Why Can’t I Lose Weight?
This question is all too familiar to those of us who have struggled (or had a friend, family member, or significant other struggle) to lose weight. You think you’re training hard, eating the right amount of calories to be in a calorie deficit, getting enough sleep, and taking the best supplements for weight loss.
Unfortunately, losing weight for many people extends beyond simply “moving more and eating less.” There are multiple factors and forces the can impact (and even hinder) your transformation challenge or weight loss results.
We’re here to provide clear, concise, and evidence-based information to help you block out the noise and achieve the results you want!
Let’s look at 8 uncomfortable truths holding you back from weight loss success.
#1 Food Companies Muddy the Waters
Getting your calorie intake in check is critical to losing weight. Without a calorie deficit (energy in < energy out), you will not lose weight. Naturally, this leads many people to overhaul their diet, which entails heading to the grocery store and stocking your pantry and fridge with nutritious foods.
But, the grocery store can be a minefield, especially the aisles which are laden with all sorts of products labeled with every fitness buzzword marketing jargon you can imagine, including:
- No Sugar Added
Just because product packaging has some alluring buzzwords on the front doesn’t mean it’s inherently healthy or going to help you get the results you want. When shopping at the grocery store, try to limit the amount of packaged and processed foods you purchase. Opt instead for single ingredient foods (chicken breast, lean red meat, rice, potatoes, broccoli, etc.), then prepare the food yourself. This way you know exactly what goes into the food you’re eating, and you get to determine how much you eat.
And, if you need help with meal ideas and/or figuring out the right amount of calories for your goals, then check out the FREE 1UP Fitness App which offers customized nutrition and training programs based on your preferences.
#2 There Are No Quick Fixes
We’ll put this as simple and easy to understand as possible -- there is no quick fix, magic bullet, or belly-shrinking detox tea that can undo years of inactivity and poor nutrition. Sorry, but those are the facts.
It took time to get out of shape, and it will take time to get back into shape. How long that takes depends on multiple factors, including age, gender, physical activity level, calorie deficit magnitude, body fat percentage, stress levels, sleep hygiene, and more.
#3 You Can’t Out-Exercise a Bad Diet*
In theory, it is possible to out-exercise a bad diet, meaning you can burn more calories than you consume in a day regardless of what you eat. It’s just that an overwhelming majority of people don’t have the time, effort, or willpower to devote to such endeavors.
Realistically, the average person has 90 minutes (max) to exercise three to five times per week. Now, the “serious” fitness enthusiast likely can hit the gym five to six days per week, and squeeze in some fasted cardio or extra walking during the day. But even then, we’re talking about a total of two, maybe three, hours per day of physical activity.
That’s still not enough movement to counteract eating with reckless abandon.
This is why multiple studies have shown that exercise alone is not enough for weight loss.[1,2,3]
You must use a combination of nutrition and exercise to lose fat effectively.
#4 The Human Body Always Adapts
Your body is the most advanced, sophisticated entity ever created…yup it even surpasses chatGPT and other A.I. bots, despite what you may read.
A lifeform’s two prime directives, coded into it across millennia of evolution, is to:
- Adapt to its environment (for survival)
- Procreate to continue the species (again, for survival)
Intentionally restricting energy intake (dieting) and increasing physical activity (exercise) is a two-pronged threat to your body’s survival instincts -- you’re depriving it of energy and forcing it to do more work. In your mind, you know this is for the good of your body (as carrying around excess body fat is itself a health risk). However, your physiology doesn’t know your intentions, it just perceives stressors -- less energy coupled with increased exertion.
After a certain amount of time under this stress, your body will seek to conserve resources by reducing calorie burning at other times during the day (a process called “adaptive thermogenesis”) and possibly altering hunger and satiety cues to make you seek out more food.
Furthermore, losing weight means your body burns fewer calories moving -- a lighter object requires less energy (effort) to move at the same rate with the same force as a heavier object.
Physics lesson aside, this means that as you lose weight, you’ll gradually need to recalibrate your calorie needs to ensure that you remain in a calorie deficit (and thus continue to lose weight).
#5 Environmental Threats
No, we’re not talking about amorphous “toxins”, 5G, or any other sort of boogeyman the click-bait artists are warning you about. The environmental “threats” to which we’re referring are those in plain sight; the ones you take for granted -- chips, candy, cake, cookies, doughnuts. You know, the stuff littering the breakroom table at the office and the buffet table at social gatherings.
Having these temptations (read: threats) represents a clear and present danger to your weight loss results. Many individuals think that “just a bite” or “taste” of something won’t do much harm, but stack all of these nibbles over the course of days and weeks and the calories add up.
While you may not be able to completely insulate yourself from these external temptations (nor would you want to, because let’s face it being a hermit 24/7 isn’t exactly feasible for the vast majority of people, and it deprives you of countless joys that accompany being part of everyday life), you can arm yourself with the knowledge that there will always be a temptation to go off your diet plan.
The best way to combat these threats is to be prepared. This can mean different things to different people. For instance, it could be having a light snack or meal before heading to a party so that you’re not ravenous and prone to try one (or two) of everything from the buffet table. It could also mean having a club soda with a twist of lime instead of a sugary cocktail during after-work mixers.
#6 Progressive Resistance Training is Essential
Earlier we said that it’s not practical or feasible for the vast majority of individuals to out-exercise a bad diet. That still holds true.
The “exercise” that most individuals default to for weight loss is cardio (jogging, running a treadmill, using an elliptical, etc.). While this can boost overall energy expenditure, cardio is sub-optimal and offers diminishing returns over the long-term as your body naturally becomes more efficient at performing it. This means that if you keep doing the same old 30-minute walk/jog, your body will naturally burn less calories than it did when you first started doing it several months back (remember the body always adapts). To keep up the calorie burning, you’d either need to ramp up the intensity and/or duration.
Progressive resistance training, by definition, means that you’re constantly challenging the body to do more work, which keeps calorie burning elevated. Doing “more work” can mean:
- Increasing resistance (“weight on the bar”)
- Doing more reps with the same weight
- Increasing range of motion
- Reducing rest while keeping weight and reps consistent
- Increasing volume
- Increasing frequency
- Increasing time under tension
Additionally, resistance training helps to build strength and prevent the body from breaking down precious lean muscle. The more lean muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate is, which means you’re burning more calories, even when you’re doing nothing.
Truth be told, it is possible to lose “weight” without resistance training, but losing weight isn’t the same thing as losing body fat (which is what most people are after when they say they want to lose weight). Simply losing weight could also mean losing muscle, and if that happens, you could very well end up with the dreaded “skinny fat” physique instead of the lean, toned, and sculpted physique you envisioned. Resistance training reminds your body it needs to hold onto its lean muscle and shed unwanted fat.
#7 There Is No Perfect Diet (for everyone)
Despite what you read or hear on various podcasts, there is no one perfect diet for every single person walking the planet. Dietary preferences (nevermind food sensitivities and actual allergies), by definition, negate the possibility that there exists one diet to rule them all.
At the same time, just about any diet can work for weight loss -- keto, paleo, Mediterranean, IIFYM, intermittent fasting, carnivore, etc. Heck, people have even lost weight eating only potatoes or bananas for long periods of time. Keep in mind that just because you can lose “weight” doesn’t mean it’s optimal, health-promoting or sustainable (meaning you can do it for years on end and keep off the weight you lost).
The “right” diet for you is something that will likely change and evolve over time. Perhaps while you’re dieting, you find greater satiety following a keto or paleo diet, but when you want to gain size and build lean muscle, you find that you perform better (and can eat enough calories to support muscle and strength gain) on a higher-carb diet, a la Mediterranean Diet or IIFYM. As such, don’t be married to one diet (or treat it like a religion or cult). Be open to the idea that what works for you during one phase of your body recomposition cycle or fitness journey may not be the one that you use during another phase. With that understanding, you’re less likely to fall prey to the salacious tactics of fad diets that endlessly pollute society.
#8 What Works For Your Friend May Not Work For You
This last inconvenient truth not only applies to diets but also training programs.
Yes, resistance training is important, but that doesn’t mean you have to adopt a powerlifting program that emphasizes the “Big 3” (squat, bench, deadlift) like your friend, significant other, or coach. You may prefer bodyweight training, dumbbell exercises, or machines (or any combination of the three). Don’t be married to a singular program or ideology. Adhere to the fundamentals (progressive overload), and find the right program that motivates you to consistently show up for training sessions and give it everything you have.
Weight loss can be complicated and frustrating at times, but it doesn’t have to be that way all the time. Use the tips outlined above to navigate the most common pitfalls and follies of weight loss, and if you want additional help, we’re always here to help.
The 1UP Fitness App is FREE and offers customized diet and exercise programs to help you achieve your goals, no matter where you are (or where you want to go!). When you download the app, you also get access to our exclusive insider group where you can interact with like-minded individuals and elite coaches to get their input on nutrition, training, and supplement recommendations to support your goals!
- Swift DL, McGee JE, Earnest CP, Carlisle E, Nygard M, Johannsen NM. The Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Weight Loss and Maintenance. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2018 Jul-Aug;61(2):206-213. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2018.07.014. Epub 2018 Jul 9. PMID: 30003901.
- Thorogood A, Mottillo S, Shimony A, Filion KB, Joseph L, Genest J, Pilote L, Poirier P, Schiffrin EL, Eisenberg MJ. Isolated aerobic exercise and weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Med. 2011 Aug;124(8):747-55. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2011.02.037. PMID: 21787904.
- Villareal DT, Chode S, Parimi N, Sinacore DR, Hilton T, Armamento-Villareal R, Napoli N, Qualls C, Shah K. Weight loss, exercise, or both and physical function in obese older adults. N Engl J Med. 2011 Mar 31;364(13):1218-29. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1008234. PMID: 21449785; PMCID: PMC3114602.