5 Reasons You Aren’t Losing Weight

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Almost 50% of Americans are actively trying to lose weight, yet overall success rates remain low—at around 20%. The good news is, you don’t have to lose a ton of weight to cash in on the health benefits. For example, losing just 5% of excess weight can reduce your risk for developing diabetes by a whopping 58%. The trouble is, different weight loss strategies work for different people, so you’ll likely have to do some experimenting to find your secret sauce. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper on interventions for the treatment of overweight and obesity in adults, “achieving a state of negative energy balance” is the key factor for effectively losing weight.

The National Weight Control Registry keeps a running list of the strategies used by successful losers—those who have lost 30+ pounds and kept it off for at least a year. According to their research findings, 98% modified their diet in some way and 94% changed their physical activity habits, with most including at least an hour of exercise each day.

So, if despite your best efforts you still aren’t losing weight, these 5 potential causes might be the reason:

You’re drinking too much

Sweetened beverages like juices, smoothies, and sports drinks typically contain high amounts of sugar and have been linked to weight gain. It’s been estimated that sugary beverages contribute an extra ~114 calories each day, which equates to about 41,610 calories (or nearly 12 pounds) each year. Similarly, alcohol is another potential source of empty calories. Moderate alcohol consumption, which defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men, has been associated with various health benefits, including reducing risks for heart disease and stroke. But if you regularly partake in happy hours, or have a tendency to over imbibe, you could be hindering your weight loss efforts. At seven calories per gram, alcohol contains more calories than carbohydrates and protein, which both contain just four calories per gram.

Lifestyle Design Strategy: If you’re not losing weight, take a look at the beverages you consume regularly, and consider reducing sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol if they appear to be a factor.

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You’re too focused on the scale

When we focus only on weight as a measure of success, it’s easy to lose sight of the other benefits that come with healthier lifestyles. If the numbers on the scale don’t match your expectations, you may overlook other measures of success, such as increased energy levels, improved lab values, and increased strength and flexibility. And if your weight loss goals are unrealistic to begin with–more than 1 to 2 pounds per week–you’ll be more likely to throw in the towel if the magic number doesn’t appear on the scale in the time-frame you expect. As you monitor your progress, considering regularly reviewing some non-scale related metrics, like lean body mass, waist circumference, cholesterol, sleep quality, energy levels, or the amount of time it takes you to run or walk a mile.

Lifestyle Design Strategy: When setting goals, remember to establish some non-weight related benchmarks.

You aren’t moving your body enough

Back in 2014, Dr. James Levine coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” to emphasize the dangers associated with sedentary lifestyles. Like smoking, sitting has been associated with premature death and chronic disease. While that comparison has been criticized by some (since smoking carries significantly greater health risks), it does at least call attention to the negative consequences of inactivity. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity each week, but if your goals include losing weight, or you’re maintaining a previous weight loss, those numbers need to be even higher. In part, that’s because weight loss slows resting metabolism. But one of the biggest reasons exercise is so critical when it comes to weight loss is that it suppresses appetite, which, in turn, can reduce food cravings and the overall number of calories you consume.

Lifestyle Design Strategy: Make it a routine to work in at least 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

You aren’t getting enough sleep

Lack of restful sleep has been associated with alterations in hormones that impact weight control, such as glucose, insulin, cortisol, ghrelin, and leptin. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most adults need 7 or more hours of sleep each day. Additionally, researchers who study sleep architecture—the amount of time you spend in each sleep cycle—found that people who don’t get as much deep sleep are more likely to be obese. Getting enough sleep also makes it more likely that you’ll make healthy food choices, and have the energy and motivation necessary to exercise consistently.

Lifestyle Design Strategy: Adjust your evening routine to allow for at least 7 hours of sleep every night.

You’re eating like sh*t

Be honest: are you nourishing your body with real, healthy foods? Or do you typically rely on highly-processed packaged foods and take-out? The truth is, only about 10% of Americans actually enjoy cooking, and 45% downright hate it, which can be a troublesome reality if weight loss is your objective. Cooking at home gives you more control over ingredients, especially sugar, fat, and salt—the three primary ingredients that are used generously in restaurants to keep you coming back. Thankfully, there are endless possibilities when it comes to designing a healthy eating style, but most include some combination of the following foods: lean meats and seafood, fermented foods, whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes and beans, nuts and seeds, and oils that are high in monounsaturated fats—with minimal amounts of sugar, fat and salt.

Lifestyle Design Strategy: Take inventory of your eating habits by keeping a food journal, then work toward creating realistic food rules that align with your eating style.

Ultimately, if you’re not losing weight, take a closer look at your habits within the Systemic Dimension of Self-Care—how you eat, move, and rest. And remember this: the best weight loss strategy is the one you adhere to.

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