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 their progress, rather than focusing on the number on the scale. Some of these things include: feeling more energized, sleeping better, your clothes fitting looser, 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 be contributing factors to why the scale isn't 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 are too intense
Be honest with yourself about how challenging your workouts are. Could you be pushing yourself a bit more? I encourage people to feel that they pushed themselves to their max effort at least three times during a 20-minute workout — this may mean needing to catch your breath during a cardio workout or feeling your muscles burn and fatigue during a strength workout.
You can also try adding some variety to your workout routine. The body begins to adapt when you perform the same movements over and over. Switching up your routine can keep the body guessing and help prevent a plateau. If you are a walker, consider adding a few days of strength training to your routine. If you love boxing, alternate sessions with yoga or Pilates.
Your workouts aren't intense enough
On the flip side, sometimes you need to take a break from intense workouts. Are you overexerting yourself during exercise? Pushing yourself too hard can backfire. Make sure you’re scheduling adequate recovery time with rest days where you do some low-impact movement like walking, biking or yoga. Or consider mixing it up altogether and trying a slower, lower-impact form of exercise (this doesn’t mean lower intensity!). It wasn’t until I started a Pilates routine that I saw major changes in my body!
You’re not getting enough sleep
Are you getting those critical hours of shuteye at night or do you wake up feeling groggy and fatigued? Sleep has a huge impact on weight loss, especially as we get older. Kirkpatrick agreed. "Studies show clear associations between a lack of sleep with overeating, weight gain, and obesity," Kirkpatrick said.
Giving your body enough rest is important for muscle recovery and digestion and can even reduce the amount you eat during the day. Believe it or not, I tell clients that if they have to choose between a workout or getting enough sleep — choose sleep!
Not having enough time while sleeping to “rest and digest” while sleeping can lead to stalled weight loss. Good quality sleep and enough time of it can help the body perform its bodily functions at its best including aiding in weight loss.
You’re eating the wrong things
Your diet play a huge role in losing weight. You can’t out exercise a bad diet. Are you not eating enough fruits and veggies? Are you constantly giving in to cravings for sweets or fattening foods? If you know that your diet could use a cleanup, this is where you should focus your attention.
Eating protein every few hours to stabilize your blood-sugar levels will help cut down on cravings and boost the metabolism. Eating a diet rich in greens like spinach and kale, and healthy fats like nuts, seeds and olive oil, can help reduce inflammation and increase fat loss, ultimately supporting your weight-loss goals.
Your nervous system is taxed and you’re constantly in fight or flight mode. When your body thinks it’s under attack, it’s really hard to do things like digest food, burn fat, and speed up your metabolism. When your body is fending off stressful events or fleeing stressful situations, it’s near impossible to get into a relaxed state and allow your body to perform its functions optimally.
Elevated levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — can cause the body to hold on to excess weight, specifically around the midsection. Learning stress-reduction habits, like meditation, afternoon stretch breaks, walks around the neighborhood and short breathing exercises can help lower cortisol levels and are an important tool in your arsenal when it comes to losing weight.
You're taking certain medications — or have other medical conditions
Check with your doctor to see if any medications that you’re currently taking could be hindering your weight loss. It’s also important to get annual bloodwork to make sure your vitamin B and D levels, along with your thyroid levels and other markers, are within the normal range. There are many deficiencies and conditions that can affect our weight. So, scheduling a full check up with your doctor is a great way to get a sense of where your overall health stands.
Your bloodwork results may show issues that need to be addressed. Haven’t gotten a physical in years? Schedule one, STAT! Low levels of vitamin D, vitamin B, and even abnormal thyroid function can be shown on bloodwork and addressed with your doctor — and could unlock the keys to your weight loss success.
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 stress/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.
According to Kirkpatrick, we should view food 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 4-8 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," saidKirkpatrick. 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 which 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 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!