For years, the number one New Year’s resolution in the United States has been to lose weight. If you’re like the millions of Americans who vowed to drop a few pounds this year, you probably started the year off strong with motivating results.
Now, a few months into the year, you may have noticed that the scale hasn’t budged or your pants are starting to feel snug again. Here are ten reasons your weight loss has slowed (or come to a screeching halt) and what you can do about it:
1. Too much stress.
When you experience any type of stress, whether physical or mental, the body releases certain hormones to help you deal. Unfortunately, these hormones can make it difficult to lose weight. After the initial adrenaline rush, cortisol is released to help your body recover. One of the ways it does this is by increasing your appetite, leading to “stress eating.” If the stress continues, so does the release of cortisol—and the likelihood of overeating. Manage your stress so that you can better manage your weight.
2. Not enough sleep.
Too many late nights could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts. Multiple studies have shown the relationship between lack of sleep and weight gain, particularly in women. During sleep, the body uses about 60% of its energy to help you breathe and to rebuild tissues and muscle. Your body knows you won’t be eating during sleep, so it gets the energy it needs from fat stores instead of the glucose and glycogen it gets from the food you eat during the day. The result? You burn more fat while you sleep.
3. Cheat days and weekends.
You’ve spent all week eating clean, healthy foods. When the weekend rolls around, you decide to treat yourself as a reward for all your hard work. Unfortunately, bingeing on unhealthy foods and alcohol on the weekends negates all the hard work you did during the week. Oftentimes, any weight you lost during the week is regained over the weekend.
Manage weekend weight gain by having just one cheat meal on Saturday or Sunday rather than an entire cheat weekend.
4. Too much food.
Many of us are unaware of how much food we actually consume. If you tend to forget about the few trips to the office candy bowl or that extra serving at dinner, start keeping a food journal. This will help cut down on mindless snacking. Studies have shown that people who write down what they eat lose twice as much weight as those who don’t.
At the same time, not enough of the right types of food can cause you to overeat. Processed foods and sweets may satisfy your sweet tooth or hunger in the short term, but your body still craves the nutrients it needs from whole foods. Eating nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables and especially protein will keep you feeling fuller longer. Satiety is one of many reasons dietary protein is important for weight management.
5. Overestimating calories burned.
Exercise is an important part of burning calories and fat, but focusing too much on the number of calories you burn could be derailing your efforts.
Part of this comes from that fact that most of the time, calorie counters on treadmills and other exercise equipment are rarely accurate. One study by the University of California-San Francisco’s Human Performance Center found that all exercise equipment overestimated calories burned—some by up to 42 percent! Even if you’re tracking your exercise outside with Fitbits and other monitors, findings show they also overestimate.
Sometimes, when you think you burned a certain number of calories, it’s easy to justify eating more food. When that number is wrong, however, it can lead to weight gain. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use fitness monitors, but don’t rely too heavily on them.
6. Not counting liquid calories.
You may track the calories in food, but what about the calories in your drinks? A vanilla latte on the way to work, a soda during lunch, and a margarita during Happy Hour can add hundreds of calories to your day. What’s more, many drinks are filled with sugar and empty calories that don’t offer any nutritional value.
Limit your liquid calories to help you stay on track. Drink water throughout the day instead of soda, and limit alcoholic beverages to low calorie options like vodka soda instead of sugary mixed drinks.
7. Gaining muscle mass.
If you’re not seeing the numbers on the scale move, it could actually be for a good reason—you’re gaining muscle. If you’re eating healthy proteins and working out regularly, especially muscle-building strength training sessions with weights, you could be displacing your fat with muscle. The numbers on the scale might not be changing, but your body composition is.
Instead of using the scale to gauge your progress, go by how your clothes fit or have a skinfold caliper test conducted to measure your body fat.
8. Not switching up your workouts.
As you get fitter and begin losing weight, your body starts to adapt by burning fewer calories. As a result, the same exercise that initially helped you lose weight is no longer as effective.
To kick your fat-burning back into high gear, start changing up your workouts by incorporating different activities. If your usual routine was 30 minutes on the treadmill, start incorporating strength training a few days a week. Increasing the intensity will also help you out of your rut. Try increasing your speed, lifting heavier weights, or adding high-intensity interval training.
9. Setting the wrong goals.
Weight loss is a gradual process, and experts generally recommend losing 1-2 pounds a week to safely lose weight and keep it off. Hoping to drop ten pounds by the weekend or lose 30 pounds in 30 days is unrealistic. The methods that cause people to lose weight at rapid speeds, like fasting and juice cleanses, are unhealthy and don’t lead to lasting weight loss.
At the same time, your goal may be too vague to work towards. For example, if your goal is to simply “lose weight,” how do you know what to work towards? Successful goals are S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based).
10. Underlying health condition.
Sometimes, your inability to lose weight is health-related. Conditions like hypothyroidism, which slows the body’s metabolism, makes it difficult to lose weight or keep it off. Additionally, certain medications like the steroid prednisone can actually cause weight gain. Your doctor or healthcare team can help you determine whether or not a medical condition is keeping you from losing weight.
If you’ve hit a plateau, don’t get discouraged. Remember that becoming an all-around healthier person is more important than seeing numbers change on the scale. Take a realistic look at your lifestyle and make adjustments as needed. Before you know it, you’ll be back on the wagon!
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian