nutrition Communications Coordinator, International Food Information Council Foundation, explains that hunger is a pendulum—and restrictive diets cause people to go from one end to the other. “When we’re extremely famished, we’ve swung the hunger pendulum so far back, the only natural reaction is to have it swing hard in the other direction, which means we’re more prone to overeating,” she says. “Opt instead for a healthy medium by eating regularly to keep your hunger at bay.” Here are 15 things you don’t realize are sabotaging your weight loss

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You have a list of forbidden foods

Eliminating any food group strictly for weight loss is not a healthy diet approach—and it doesn’t work for long term weight loss. Research shows that food deprivation and restriction consistently increases food intake, which could lead to weight gain. More importantly, restricting food groups also inadvertently limits vitamins and nutrients. For example, dairy products are a top source of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Most people find that low-anything diets are hard to sustain over time because they often require a lot of cooking or buying specialty food items—and a diet certainly won’t work if you don’t follow it. Caroline Apovian, MD, director of nutrition and weight management at Boston Medical Center, adds that any diet could help you lose weight—the mistake is thinking you can indefinitely stay on a diet that eliminates one food group. “The only diet you can truly stay on forever is the Mediterranean or DASH diets,” she says.

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You rely only on dieting

Dr. Apovian notes another common reason people have trouble losing weight they don’t understand the body is fighting this process because it doesn’t want to get rid of the weight. “One way it fights you is to secrete a hormone that reduces the resting metabolic rate so that you need fewer calories to maintain your weight,” she says. “Even if you lose the weight you cannot keep it off if you need fewer calories suddenly.” That’s where exercise comes into play. The antidote to this issue is resistance exercise training which builds muscle mass and increases your resting metabolic rate forever as long as you keep said additional muscle, Dr. Apovian says. These are the 18 weight loss secrets from around the world that are totally worth stealing.

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You feel bad about your weight

If you feel guilty about your eating habits and ashamed of your body, you will always feel deprived. If you love and respect your body, it will not feel like a chore to research restaurant entrees before you go out to eat or to read nutrition labels in the grocery store or to cook for yourself and your family. Instead, it will be a privilege to take care of yourself by making smart, healthy food choices. Ardolino adds that body shape and size changes throughout our lives—and that’s OK. “If you’re consistently exercising, eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats, sleeping properly and managing your stress, you’re doing the best you can,” she says. “Try not to get too caught up in achieving your ‘ideal’ body; try instead to care for it—it’s the only one you’ve got.” 

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You’ve set the wrong goal

Measuring success with only the number on the scale isn’t painting an accurate picture of progress, according to Ardolino. “Just because someone is losing weight doesn’t mean they’ve adopted healthy, life-long habits,” she says. “We’d like to believe that we have the power to achieve any weight we desire; that’s simply not true.” Instead of focusing on weight loss as the primary goal, establish other ones such as cooking more at home, creating an exercise schedule you enjoy, or eating more fruits and vegetables. These habits are all rooted in self-care and will not only be more relevant to you but more likely to last, Ardolino says. 

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You forget about liquid calories

Some people pay close attention to their food intake, but not enough to what they drink making it harder to lose weight, according to Malina Linkas Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “People who drink more sugar-sweetened beverages tend to have higher body weights, and alcoholic beverages don’t satisfy hunger and can actually stimulate the appetite further,” she says. “If weight loss is a goal, it’s helpful to limit them both.” Here are 17 weight loss “tricks” that don’t actually work—and what to do instead

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You stress and sleep poorly

Non-food related factors could be why you can’t lose weight. One common and underappreciated factor in is sleep deprivation, according to Malkani. Studies show that poor sleep may lead to an increase in body fat and is a risk factor for obesity. “This is potentially because sleep deprivation affects the production of hormones that regulate hunger and satiety,” Malkani, creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle, says. Stress or emotional eating has a similarly negative impact on weight. Studies show that extreme dieting increases cortisol, the stress hormone, which is known for causing weight gain. Malkani adds that adopting healthy alternatives to mood-triggered eating—like taking a walk, meditating, or taking with a friend—are healthy tools for dealing with stress rather than distracting yourself with food.

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You have an underlying health condition

Many additional health issues could make it harder to lose weight directly, indirectly, and can even cause weight gain as a side effect of a medication. Thyroid disorders are one example, according to Malkani. Others include Cushing syndromeProlactinoma, bipolar disorder, Hashimoto’s disease, menopause, and many more. It’s important to check in with your doctor for regular checkups and blood test and discuss any weight loss plans with your provider, too.

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You aren’t making lifestyle changes

An overarching theme is that weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight stems from long-term lifestyle changes. If you’re looking for a quick fix or a temporary diet plan and aren’t incorporating changes you can maintain, you’ll likely have trouble keeping the weight off in the long run. “Overweight and obesity is a disease, and it will never go away, just like diabetes and hypertension,” Dr. Apovian says. “You have to keep up with healthy eating and resistance exercise training to keep the disease at bay.” Next, check out these 25 weight loss myths you need to stop believing—stat.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.