Why Am I Not Losing Weight: 11 Reasons You’re Failing To Lose Fat

image descriptionPosted by ACalorieCounter image descriptionSeptember 10, 2013 image description140 Comments

Oh no… here it comes again. “I’m eating less, eating healthier and working out more. I’ve done everything right, but it’s still not working for me. Why am I not losing weight???

I hear it so often that it’s beginning to haunt my dreams. Tons of people who are consistently failing to lose weight despite telling me that they’re doing everything right. What the hell? How can this be?

I’ll tell you how. In fact, to help you solve this problem once and for all, I’m going to give you a list of 11 possible reasons for why you’re not losing weight. Ready? Let’s do this…

1. You’re Eating Too Many Calories.

Here’s how it works, folks. Everything we do burns calories, and everything we consume (minus obvious stuff like water) contains calories.

Now, if the amount of calories being consumed is consistently greater than the amount of calories being burned, we gain weight. This is known as a caloric surplus, and it forces the body to store these left over calories in some form for later use. That form is most often body fat.

The good news however is that the opposite of this scenario has the opposite result. Meaning, if the amount of calories being consumed is consistently less than the amount of calories being burned, we lose weight. This is known as a caloric deficit, and it forces the body to burn some alternative fuel source for energy instead. That source is most often body fat.

What I’ve just described is the scientifically proven and always true energy balance equation commonly summed up as Calories In vs Calories Out.

So if you’re not losing weight… you’re simply eating too many calories and no deficit is present.

2. No, Seriously… You’re Eating Too Many Calories.

Maybe you accidentally skipped over #1. It’s cool. I skim articles all the time, too. So just in case you missed it, here’s your chance to go back up and read the first item on this list. It’s kinda important.

3. Maybe You Didn’t Hear Me: YOU’RE EATING TOO MANY CALORIES!

What, you thought I was joking? I’m not. The reason you’re not losing weight is because you eat too much. That’s it. A caloric deficit is the one big requirement here, and you simply don’t have one.

4. I Know You Were Hoping For Other Reasons, But There Aren’t Any.

Sorry to disappoint you, but there’s no big secret being hidden from you or any little tip that you’ve somehow missed. You’re just not creating the required caloric deficit. Simple as that.

5. Too Many Carbs After 7PM Is Causing… Nope… It’s Still Calories.

Hi. Above all else, weight control and body composition really do revolve around calories. Eat more of them and you gain weight, eat less of them and you lose weight. Taaadaaa!

And yes, I know you’ve probably heard otherwise. I get that you’ve probably seen some person claim that the key to weight loss is everything from carbs, to fat, to avoiding certain food groups, to eating 6 small meals per day, to not eating after a certain time at night, to only eating healthy “clean” foods, and on and on and on.

That’s all bullshit.

Truth is, the key to weight loss (and weight gain) is and always will be calories. Anyone who disagrees is an idiot who should be ignored. And the product they are likely trying to sell should be avoided, too.

So while a lot of this other stuff definitely matters in terms of overall health and still definitely plays an important role in helping you improve your body, it’s always a distant second to calories when it comes to weight loss or a lack thereof.

More about this here: The Truth About Fat Loss

6. “But I’m NOT Eating Too Many Calories, I Swear!” Yes, You Are.

I know, I know. You’re counting calories and eating healthy and you know for sure that you’re eating the right amount that you need to eat in order to lose weight. Yet, you’re somehow still not losing weight.

Well, guess what? You’re wrong.

Underestimating

If there’s one thing damn near every nutritionist and diet professional can agree on, it’s that people trying to lose weight almost ALWAYS underestimate how many calories they are actually eating. It happens all the time, and various weight loss studies prove it.

Some people underestimate the quantity of food they consume (like thinking you ate 1 serving when you really ate 3 or 4), while others underestimate the amount of calories it contained (like thinking a meal was 500 calories when it was really 1000). Some underestimate both.

Mistakes And Under-Reporting

In fact, many people just screw up during the serving size measuring process and take significantly more than they think they’re taking. Leigh Peel shows a few examples of this right here.

Many other people just think there are certain “free” foods they can eat and not count… like fruits and vegetables for example. As if the calories they contain are magic calories that somehow don’t matter? Funny stuff. In reality, they matter just like any other calories matter, and they can add up pretty quick. Count them. Count everything.

And don’t forget the people who eat “tiny” amounts of something here and there and assume it’s so insignificant that they don’t even need to bother counting it. Guess what? The calories from that sort of thing adds up pretty quick, too.

Once again, this is all stuff that is seen over and over again, and it commonly ends up accounting for hundreds or sometimes even thousands of accidental “I-didn’t-even-realize-it” calories.

I actually show a typical real world example of this kind of thing right here.

Hell, many people just flat out lie about how much they are truly eating. Why? Because they’re apparently too embarrassed to admit what they eat (even to themselves), yet not too embarrassed to be and stay fat as a result.

You’re Unknowingly Getting It Wrong Somewhere

Now I’m not accusing you of being an underestimater, or a bad measurer, or a liar, or someone who’s just bad at counting. I’m just telling you the facts.

And the fact is, weight loss always happens when a caloric deficit is present. So if you claim to consistently be eating the right amount of calories yet still aren’t losing weight, then you’re simply not in a caloric deficit and had to have screwed something up somewhere.

7. “But I’m Burning Tons Of Calories, I Swear!” No, You’re Not.

I know, I know. You’re exercising like crazy and burning tons and tons of calories through cardio and weight training and are therefore in the caloric deficit you need to be in for weight loss to occur. Yet, for some unknown reason, you’re still not losing weight.

What could it possibly be? Oh, I know… the fact that infinite real world examples and various studies also prove that people trying to lose weight almost ALWAYS overestimate calories burned.

Yup, in addition to underestimating the calories we consume, we also overestimate the calories we burn. How’s that for a recipe for disaster?

So you know the “tons” of calories you assumed you’ve burned doing cardio? Yeah, that didn’t actually happen. Based on all of the research I’ve seen, an average person doing a typical form of cardio at a typical intensity will burn around 7-10 calories per minute on average.

Think about that the next time you assume 30 minutes on the treadmill is going to have some super significant calorie burning effect. It won’t.

Not to mention, another big problem with overestimating calories burned is that it gives people the false mindset of “Oh, I was on the elliptical for 25 minutes today, so I can surely afford to eat this extra 1000 calories now… right?”

They then proceed to cancel out whatever small amount of calories they burned (and then some), and then wonder why they’re not losing weight despite “working out all the time.” HA!

8. You MIGHT Be Gaining Some Other Form Of “Weight”

Okay, you got me… there’s an exception to some of the statements being made in this article, and there is a legitimate reason for why you might not be losing weight besides a lack of a caloric deficit.

What is it, you ask? Well, it could be that you ARE in that required caloric deficit and you ARE losing fat, but you happen to be gaining something else that is counterbalancing your weight.

See, even though we often use these words interchangeably, there’s a difference between weight loss and fat loss. Fat loss is always fat. Weight loss however can be fat, muscle, water, glycogen, poop or all of the above. And since most people only monitor their fat loss by monitoring their weight on the scale, your true progress can be temporarily hidden (this is extra true for women on a monthly basis).

This is why it’s a good idea to do more than just weigh yourself. For example, take measurements, take pictures, and get your body fat percentage measured.

Of course, the difference between “weight loss” and “fat loss” doesn’t change the calories in vs calories out equation. Nor does it change the fact that a caloric deficit is still the one and only requirement here. It just means that it’s possible to lose fat while gaining something else, and it can make it seem as though you haven’t lost any.

BUT… you must keep in mind that this scenario is just a short term thing at best. Meaning, if week after week is passing and you’re still not losing any weight, it’s HIGHLY unlikely that you just so happen to be simultaneously gaining some other form of weight (like muscle) this consistently.

Instead, it’s MUCH more likely that you’re just eating too many calories, not creating a caloric deficit, and are just not losing any fat, period.

I cover this weight loss plateau myth in detail here: Muscle Weighs More Than Fat?

Speaking of which…

9. The Dreaded Weight Loss Plateau…

Were you previously losing weight, but then it just stopped? If so, you’ve hit the dreaded weight loss plateau and that can only mean one thing: you’re still eating too many calories. Let me explain…

A weight loss plateau is what happens when the caloric deficit you successfully created has ceased to exist. There’s a few reasons for why this happens and why it’s so common, but it would honestly take its own article to fully explain (don’t worry, it’s on my to-do list).

But the gist of it is simple… calories in vs calories out still remains true, it’s just that your specific numbers in that equation have changed as a result of the weight loss you’ve already experienced.

This is partially because being in a deficit causes your metabolic rate to slow down a bit over time (a process known as “adaptive thermogenesis”), but it’s mostly just because you’ve already lost weight… so the calorie intake that worked when you were 250lbs doesn’t work the same now that you’re 200lbs.

And this is all just another way of saying that you’re eating too many calories for your new current weight and the required caloric deficit no longer exists. Eat a little less (or burn a little more) and you’ll magically break that plateau.

10. “Starvation Mode”

Ah yes, the always entertaining starvation mode. This is one of those subjects that’s going to need WAY more than a quick mention in an article to properly cover. Hell, it’s going to need a full article of its own just to define what it actually is and isn’t.

Most people using this term have no clue.

Fortunately, I’ve recently written that article and I highly suggest checking it out (after finishing this one, of course): Starvation Mode: Is It a Myth or Is It Real?

For now, allow me to briefly summarize the two most relevant points I make in that article.

First, the people who think they aren’t losing weight because they are “in starvation mode” are wrong. Instead, they are just failing to lose weight due to one of the reasons we already covered (e.g. you’re eating too many calories).

In this case, “starvation mode” is just one of the many silly things people throw out there as their excuse for failing to create a caloric deficit. Happens all the time. The solution of course is to fix your diet and training program, actually stick to it, and make sure the one and only thing you need to be doing (creating a caloric deficit) is actually being done.

The second point is that the definition of “starvation mode” most people have in their head is wrong and nothing more than a myth. So the idea that not eating enough is preventing you from losing any weight or even causing you to gain weight is just pure bullshit.

However, there are certain aspects of “starvation mode” that are real, but they are better described as the “starvation response.” For example, your metabolic rate does slow down when you’re losing weight (due to a combination of adaptive thermogenesis and the fact that you weigh less than you used to).

And yes, the more excessively low your calorie intake is (and/or the more excessively high your output is), the more significant this “slow down” will be.

But the thing is, this “slow down” will never actually be significant enough to STOP or PREVENT weight loss from happening or somehow CAUSE weight gain. That’s a myth.

The truth is, there is no such thing as “not losing weight because you’re eating too little.” No matter how little you’re eating, you’ll always lose weight if a deficit is present.

So then what about that girl who claims to be “eating 800 calories per day and still isn’t losing weight?” Simple… she’s wrong. In reality, she’s miscalculating, underestimating and/or under-reporting her calorie intake and is consuming more than the 800 or whatever calories she claims to be. (Or, eating 800 calories most days is causing her to binge like crazy on other days, thus creating a wonderful scenario where she’s starving herself with very low calories some days, and then binge eating very high calories on others. In the end, the ‘binge calories’ beat the ‘starvation calories’ and no deficit exists.)

Like I said, it happens all the time. Take someone claiming to be eating very little and not losing weight. Lock them in a room and closely monitor/weigh/measure their food intake for them, and they will magically lose weight just fine. Studies like this have been done. Turns out they weren’t eating as little as they thought.

That’s the ironic thing about the concept of “starvation mode.” Certain parts of it are real (like your metabolic rate slowing down), but they’re either nowhere near as significant as people think (like that same metabolic slow down) or they’re just not what people think, period (“I skipped breakfast today… I’m probably already in starvation mode and burning muscle while gaining fat!!!”).

Which is just a long way of saying that the people who claim it’s their reason for not losing weight are incorrect. Instead, they’re just eating too many calories. Surprise surprise.

11. Legitimate (But Rare) Medical Issues.

I know we’d all like to believe that we’re failing to lose weight because some mysterious outside factor is screwing up our results. The thing is, it’s almost NEVER the case.

That’s why I find the “it’s my thyroid” thought so damn funny. In reality, you’re just not creating the caloric deficit that is required for weight loss to take place. Seriously, if your thyroid was capable of laughter, it would be laughing at you for trying to use it as an excuse for eating and exercising like a dumbass.

However, for the sake of being as complete as possible, I do want to mention that SOME people truly do have problems with their thyroid and/or other legit medical issues that can affect their ability to lose weight. Blood work is the only way to know for sure.

However, while this is real and it does happen, it’s probably not happening to you. You’re just eating too many calories.

And even in the cases when it IS happening to you, the reason for the lack of weight loss is still just a lack of a caloric deficit. The solution here however is less about eating less calories and more about solving the underlying health issue that’s preventing your body from burning as many calories as it should be.

The Big Point… Just In Case You Missed It

If you’re not losing weight, there’s likely a thousand different possible aspects of your diet and workout you might consider as the culprit. And of those thousand, you’d be wasting your time and energy giving a crap about 999 of them.

Instead, the true culprit is calories and the fact that you’re either eating too many of them or not burning enough of them. Even if you think you are… you’re just not.

If you were, you’d be losing weight.

So before you start focusing on the hilarious garbage, meaningless nonsense, and countless myth-based excuses that most people tend to focus on as possible reasons for why they’re not losing weight, step back for a second and take a closer look at exactly how many calories you’re eating and exactly how many calories you’re burning.

100% of the time, that’s where your problem (and solution) will be found.

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  • Dabojable February 02, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Thanks mate, the advice really helped
    I am currently in secondary school (YR11) and I want to get big (ok ok) But first I need to lose weight (obviously) I am 63kg and 1.69m and my BMI is 22.1 which is healthy weight but I still look a bit fat, and if I want to get big first I need to shed the pounds. I want the girls but I am afraid they will laugh at me even if I look abit fat. How to I lose weight???

    Reply
  • llow carber February 05, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    So what about restricting sugar/carbs? Even if, as I am assuming that you would argue, the only benefit of such a method of eating is that it leads to decreased caloric intake, does it not have value for that reason alone? I think that’s part, but not all of why it works. Eating sugar and carbs makes you crave more sugat and carbs, leading to vastly increased calories. This doesnt even consider the effects of blood sugar spikes and insulin. So low carbing it allows you to decrease your calories while remaining satiated.

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter February 05, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Yes, reducing carb intake reduces calorie intake, which is what causes people to lose fat when they eat less carbs. They’ll think it was eating less carbs that caused their weight loss, but in reality it was eating less calories as a result of eating less carbs.

      And sure, if you eat a bunch of sugar or a meal comprised of nothing but white bread or candy or cookies or something, you’ll probably be hungry again soon after. Which is why no one (including me) would ever recommend eating like this. It’s also why it’s recommended to eat a sufficient amount of protein, fat and fiber, all of which are significantly more filling than carbs and, when combined with high carb foods (even the supposed “bad” ones), significantly slow down their digestion and impact on blood sugar, thus reducing/eliminating the issues with hunger that you mentioned.

      Also keep in mind that people really like eating carbs. Force them to eat a diet that greatly restricts their carb intake, and you instantly put a person on a diet they hate and will be less likely to sustain.

      Keep a nice amount of their favorite carbs present, and you instantly put a person on a diet they’ll enjoy and be much more likely to sustain.

      Reply
  • Snure February 07, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    I do have a question about a calorie deficit.

    I’m a 250 lbs 5’10″ guy. I’ve lost about 16 lbs since january 2nd, and I’m feeling great!

    I was wondering though, I’ve got myself down to about 1500 calories a day, which is close to 1000 calories under my BMR, and I’ve been jogging 4 times a week. Most people recommend a 500 calorie deficit, but is there anything wrong with going down to 1000 below? Like I said, I’m feeling absolutely fine and the weight is melting off.

    Reply
  • Viv February 20, 2014 at 3:37 am

    Great article, I like it!

    Just a question on labels……

    When I read calories contained on a food label, is that the total once all the sugars and other rubbish have been broken down? Example a can of sugar free fizz or similar stimulant drink claim zero calories but I struggle to believe it is really zero calories or 1 calorie whatever the label claims.

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter February 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      The amount shown for calories will be the total of everything (protein, fat, carbs/sugar).

      The reason sugar free items show zero calories is because they contain sugar substitutes in place of actual sugar.

      Reply
  • From Denmark February 23, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Love love love this article so much

    I know lots of obese Danes that I want to “force feed” with your writing – I have had this discussion with people soooo many times. But I guess they are all so tired from being in “starvation mode” that they are not able to understand simple logic.

    Sighhhhhh!

    Reply
  • Figgzie February 26, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I have been doing Carb Nite for the last 4 months and about 2-3 weeks ago found my weight loss stalled. I stumbled across your site and read a ton of stuff here that really made sense. Even though Carb Nite says you can still lose weight even in a calorie surplus and I have been having great success, I did start to closely track my calories and make sure I was in a deficit. Viola, I lost 6 pounds in about 2 and a half weeks. I think I will continue Carb Nite because I do feel it controls my appetite very very well but I will also incorporate your advice as it is proving to be very useful. Thanks.

    Reply
  • Rana March 11, 2014 at 10:38 am

    I have a question, what if eat above my calorie limit but all clean meals that includes veggies mostly will i still be gaining weight ??

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter March 14, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      You’ll get fat eating too many calories worth of healthy food just the same as you would eating unhealthy food. It’s not the type of food that causes fat to be gained. It’s the total amount of calories consumed.

      Reply
  • sharon hatfield March 17, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    AMEN! It’s the ONLY diet that works!

    Reply
  • Carolyn Leigh Romvári March 20, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    I’m feeling a little stunned from all this freeing information. My endocrinologist, trainer and nutritionist have all had stipulations as to when and what to eat. I am a little insulin resistant (from PCOS not diabetes) and I take se blood sugar normalizing meds (metformin and victoza). I have been on a very low cal plan for awhile and have wondered if that is hurting my system. I normally don’t eat dinner since I eat the daily 800 allotment during the other meals. Does it REALLY not matter if I don’t eat for 12 hours or if my deficit is 50% ? Those two factors aren’t permanently messing up my system?

    Thank you for your straight talk. I’m still stunned.

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter March 26, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      A 12 hour fast is no big deal for most people (there are many forms of “intermittent fasting” around these days… some people do quite well with it from an adherence standpoint).

      As for a 50% deficit, that’s honestly well above what I’d recommend to the majority of people trying to lose fat. 20% is what tends to be ideal for most, possibly up to 30% in certain cases.

      Reply
  • Ashley March 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    I’ve been watching what I eat VERY closely. I DO NOT allow snacks of any kind. In a normal day I would have either whole fiber breakfast or no breakfast, a sandwich with no butter (or mayo or margarine etc.) for lunch or about 330ml of soup ((12oz), with no bread) and a SMALL (think baby-bowl size, could fit in the palm of your hand type thing) salad for dinner (pretty much just lettuce leaves), with no dressing.
    I do not drink soda or fruit juice’s high in sugar, I only drink water.
    I don’t really exercise, just walking up a few flights of stairs a day.

    My starting weight was just under 8 stone (112 lbs) and my goal weight is 7 stone (98 lbs), I’m around 5’7″ btw. I got really close, I was at 101 lbs just a week ago, but now I’m back up to 105 lbs and it’s pretty upsetting.

    The article was good but I can’t really eat any less, I already sleep about 7 hours at night and a lot of the time I’ll fall asleep after work for about 3 hours which makes 10 hours a day.

    Any advice you could give me would be great :)

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter March 27, 2014 at 6:18 pm

      There’s a reason it’s so hard… it’s because you’re 5’7 and trying to weigh 98lbs, which is eating disorder territory. My advice would be to get some help.

      Reply
  • John March 22, 2014 at 3:50 am

    I’ve lost a lot of weight over the past few months and it now seems to have stopped, I’m about 183cm (6ft) and 140lb. I won’t ask why I’m not really losing weight but I am hungry most of the time, feel weak and irritable even after eating, just always low on energy. Obviously I’m not in a caloric defecit (or not much of one) but why am I feeling like this then? If I’m eating enough calories to maintain my weight, why do I feel like shit? Thanks for the really informative posts and apologies if this is a stupid question.

    John (25)

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter March 27, 2014 at 6:22 pm

      People in a deficit for a significant period of time are known to be hungry, irritable, low on energy, etc.. This is kinda why fat loss is hard and annoying and most people fail at it. The fact that you’ve finally hit a plateau doesn’t negate these fat loss “side effects.” To do that, you’d need a full diet break which would involve bringing calorie back up even more (a slight surplus) for 1-2 weeks.

      Reply
  • kam March 25, 2014 at 8:56 am

    What about blood sugar spikes, its all over the internet that eating high gi foods even rice cakes,bananas carrots peas (that are low in calories) can stop fat loss (even in a deficit). i understand this is when they are consumed alone not with a protein that would slow the process down, but people usually eat rice cakes bananas alone witch causes blood sugar to rise and insulin to release stopping fat loss, this is very confusing because i thought all you needed was a calorie deficit regardless of what food you eat but the high blood sugar levels prevent fat loss?

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter March 27, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      Like most of the stuff you’ll see on the internet about fat loss and nutrition, it’s bullshit.

      Reply
  • Jennifer March 26, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Thanks for this information. Really cut through all the BS. I’ve been using an app to track calories and looking back I can see I have been overestimating and omitting calories from a bite here and there. You have definitely taken the pressure off. My app boards are full of people believing all the myths you have listed. Therefore my head has been spinning and wondering what it all meant to me. Thanks for simplifying things for me!

    Reply
  • Victoria April 07, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Sorry, I posted this in the wrong section…second try:

    Love your post…straight up talk..no nonsense! I was going crazy reading this, reading that. Drives a person bananas trying to figure out which is best. I always try to maintain a low calorie diet, however, it is so difficult to sleep at night when I am sticking to low calories. I always have to get up and drink hot milk or eat something to be able to sleep. My question is this…do you think one of those natural fat burning pills (garcinia cambogia, green coffee bean extract, etc.) will help curve my appetite in the evenings? I’m sure its a silly question but it is the one thing that always damages my diet. Thanks.

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter April 07, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      Nope, they are crap. The best way to control hunger is to keep protein and fiber intake high, and then put everything together in whatever way keeps you most full and satisfied.

      Reply
  • Wendy April 09, 2014 at 10:45 am

    I’ve been working out 3 to 4 days a week for 9 months now and have gained 10 pounds. Started using the My Fitness Pal to keep track of my calories and exercise and it always says I have a deficit. I usually have a lean and green smoothie after my workout and wondered what your thought are on the smoothies. I don’t eat much, according to MFP anyway and wondered if the smoothies were those hidden calories you speak of.

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter April 10, 2014 at 8:41 pm

      Yes, smoothies could certainly be one very easy way of consuming significantly more calories than you think… which is why drinking your calories isn’t something I really recommend much in the first place.

      But if you’ve gained 10lbs while “being in a deficit” the clear issue here is that you are in fact NOT in a deficit. Rather, you’re in a surplus.

      Reply
  • Katrina April 09, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for keeping it simple I was going crazy trying to figure out why I wasn’t losing weight..

    Reply
  • JK April 11, 2014 at 2:13 am

    I have reached that plateau … I am trying to drop that last dreaded 10lbs. I am using a fantastic app called Lose It that tracks your daily calories. I weigh and measure everything so I’m pretty confident I’m not underestimating. I work out 4-5 times per week and have cut my calories down to 1300/day over 3 weeks ago now. And if anything I’ve gained back a couple pounds. Plus I am always always hungry. I just can’t lose that last layer of fat. Advice?

    Reply
    • ACalorieCounter April 15, 2014 at 6:00 pm

      What is your current height, weight and estimated body fat percentage?

      Reply
      • JK April 23, 2014 at 1:41 am

        5’2, 130, 18-20%

        Reply
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