On the surface, losing weight seems pretty straightforward -- burn more calories than you eat utizling a combination of diet and exercise and voila!
You’ve got the lean, toned physique you’ve always wanted.
Unfortunately, weight loss isn’t always a smooth journey -- even when you’re doing everything “right.” They’re filled with the proverbial bumps and bruises like any other venture in life.things don’t always.
The important thing is to NOT give up...not even for a second.
Here are 10 reasons you might be struggling to lose weight and what you can do to kickstart your results again during your transformation challenge.
Top 10 Reasons You Might Be Struggling to Lose Weight
#1 You’re Eating More Than You Think
Weight loss is ultimately a matter of calories in versus calories out. Eat fewer calories than you burn and you will lose weight. It’s simple thermodynamics.
Yet, why does it seem that many people still struggle to lose weight, even when they say that they’re dieting.
The truth is that they’re probably not in a calorie deficit. They might think they are, but if they meticulously tracked their food intake, they would be shocked at how much food they were actually eating each day.
Research even shows that most individuals underestimate how many calories they consume each day and overestimate how many calories they burn during exercise.
This is why it’s imperative (at least for a little while) that you track everything that you eat (even those little nibbles of snacks from the break room). Only then will you understand just how many calories you’re eating each day, and you’ll know how much you need to reduce your calorie intake to start losing weight.
#2 You’re Overestimating Calories Burned from Exercise
We’ve all seen the “calories burned” readout on the various cardio machines at the gym and been imbued with a tremendous sense of accomplishment at how many calories were burned.
But, here’s a dirty little secret most people don’t know -- that number on the readout is wildly inaccurate. More often than not, the number on the cardio machine is much higher than the actual number of calories burned.
This can lead individuals to consume a higher amount of calories during the day under the belief that they’ve actually been burning more calories than they actually have, which can lead to weight loss plateaus.
Furthermore, many people tend to lean on the handles or arm rest of treadmills or ellipticals which actually reduces how much of your body weight you’re having to move through space, utlitally decreasing how many calories you’re actually burning.
The takeaway here is to take the number of calories burned that the cardio machine tells you with a huge grain of salt. Those readouts are based on empirical formulas based on a large population of individuals. It merely provides an estimate, no more, no less.
#3 Unrealistic Expectations
One thing we’ve discussed many times before on the blog is the concept of SMART goals.
SMART is an acronym that stands for:
Structuring your goals in life (regardless if they’re fitness related or not) around the SMART philosophy can help encourage greater success.
One of the many reasons individuals struggle to lose weight, and ultimately abandon their diet and exercise regimen, is that they simply have unrealistic expectations of what they can achieve in a given amount of time.
This is, in large part, due to magazines, blogs, and social media promoting unrealistic results in illogical timeframes (e.g. shed 15 pounds in 5 days, build 20 lbs of muscle in 30 days, etc.).
Now, you might be able to lose 15 pounds in 5 days, but that will be almost pure water weight with very little actual fat loss.
A reasonable rate of weight loss is between 1-2 pounds per week, assuming you are not very overweight or obese. Trying to lose weight any faster than this can lead to muscle loss, which only serves to worsen body composition and decrease metabolism.
In addition to tracking your body weight, it can also be helpful to take a few measurements (waist, thigh, chest, upper arm) as well as progress photos. This way, even if your body weight stays the same for a week or two, if you see your tape measurements going down or your progress photos improving, you know you’re still making progress!
#4 Not Eating Enough Food
It’s true that in order to lose weight you do need to consume fewer calories than you burn. However, as with all things in life, more isn’t always better. What we mean by that is that while you do need a calorie deficit to lose weight, it doesn’t need to be extreme.
For instance, to lose fat at a steady clip (1-2 lbs per week), you want to use between a 10-20% calorie deficit.
Take your calorie deficit to the extreme leads to muscle loss and plateaus as your body can enter into starvation mode.
Also keep in mind that food is fuel, your body requires a certain amount of calories each day to perform basic functions including immunity, cognitive function, and hormone production. Cutting your calories too low deprives your body of the essential nutrients it needs to survive, let alone perform optimally in your workouts to help you burn more calories throughout the day.
#5 Only Doing Cardio
When most individuals want to lose weight, they default to performing endless hours of cardio, typically in the form of jogging outdoors or on the treadmill.
While cardio can help increase energy expenditure during the day, the truth is that you can actually lose weight without ever performing one second of traditional “cardio.”
The reason for this is that weight loss is the result of a calorie deficit, which can be accomplished purely through diet alone.
Now, don’t mistake what we’re saying. We don’t think cardio is bad, nor should it be avoided. It can help increase energy expenditure during the day, and it’s also good for heart health. It’s just that cardio shouldn’t be the main focus of your transformation challenge.
The focus should be on resistance training, which boosts metabolism for several hours after your workout is over and it helps build muscle (and the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest).
Cardio can still be included in your weekly exercise regimen, but make sure your top two priorities when trying to lose weight are on your nutrition plan and resistance training.
#6 Skipping on Sleep
Sleep is your secret weapon for losing fat efficiently (as well as building muscle).
The reason for this is that sleep is when the body does the vast majority of its repair and recovery -- energy stores are replenished, hormone output is elevated, etc.
However, when you’re sleep deprived, your body’s physiology gets thrown seriously out of whack.
Sleep deprivation is known to disrupt energy metabolism and nutrient utilization/storage. It also messes with your hunger and satiety hormones, leading you to crave high-calorie foods and also not feel as full following mealtime.[2,3]
Not getting enough sleep also reduces energy expenditure during the day and reduces motivation and desire to exercise. What’s more, protein synthesis also decreases and protein breakdown increases, which can lead to muscle loss.
In other words, you need to get enough quality sleep each and every night.
Current recommendations are to get between 7-9 hours of quality sleep each and every night (yes, even on weekends).
If you need help powering down at night, try the following:
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Make your room cool and dark
- Wear loose, light clothing to bed
- Take a warm shower or bath before bed
- Read, meditate, and/or journal
- Avoid blue light (TV, laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.) 2 hours before bed
- Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol before bed
You can also try using a nighttime relaxation and recovery aid, such as 1UP Beauty Dream PM or Recharge PM, which contain natural ingredients like L-Theanine and Valerian as well as non-stimulant weight loss support agents, including green tea and 5-HTP, to help you both achieve deeper sleep and aid the body’s natural fat burning mechanisms.
#7 Not Eating Enough Protein
Protein is the most important macronutrient when it comes to body recomposition. The reasons for this are many, not the least of which is the fact that protein literally supplies your body with the building blocks it needs to build and repair all of the various tissues that make you, you.
This includes hair, skin, nails, muscles, organs, joints, ligaments, tendons, and even hormones.
But, there’s more.
Protein is also the most satiating macronutrient, which means it helps keep you feeling full for longer than either carbohydrates or fat. To top it off, protein also has a higher thermic effect than either carbohydrates or fat. In other words, your body has to expend more energy to digest protein than it does carbs or fats.
So, not only does protein help fill you up, it also increases how many calories you’re burning during the day!
Research also shows that individuals who consume higher protein diets have less cravings and desire to snack.[4,5]
FInally, high protein diets also help attenuate metabolic slowdown, which is a common side effect of dieting for long periods of time, as well as weight regain following the completion of the diet.
Aim to consume between 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day, preferably spaced evenly across the day.
Some of our favorite sources of protein to include during a diet are:
- Lean beef
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Protein powder (such as 1UP Whey Protein or Organic Vegan Protein)
#8 Not Eating Enough Whole Foods
The types of food you eat are just as important as the quantity of food you eat each day.
Gram for gram, whole foods are more filling, yet contain fewer calories than processed foods (cookies, candy, chips, crackers, juices, etc.).
Having the majority of your daily nutrition intake centered around whole foods will help ensure you’re getting enough essential nutrients (protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.) as well as keeping hunger levels in check.
#9 Not Drinking Enough Water
Amid all the emphasis on diet and exercise, many individuals fail to drink enough fluids during the day, which can have a direct impact on hunger and satiety cues.
Simply put, many individuals often mistake hunger for thirst.
Research also shows that doing a water “preload” where you consume a glass or two of water before mealtime can help reduce how many calories are consumed during the meal.[7,8]
Drinking water also provides a modest boost in how many calories your body burns during the day, and when you’re trying to optimize weight loss, every little bit counts!
Plus, proper hydration also allows you to push harder in your workouts, which can increase daily energy expenditure (thereby promoting weight loss), as well as recover quicker, so you can train more often!
If you’re someone who struggles to drink enough fluids during the day, it may help to carry a water bottle with you and/or set a reminder on your phone to let you know that you need to drink some fluids.
#10 Not Listening to Your Body
Dieting is stressful to both the body and mind. As such, there’s only so long you can diet before the body needs a break, either mentally or physically.
If you’ve been dieting for a considerable length of time already (>12 weeks), you may just need to tap the breaks for a week or two and eat at maintenance calories.
This reduces stress on your physiology, allowing hormone levels to normalize, and it also helps alleviate some of the psychological burden that builds up over the weeks of constantly having to think about dieting and exercising more.
After a period of maintaining, you can jump right back into dieting if you feel you still need to drop a few more pounds before hitting your ultimate end goal.
- Lichtman SW, Pisarska K, Berman ER, Pestone M, Dowling H, Offenbacher E, Weisel H, Heshka S, Matthews DE, Heymsfield SB. Discrepancy between self-reported and actual caloric intake and exercise in obese subjects. N Engl J Med. 1992 Dec 31;327(27):1893-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199212313272701. PMID: 1454084.
- Greer, S., Goldstein, A. & Walker, M. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain.Nat Commun 4, 2259 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3259
- Hanlon EC, Tasali E, Leproult R, Stuhr KL, Doncheck E, de Wit H, Hillard CJ, Van Cauter E. Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Sleep. 2016 Mar 1;39(3):653-64. doi: 10.5665/sleep.5546. PMID: 26612385; PMCID: PMC4763355.
- Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, Callahan HS, Meeuws KE, Burden VR, Purnell JQ. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jul;82(1):41-8. doi: 10.1093/ajcn.82.1.41. PMID: 16002798.
- Hoertel HA, Will MJ, Leidy HJ. A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese "breakfast skipping", late-adolescent girls. Nutr J. 2014 Aug 6;13:80. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-80. PMID: 25098557; PMCID: PMC4249715.
- Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Lejeune MP, Nijs I, van Ooijen M, Kovacs EM. High protein intake sustains weight maintenance after body weight loss in humans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Jan;28(1):57-64. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802461. PMID: 14710168.
- Parretti HM, Aveyard P, Blannin A, Clifford SJ, Coleman SJ, Roalfe A, Daley AJ. Efficacy of water preloading before main meals as a strategy for weight loss in primary care patients with obesity: RCT. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Sep;23(9):1785-91. doi: 10.1002/oby.21167. Epub 2015 Aug 3. PMID: 26237305.
- Vij VA, Joshi AS. Effect of excessive water intake on body weight, body mass index, body fat, and appetite of overweight female participants. J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2014;5(2):340-344. doi:10.4103/0976-9668.136180