If you want to know why you can’t lose weight no matter what you do with diet and exercise then you’ve come to the right place.
Let me ask you something…
Have you been counting calories and working out regularly but still not getting the results you want? It can be frustrating and discouraging when you’re putting in the work but the scale doesn’t want to budge.
The inability to lose weight despite diet and exercise is annoying and disheartening. But don’t give up yet!
If you can’t seem to lose weight or if you’ve hit a plateau then I’m going to let you know what you’re doing wrong. When nothing seems to be working and you stop losing weight then you have to take a bird’s eye view.
And it’s true with age your metabolism gets slower. So what you did before to lose weight might not work the older you get.
This blog post will uncover why you can’t lose weight no matter what you do. And what to do about it so you break through those stubborn plateaus.
What To Do When You Can’t Lose Weight
If you’re struggling to lose weight then you know how frustrating it can be to put in the work but not see any results to show for it. Starving yourself by restricting calories is pure torture and you should at least get rewarded for your pain.
But then to step on that scale and not see it budge can make you just want to know, why!?
What could be stopping you from losing weight when you seem to be doing everything right. Eating healthy and watching your calorie intake should easily make you lose weight. But it’s not always that straightforward.
Are you a yo-yo dieter?
If you are then you’ve most likely found it more and more challenging to lose weight with every new attempt. Yo-yo dieters tend to have a harder time losing weight than those who stick to a diet and exercise program long-term.
Research has found this happens because your body changes the way it stores fat after you’ve been deprived (1). If you deprived and starved your body for too long then your body will want to store more fat once you start reintroducing calories.
Your body does this in case it goes through a starvation period like it just did. An animal study found mice who were put through a yo-yo diet had an immune response that causes fat loss to be more difficult (2).
Now let’s get into other reasons why you can’t lose weight no matter what you do…
Not Eating As Healthy As You Think
In my own personal observations as a personal trainer, I’ve noticed most people just aren’t eating as healthy as they think. It’s going to take a lot more work on your diet than just eating chicken breast and kale.
You have to look at your overall diet and see exactly what could be causing you to stop losing weight. Are you sneaking in those Girl Scout cookies, diet sodas, candy bars, and cereals?
If you are then there’s a good chance that could be what’s stopping your body from burning off fat. I recommend writing down a food log of everything you eat and drink for one week. If you can’t do a week, go for 3 days.
Then take an objective look at the calorie, macronutrient, and “cheat foods” in your diet.
Start chopping away at the bad stuff you’ve been eating. It’s surprising to see some of the junk we all unconsciously are eating too much of.
Do you have a case of “Portion Distortion?”
Over the years portion sizes have grown in the Western diet (3). It’s become common and far too easy to overeat with larger portion sizes today. Use small plates and if you absolutely have to eat that cookie then make sure it’s a small one (4).
You have to make sure you’re tracking your calorie and macronutrient intake accurately. Otherwise, you could think you’re doing everything right but in reality you’re not. I’ve found many underestimate just how much they’re eating on a daily basis.
I’m not one to put all the blame on genetics for your weight loss plateaus, but in all honesty, it does make a difference.
Some of us are born with endomorph body types causing us to retain fat and excess weight more than others. Others are born with ectomorph body types making weight loss so easy it’s hard to gain weight.
Your genetic makeup may make losing weight more difficult for you than others. But this doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel just yet.
It only means you’re going to have to put in some extra work than those who are born with naturally thinner body types.
I’ve found most people born with an endomorph (naturally bigger) body type are better off cutting out their carbohydrates to lose weight. It works way better.
This animal study found rats fed a modern western diet while pregnant were more likely to give birth to obese mice with slower metabolisms (5). But just because you weren’t dealt the greatest hand to work with it just means you have to adapt to your body’s needs.
Diet and Exercise A.D.D.
The other big reason I’ve noticed some stop losing weight is they can’t stick with one thing for any real length of time. To lose weight and keep it off you’re going to have to find a diet and exercise plan that works for you and keep with it.
Many people today all have “shiny object syndrome” where we jump to the next new opportunity without sticking to any one thing. If you would’ve just stuck with the one thing that works then you would’ve already gotten the results.
It’s easy to get distracted and want to try something else. When you end up failing a diet plan it’s human psychology to get excited about a new opportunity that could work for you.
Next thing you know you’re jumping from the Paleo diet to Keto and you’re moving on from boot camp workouts to Soul Cycle.
Stick with one thing and go all the way in. Being realistic about your goals is key as well.
If you’re setting too high of a goal then it’ll be easy to become discouraged and give up. Instead set 2-week, 4-week or 6-week goals. This will keep you motivated as you start stacking up these little victories.
Motivation won’t last, but your desire to reach your goal will.
If you haven’t eaten a leaf of kale or seen the inside of a gym in your whole life then it’s going to take more time.
Years of not taking care of yourself can’t be overturned in a matter of days or even weeks. You might need to build up some lean muscle to jump-start your metabolism into fat-burning mode.
The older you get the slower your metabolism is going to be. With every decade your metabolism will slow by 2-8%, which is most likely from decreased muscle mass.
The aging process can be harder for women as many women who didn’t use to be heavy in the past will struggle to keep the excess weight off.
Many women gain around 5-15 pounds as they age from lowering of muscle mass and decreased physical activity. Middle-age women also experience hormonal changes that can cause them to get menopausal belly fat.
This all contributes to a slower metabolism. Many women also gain weight during menopause as shifts in hormones cause weight loss to be difficult (6).
Not Getting Enough Sleep
If you’re not getting enough hours of quality sleep per night then it could be what’s holding you back from losing weight.
Your body releases fat-burning hormones with enough quality sleep. If you’re not getting these fat-burning hormones released into your body then it’ll slow your metabolism.
Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep with women on average needing 20 minutes more (7).
Don’t go to bed starving. Instead, if you’re hungry eat a small protein-rich meal that could help your metabolism. Or even taking a spoonful of almond butter before bed is better than going to bed hungry.
Try to not eat big meals or lots of carbs before bed as it could make it harder for your body to burn them off when you sleep (8).
Make sure you’re not watching TV or playing with your phone in bed before sleeping. Dim the lights and read a book to improve sleep quality.
The less sleep you get the less willpower you’ll have the next day (9). This means it’ll be harder to stick to your diet and go to the gym if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep.
This study found getting just 30 fewer minutes of sleep during the week can accelerate the development of insulin resistance (10).
See my in-depth blog post on the connection between sleep and weight loss for more on how to improve your quality of sleep so you can keep losing weight.
Not Working Hard Enough
I know it might seem like you’re working really hard, but more times than not I’ve noticed it’s not enough.
If you’re having trouble losing weight then it’ll be a good time to see if you’re really doing what’s necessary to get results.
Are you being 100% honest with your diet and exercise?
Losing weight can require a lot more disciple than you think. Eating a cupcake might seem harmless but it could derail your metabolism.
I’ve had people come up to me in the gym asking why they can’t get results even though they’re “working out hard.” Then when I see them working out in the gym they do one light set of bicep curls and then play around on their phone for a few minutes.
Others I’ve noticed are “Chatty Cathy’s” in the gym. It’s not hard to imagine why they’re not losing weight.
You may need to step up your exercise and workout routine in order to start getting the results you want.
Not Enough Calories
Weight loss it’s just “calories in, calories out” right?
Crazy enough not eating enough calories can cause your weight loss to stall. This goes against almost everything you’ve grown up knowing about losing weight.
The truth is your body will hold onto fat when you severely cut calories by releasing fat-storing hormones (11). You’ll then be more likely to burn off muscle than fat. You’ll also burn off calories slower than you’d think.
Your body is genetically adapted to slow down your metabolism when food becomes scarce. This was your ancestor’s survival mechanism that would kick in when they didn’t have food readily available.
But nowadays this is much more of a burden considering the easy access to calorie-dense foods. And on the flip side if you start cutting calories too drastically it could cause your body to think you’ve run out of food and slow your metabolism.
Yet, you could also be eating too many calories.
When you’re working out your body wants to replenish those lost calories by increasing your hunger. This causes a lot of people to overeat and wonder why they can’t lose weight.
It’s tempting to want to reward yourself after a hard workout. Keeping your calories in check is absolutely necessary.
It’s always a good idea to track your calories to make sure you’re getting enough and not eating too much.
“What gets measured gets managed.” – Peter Drucker
Most who are trying to lose weight do so only by cutting calories. But they also need to cut their carbohydrate intake as well.
Controlling your carbs will have a dramatic effect on your blood sugar and insulin levels. Having both of these stable is key to weight loss.
The more sugar, starches, refined and processed carbs you’re eating then the more insulin your body needs to release. Insulin resistance happens when your cells have trouble absorbing the blood glucose your body releases from eating sugar and high glycemic carbs.
This essentially puts your body into a fat storing mode. Unless you’re quickly burning off these carbs after eating them then your body will store them for future needs.
It converts them into fat in stubborn fat spots like your belly and hips. It’ll also store these excess carbs in the form of glycogen which will also make you retain water weight.
Stay away from refined and processed carbs like pasta, bread, and cereals. They’re no good! Sugary drinks, even diet soda are linked to not only weight gain but belly fat increases as well.
Even so-called “healthy” granola bars and oatmeal can cause you to gain weight. This is especially true if you have a hard time losing weight and easily gain it. If your body naturally has a tendency to gain weight then cutting out your carbohydrates will help.
Keep your carbs low until it comes time for a cheat meal. Then when you strategically time your carbs right it can create the whoosh effect. This will bust through a plateau.
Holding Water Weight
Your body could be holding water for a variety of reasons which can throw you off the scale when you weigh yourself. You may actually be burning off fat but the water weight will throw off the scale.
Holding water weight can make it seem like you’re not losing any weight but in reality, you are. You may just need to flush out the water weight.
Eating too many carbohydrates can cause your body to retain water. Your body stores excess carbs in the form of glycogen. For each gram of glycogen your body will hold onto 3 grams of water.
This is a reason you’ll see the scale go down by a handful of pounds once you cut out the carbs. Your body burns through those glycogen stores for energy and then flushes out the stored water weight.
Eating too many salty and sugary foods causes your body to retain water. Most know salt will cause you to retain water which is why it’s a good idea to limit your consumption. Eating more potassium-rich foods can help to flush out the water weight caused by salt.
Or maybe you’re not drinking enough water. This could also cause your body to hold onto every last drop of water it has.
This study found a higher intake of water promoted weight loss. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least half of your body weight in fluid ounces daily (12).
Body Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss
If you’re having difficulty losing weight then it might be a good idea to know the differences in weight itself. You may not see the scale moving but your body composition can be improving underneath it all.
If your body is burning fat but at the same time building lean muscle then the scale won’t reflect that. You can expect to build some lean muscle if you’re strength training and lifting weights.
Muscle weighs something too. Even though your body is burning fat the muscle will also weigh something. This can skew the scale.
But muscle takes up 15% less volume than fat so you’ll notice your clothes fitting better as the inches fall off. This is why it’s more important to keep track of your inches, body fat percentage, and lean muscle mass.
With lean muscle, your clothes will fit better and your body will be shaped better even though the scale might not reflect that.
Too Much Alcohol
I’ve noticed some people who are having trouble losing weight are drinking too much alcohol. Drinking alcohol can sabotage your weight loss results.
This study found drinking alcohol was detrimental to your tendons and muscle growth (14). Having lean muscle mass not only helps to burn off fat but also improves your body composition.
Drinking alcohol at night will negatively impact your quality of sleep (15). It’ll be harder for your body to reach that deep sleep state leaving you feeling tired the next day. Sleep deprivation has been found to increase stress and slow down metabolism.
Not to mention all the empty calories you’ll get from drinking alcohol. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. This is pretty high considering there are no nutrients in alcohol.
When you drink alcohol your body prioritizes burning off these calories since it views it almost like a poison. So everything else you ate with the alcohol will be stored as fat.
Alcohol can cause inflammation in your body making it difficult for your metabolism to promote fat burning (16).
Moderation with your alcohol intake is always key. Check out some of the best weight loss alcohol drinks if you have to consume alcohol.
Getting your hormones in balance can be the hardest reason to identify why you can’t lose weight.
Women can retain water up to 10 days before their period, which can skew their weight loss efforts (17). This is why I don’t recommend women to weigh themselves up to 10 days before their period. But once they hit their period they should flush out this water weight.
If you have hypothyroidism then you’re more likely to gain weight from a slowing metabolism (18). Thyroid problems affect 20 million Americans according to the American Thyroid Association.
Men and women have different hormonal battles with losing weight. This study found men were more likely to lose weight faster than women, but women were more likely to have success long term (19).
Higher muscle mass in men is why they have a weight loss advantage over women. Testosterone lowers in men with age which can cause an increase in weight, belly fat, heart disease and insulin resistance (20).
Middle age women who have hit menopause can experience drastic decreases in their fat-burning hormones. Lower estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all make it easier to gain belly fat and stubborn weight.
Women suffering from PCOS have a harder time dealing with the hormone insulin. This can cause them to easily gain weight from eating sugars, starches and other carbs. If you have PCOS then going on a low-carb diet is essential.
If you’re on medications such as antidepressants or birth control then it could also hinder your weight loss efforts. Even though most studies have found birth control didn’t cause weight gain it doesn’t mean that’s the case with everybody (22).
If you suspect this might be the case then it’ll be a good idea to talk to your doctor to come up with a solution. Hormone replacement therapy has been successful for many with the guidance of their doctor.
Stressed Out Too Much
If you’re under constant stress your body releases cortisol which can cause you to gain belly fat (23). This “stress belly” is caused by high cortisol levels that promote the storage of dangerous visceral abdominal fat.
These “fight or flight” hormones such as cortisol will wreak havoc on your body as they’re constantly released. Even otherwise slender women have been found to have belly fat if they’re stressed out too much.
Chronic stress can and will:
- lower your quality of sleep
- cause you to eat high-fat foods
- negatively impact your gut health
Even the process of trying to lose weight can be too stressful for some. This study found that those attempting to lose weight actually gained weight (24).
Mood changes and binge eating were all too common among those who get stressed out with the challenges of losing weight.
Do whatever you can to lower the stress in your life. I know it’s easier said than done, but your body is depending on it.
Try taking a greens powder supplement that contains adaptogens. Adaptogens help your body to strengthen its stress support so you can handle stressful situations easier.
Poor Gut Health
Your gut health plays a vital role in your ability to lose weight. Way more so than most think!
When your gut health is poor then you can develop inflammation and permeability in your gut. Also better well known as “leaky gut” you won’t properly digest and absorb nutrients. Plus foods and other bad bacteria can make their way into your bloodstream causing health problems.
Your gut is known as your “second brain” and they’re connected by the brain-gut axis. When you are full your gut sends a signal to your brain telling you to stop feeling hungry. But when your gut health is bad, this communication becomes broken, making you feel hungrier than you should.
And if your body isn’t properly digesting and absorbing the foods you’re eating it could think you’re malnourished. So your gut will send signals to your brain to eat more to acquire these missing nutrients.
Eating too many processed foods will compromise your healthy and beneficial good gut bacteria. Having enough healthy bacteria in your gut very well could be what’s responsible for your weight loss (25).
If you just went through a treatment of antibiotics, it could’ve killed off a lot of your healthy gut bacteria. Drinking excess alcohol can also reduce your gut lining. If this is the case be sure to take a collagen supplement to strengthen your gut lining.
Eating more fermented foods and supplementing with probiotics could improve your gut health. Quality greens supplements usually contain gut health-promoting ingredients like prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes. I like and recommend MetaboGreens.
Be sure to read this blog post with my top gut healing foods to cure the leaky gut syndrome. If you’re trying to lose weight then it’s important to get your gut health right.
The Last Word
At the end of the day, you need to take a hard objective look at your weight loss process and fill any holes holding you back.
Having patience is going to be key to your long-term success. It’s easy to get quickly discouraged if you don’t see the weight falling off immediately. Especially after you’ve been putting in some hard work.
Put in the work, trust the process, fill in the holes and the weight will come off.
Make sure you’re using a proven, science-backed fat loss system like my Flat Belly Formula program. This way all you have to do is follow a foolproof blueprint and you’ll be guaranteed to lose weight and belly fat.
Weight loss is rarely ever as simple as just burning off more calories than you’re consuming. If it were all calories in and calories out then it would be a lot easier to lose weight.
Truth is your body is an intricate physiological machine that operates in a multitude of processes other than just the calories that are coming in. Sure, calories to play a vital role but they’re definitely not everything.
Now that you know all the possible causes of why you can’t lose weight no matter what you do it’s time to start getting some results.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.