As a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, I am constantly answering health and fitness questions from my clients, on social media and in our Start TODAY Facebook group. In this column, I address some of the most common questions and roadblocks that trip people up on their journey to establish a health and fitness routine.
I’ve been working out for a while, but I'm not losing any weight. What am I doing wrong?
First of all, there are so many factors that contribute to weight loss — and gain! — that there's no reason to think that you're doing anything wrong, per se. It is totally normal to feel frustrated or worried, though. You are not alone. We all want to see results.
So many of my clients become discouraged when they don’t see the scale start to move after committing to a workout plan. I’ve seen some people in our Start TODAY Facebook community feeling down about not seeing weight-loss results even though they’ve been fully committed to our monthly workout plans.
Those feelings of frustration can lead some people to give up entirely — or to abandon one approach for another without giving the first one enough time to "work." That's why it is so crucial to keep the numbers on the scale in perspective and to understand all the factors that go into weight loss.
It’s important to remember that weight loss can take time — and you are more likely to maintain weight loss if it is accomplished in a slow, steady way. That being said, seeing the scale tick down slowly takes patience. Luckily, it is far from the only sign that your exercise routine is working!
I try to encourage people to look for “non-scale victories” to measure progress, rather than focusing on the number on the scale. Some of these things include: feeling more energized, sleeping better, your clothes fitting better, a better mood, feeling less stressed and feeling more motivated to workout.
There's more to weight loss than exercise
It’s also important to note that while exercising is beneficial for weight loss, it’s only one lifestyle factor that contributes to your ability to lose weight. In other words, losing weight usually requires more than just movement — so your fitness routine may or may not have anything to do with the number on the scale.
If your diet, sleep and stress levels are out of whack, these can contribute to the scale not budging. I teamed up with Kristin Kirkpatrick, a nutritionist and contributor to TODAY.com, to help you figure out what may be holding your weight loss back.
Look at your routine and see if one of these things may be hindering your progress:
Your workouts aren't intense enough
If you're working out on a regular basis but not pushing yourself enough, that may prevent you from seeing the results you want. My general advice is that for every 20-minute workout, you should strive to hit your maximum effort at least three times.
How can you tell if you're getting there? With cardio, it feels like needing to catch your breath and your heart is really pumping. For strength training, you can feel your muscles burning and becoming exhausted with the movements and weight.
Also, if you're only doing the same kind of workout over and over, you may be less likely to see your body change. That's because your body gets used to doing the same kind of exercise and it gets easier. So if you mostly do cardio, try adding strength-training and vice versa. You can also try a class that has a variety of types of exercise within it, like Pilates or aerobics.
Your workouts are too intense
On the other hand, working yourself too hard when you're exercising can prevent you from losing weight for a variety of reasons. For example, you may end up eating more and moving less when you're not exercising, and it can affect the way your body burns fat. That's why it's important to have recovery or rest days, where you do less intense activities.
But if you prefer to keep up the intensity, just try adding some low-impact exercises into your routine to move your body in a different way, which can help with weight loss. Starting Pilates led to major changes in my body!
You’re not getting enough sleep
If you're not getting enough sleep at night — seven to eight hours for most adults — then that can harm a lot of your health goals, weight loss included. Sleep is especially important as you age, and not getting enough of it can lead overeating, research shows. Another way sleep affects weight loss is that it's is necessary for the body to perform basic functions, including those that help you lose weight.
In fact, sleep is so important for your health that if a client asks me to choose between exercising and getting adequate sleep, I say sleep!
You’re eating the wrong things
Not eating the right foods means you won't lose that much weight even if you're working out, as research has shown that diet has a greater impact on weight loss than exercise. So, if you're not adding enough fruits, vegetables and healthy protein to your plate, you may find yourself opting for quick ultra-processed foods or items with added sugar.
Getting protein into your system several times a day helps with blood sugar levels, which can reduce cravings and improve your metabolism. There are plenty of high-protein, low-carb foods, too.
If your diet needs an overhaul, consider starting by upping your intake of greens and healthy fats, like nuts, seeds and olive oil.
Research shows that being stressed can prevent weight loss in many people because cortisol, the stress hormone, may lead the body to preserve weight, primarily around your belly. What's more, high levels of stress can exhaust your nervous system and prevent your body from doing basic functions, like digesting food and burning fat.
Prioritizing learning stress-reduction habits can have positive effects on your health far beyond weight loss. (Too much stress is associated with heart disease, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, muscle pain, trouble sleeping and more.)
You're taking certain medications — or have other medical conditions
Not losing weight despite eating and exercising right, getting enough sleep and keeping stress at bay could be a sign that something is wrong medically.
That's why it's important to involve your doctor in your weight loss journey and get checkups regularly. Ask your primary health care provider if you're taking any medications that could prevent weight loss. And be sure to get bloodwork done every year. If your vitamin B and D levels or your thyroid levels are abnormal, then that could play a role in not losing weight. Or you may have another deficiency that could lead your body to hang on to weight.
Haven't been to the doctor in a while? Schedule an appointment ASAP!
I encourage my weight loss clients to view water as a weight loss elixir! Think of your body like a sponge — if it’s dried up and shriveled on the side of the sink, you can’t wring any soap or dirt out of it. But when it’s full of water and moist, you can. You want your body to have enough water to get rid of any toxins.
You’re not eating enough
When your body wonders when it’s going to get fed, it may hold on to nutrients and not burn them because it’s afraid it’s going to starve. By feeding your body frequently and with the right type of nutrients, your body can get into a rhythm and won’t hold on to excess fat for fear of not getting enough fuel.
You’re eating too much
Of course, if you are overeating or emotional eating, this too can lead to weight loss resistance. "We often eat because we are bored, stressed, tired, thirsty or simply because our favorite show is on," said Kirkpatrick, who believes food should be viewed as fuel, not entertainment.
"I advise my patients to put themselves on a hunger scale with 1 being starving and 10 being stuffed. Only at a 3 or a 4 should they eat, and they should stop at 5 or 6. Listening to your hunger isn’t always easy, but master it and your chances of weight loss go up," she said.
You’re too sedentary
Sure, maybe you get in a 45 minute daily workout, but then if you sit for four to eight hours straight, the metabolism can slow down, circulation can decrease, and your calorie burn is slim to none. Add in a 5 minute movement break every 1 hour you’re sitting down.
You’re drinking too much alcohol
Yes, alcohol can help you fall asleep, but it wreaks havoc on your body’s ability to stay asleep, thus impeding those much-needed hours of resting and digesting.
You don't have to become a teetotaler! Just limit your intake and make sure you're not drinking any alcohol for at least an hour before you try to go to sleep.
Your sleep schedule is erratic
When your circadian rhythm is off, so are your body’s functions —including those that help with weight loss. Even if you get enough sleep, if there's no rhyme or reason to when you sleep, it could impact your body's ability to burn calories efficiently.
Your eating schedule is unpredictable
When your blood sugar levels dip and aren’t stable throughout the day, your body’s ability to lose weight is impeded. Routine helps optimize all our bodily functions, including how we use energy — aka burn calories. Being on a blood sugar rollercoaster is stressful for your body. If it can't get used to when it will get more energy — calories — it may try to conserve them. That's natural, but it can be frustrating if you're trying to lose weight.
You're not eating real food
"Calories from refined carbohydrates and sugar cause you to eat more, without feeling satisfied," Kirkpatrick said. "Calories from healthy fats, fiber rich sources and protein, however, are metabolized differently and more likely to lead to effective weight loss," Kirkpatrick added.
In case you're wondering what counts as real food, author Michael Pollen defined “food” as “something that comes from nature, was fed from nature and will eventually rot," said Kirkpatrick. So be careful of how many packaged and processed foods you're eating. They may be less real than you think.
You're starting the day with carbohydrates
"Cereal, toast with jam, or a big glass of OJ are breakfast staples, but studies show that starting the day with protein, instead of sugary carbohydrates leads to reduced hunger and cravings later in the day," says Kirkpatrick. She recommends that you aim for at least 15 grams of high quality protein in the morning — such as plain yogurt with mixed nuts and hempseed, a plant based protein shake, scrambled eggs, or nut butter on sprouted bread.
You're spending time with people who don't have healthy habits
The people who care about you probably want you to be healthy and happy, but if they don't have healthy habits themselves, it may be hard for them to support you. Kirkpatrick recounted one study that found that individuals who had successfully lost weight were frequently met with challenges with friends, family and co-workers. In response, they would regain the weight.
That doesn't mean your loved ones don't care about you! It's just difficult to be supportive if you don't understand the changes that someone you care about is trying to make. If you come across this problem with your loved ones, try having a serious heart-to-heart with them about why you want to lose weight and how they can help you.
It's a lot easier to support the lifestyle changes of those you care about if you know why they're making them and what you can do to help!