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 or magical superfoods, 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.
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.