This is a question I get asked all the time “Why aren’t I losing weight? I’ve been exercising regularly, doing all the right things but nothing is happening!” I’d say that this is the number one reason why people fall off the exercise wagon- lack of results. So why is it that some people seem to be doing all the right things but still don’t lose weight? I’ve outlined the five main culprits in order of importance. Point number one is, in my experience, the most common reason why people don’t lose weight and keep it off.*
1. You’re not losing weight because you’re eating too much:
Many people begin an exercise program and the increase in activity can make them hungry. However eating more will just counter balance the calories burned, leading to no weight loss at all. Similarly, I have observed a mindset of “Well I just trained so now I can have that hot dog and beer.” If you are trying to lose weight, sorry that just won’t work!
The Biggest Loser TV show is a fine example. Some weeks contestants lost virtually nothing or even put weight on. These people were exercising up to four hours per day, but if their diet wasn’t right no weight loss would occur. Many might argue that muscle gain must be the reason, but we are talking about extremely overweight people who already had strong muscles (due to their size) and who were predominately doing cardiovascular, not strength activities.
My advice: Diet is the key to weight loss. Commit to one full week of counting the calories of everything you eat (calorie King is a good website). Sounds like a chore but it works and educates you. Observe how much you are eating before you start your training regime, and be sure not to increase this amount. If you get hungry, drink more water or herbal tea.
The best thing you can do is determine their basal or resting metabolism (Click here to determine yours), and then use a heart rate monitor with the calorie option to see how many calories they burnt during their workout (this is how The Biggest Loser determine their daily caloric amount). A really rough guide of daily caloric allowance is 1200-1500 calories per day for women and 2000 – 2400 calories for men. Combine that with regular exercise and weight loss simply has to occur.
I would also like to point out that not eating enough can impact weight loss. However in my experience people who are overweight and not eating enough are often in a short term cycle, finding their optimum caloric intake. What led to them becoming overweight in the first place was not a result of not eating enough.
2. You’re not losing weight because you’re not training hard or long enough:
I love it when people tell me they went to the gym four times this week; they did 2 yoga classes, a swim, and a sauna. So why aren’t they losing weight? This is where the sergeant comes out and cracks his whip! Think back to your last week’s training. On a scale of 1-10 how hard would you rate the sessions? Another way of putting it, if the sessions were less than 45 mins, were you completely maxed out at the end, or could you have kept going?
The main principal of exercise is overload. The body needs to be overloaded in some form, to stimulate change. In fact, the body hates change. Your entire sympathetic nervous system is devoted to keeping you at homeostasis, where everything from your body temperature to metabolism stays the same. So if you want to see some change, guess what, you’ve got to overload.
My advice: Overloading your body is extremely specific for each individual. If you have been very sedentary of late, then a walk for 20mins might be a form of overload. But in less than 2 weeks, you’ve got to think of a new way to overload. The two main ways are increasing the intensity, or increasing the time (or both!). If you are a walker, try jogging for intermittent times, increasing the jogging time each workout from maybe 30sec to start until your can jog 10min straight. If you can’t jog, find some hills, stairs, or double your distance. Notice how quickly the body responds.
Someone came to me who runs 50km per week, but has been putting on weight. I bet lots of my readers would be a shadow their former self if they ran that distance each week, but this person has been running the same distance and speed for years, and their body is used to it. She needs to find a new way of overloading.
I believe that 3 workouts per week should be at 8 out of 10 in intensity. These are often shorter sessions (20-40min) but tough ones. If the thought of pushing yourself to max puts you off, that’s fine too. Then you need to increase the length of your session. It’s your choice, shorter and harder, or longer and steady. Both will overload, which is what we need.
3. You’re not losing weight because you haven’t been consistent
Weight loss takes time. Often it can take years to really shift lifestyle patterns to make a permanent difference. The body works in mysterious ways and if you are glued to the scales, it will just send you crazy. You might lose weight one week, but gain weight the next week. Life is enough of a rollercoaster as it is.
My advice: Weight loss is a shift in one’s personal attitude, a lifestyle change. So pick some other goals within this shift to take the attention off weight loss. Events such as fun runs, Walk-a-thons, social sports, in-house gym competitions, and social groups will be much more inspiring and most importantly fun! After a few months you’ll hop on the scales and be pleasantly surprised. These activities keep you much more consistent and motivated than losing a few pounds each week.
4. You’re not losing weight because you’re not drinking enough water
I don’t need to tell you this, right! It’s so obvious I know, but time and time again I see people mistake hunger for thirst. I see workouts wasted due to dehydration. I see dark circles under eyes, clogged up systems and lethargy. It’s just a habit that needs to be created. It’s one of the easiest, yet most effective ways to lose weight.
My advice: Get out your calculator and punch this in: 30ml for every kilo you weigh (1 ounce for every 2.2lbs you weigh). Add 1 litre (33 ounces) for every hour you exercise. This is a ‘not negotiable.’ And ditch the sugary drinks!
5. You’re not losing weight but your body shape has changed
Do you know I have quite drastically changed the shape of my body three times in my life but my weight has always remained within around 3kg (6.6lbs). Muscle is heavier than fat, so if you gain a lot of muscle that can hide the fat loss on the scales, but this really only applies to leaner people. If you are carrying an extra 6kg (13lb) or more this wont be an issue for you.
My Advice: Use other measurements not just the scales. Clothes and photographs are easy. Also using a tape to measure key areas is really motivating. The important parts are your stomach (belly button line), hips (widest part when you stand front or side on in mirror), and the upper thigh (measure a distance from your knee cap to the point on your upper thigh, so that you remeasure in the same spot). Take notes for accuracy. For example “Measured over pants, Foot on chair, 30cm from knee cap.”
Exercise will change your body shape for the better (in 99% of the cases, bodybuilders are the exception!), so even if the scales don’t drop too much, so long as you look and feel better, who cares!
6. You’re not losing weight because of shifts in hormone levels
Ask any post baby or menopausal woman, and she will attest to the influences hormones have on her body and cravings. The main culprits are the hormones that increase appetite (cortisol, Estrogen, leptin just to name a few) and hormones that reduce one’s metabolism (Thyroxine produced in the thyroid). There is no doubt that a sudden shift in hormone production can have huge effects on weight loss. Sleep also has huge effects on hormone production, so make sure you are getting enough sleep!
My Advice: If you have recently put a lot of weight on for no apparent reason, or your appetite has significantly surged, it is worth speaking to your doctor and having some tests to ensure your hormone function is normal. Thyroid issues are on the rise and can be harmful if not treated properly. Hormonal issues can be overcome and are by no means a deal breaker in weight loss. Living a healthy life, getting enough sleep, eating complex carbs such as fruit and vegetables are all important in regulating hormones. Our hormones shift throughout our life and it is important that we make lifestyle adjustments as we get older.
Have you struggled losing weight? Do any of the above issues affect you? Maybe you found another reason why you didn’t lose weight. I’d love to hear it. Just remember lasting weight loss takes time. Be patient and remember it’s not just about the scales.
* Please note that this article is directed to overweight people trying to lose weight, and does not apply to lean people trying to get even leaner.