1. You’re not properly tracking your calories
Either you aren’t eating enough or you are eating too much. In both scenarios, you could be unintentionally inhibiting your weight loss. You want to be at a calorie deficit in order to lose weight, however, you don’t want to be so low in calories that your metabolism slows down and you have no energy. If you are tracking your calories, but leave out the “little” things like condiments or that small bag of chips you ate after dinner, you could be sabotaging yourself. Those “little” things could add up to hundreds of calories and put you at calorie maintenance or even a calorie surplus, instead of being in a calorie deficit. On the other hand, if you are too low in calories, you can stall weight loss by slowing down your metabolism. Read more about this in number 5.
2. You’re overestimating calories burned during exercise
In the age of technology almost everyone has a fit bit, apple watch, garmin, jawbone, the list goes on. While these are great tools to use, you can’t assume that the calories burned on your watch are exact. Leave some room for error.
Also, you constantly hear people (even fitness pros) saying, “I just burned 400 calories in 30 minutes” or “Come to my class and you’ll burn 600 calories during my 45 minute workout!” Ok - that’s bologna and it’s very deceiving. You actually might burn 600 calories during the workout, BUT those are total calories, not active calories. The total calories include the calories you would burn anyway, just from being alive and breathing. You should care more about the active calories when calculating your calories for the day. What happens is that people think they burned an additional 600 calories for the day when in reality they probably only burned 300 or 350. It throws off their calorie deficit, they think they burned more calories than they did, and then they end up eating more than they should.
3. You are only doing cardio
When people are trying to lose weight and have been unsuccessful, I ask them what they have been doing; I often hear that they have been doing a ton of cardio. While cardio is very beneficial for your heart, blood circulation, oxygen supply, etc. it should not be your main focus when your goal is to lose weight. For starters, doing cardio (or any type of workout) doesn’t give you the green light to eat whatever you want in whatever amount you want. Many people tend to do lots of cardio and then stuff their faces!
Also, if your cardio isn’t at a high enough intensity and you aren’t combining it with resistance training, you’re not burning as many calories as you think. Resistance training will help you burn calories AND build muscle which increases your mitochondria. Mitochondria are responsible for the production of energy through the breakdown of carbs, fatty acids, and amino acids to yield ATP. ATP is a form of energy used by cellular processes throughout your body to provide energy to pump your heart, power neurons in your brain, contract muscles in your limbs, exchange gases in your lungs, extract nutrients from food and regulate body temperature. In order to create more ATP, you need more mitochondria and the highest number of mitochondria are found in the muscles. More muscle = more mitochondria. Adding muscle also increases your metabolism.
4. Your NEAT is too low
NEAT stands for Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This would be all the extra activity you do throughout the day that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking a break from sitting to stand up and walk around, making your bed, fidgeting, typing, yard work, etc. Although this may seem trivial, even in a mainly sedentary person NEAT can account for 6-10% of total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Because NEAT is so variable, it is an important component of weight loss.
5. Your metabolism is adapting
When you are at a calorie deficit for too long your metabolism down shifts and adapts to the lower energy intake. When your metabolism slows down, your NEAT decreases because you don’t have enough energy, the thermic effect of food decreases (this is the calories you burn while digesting, processing, and absorbing food), the amount of energy burned during exercise decreases, and hormones such as leptin, ghrelin, thyroid hormones, and testosterone are negatively affected. These hormones control appetite/hunger signals, metabolism, and muscle growth.
6. You’re not getting enough sleep
Sleep is an important time for your body to repair and rebuild. Sleep deprivation can lead to deficits in cognitive functioning including memory, decision making and reaction time as well as increase the stress hormone, cortisol. When cortisol increases, so does your appetite and of course your body craves high fat and high carb foods! Other hormones such as ghrelin and leptin also get out of whack causing hunger and satiety signals, respectively, to be out of your favor. Overall, your metabolism slows and all of the reactions mentioned in the paragraph above can happen to your body to cause weight gain.
7. You’re stressed
Chronic stress is associated with higher levels of obesity and the release of higher levels of the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and released into the bloodstream during times of stress. Cortisol raises your blood pressure and blood sugar and can suppress the immune system. As stated above, if you are in a state of stress, your body will increase the production of the hormone cortisol and your appetite tends to increase with it, in the form of fat and sugar cravings.
8. You have a medical/hormonal issue
There are some other reasons you might not be losing weight including hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and sleep apnea. Certain medications can also make weight loss more difficult. If you have one of the above medical conditions, it does not mean you cannot lose weight, it just means you need to have a plan and be ready to make a few more lifestyle changes. It’s a good idea to speak to your doctor and get tested if you think you have one of these conditions.
If you feel like you are doing everything right, but still not losing weight, these are some reasons you might feel like you’ve hit a road block. You’ll notice that many of them are interrelated. As always, it’s wise to consult with a health and/or fitness professional to assist you with your weight loss needs!
Candice Canace Rulnick has been a NASM certified personal trainer since 2014. She specializes in women's fitness, weight loss, and overall health and wellness. Candice offers personal training to women in Charlotte, NC and also provides home and gym workouts through her online training app.
Candice Canace Rulnick has been a NASM certified personal trainer since 2014. She specializes in women's fitness, weight loss, functional anatomy and overall health and wellness. Candice offers one-on-one personal training and small group training to women in Charlotte, NC. She also provides home and gym workouts through her online training app.