Ok, so you’ve improved your diet, you’re reading the ingredients, you’re drinking more water, and you’re still not losing weight. Are your healthy habits not working? Is your body somehow to blame? Have you just not found the magic pill diet that will solve your weight loss problems for good? Before you despair, my friends, consider this: There might actually be a reason you’re not losing weight.
Weight loss should naturally occur when you cut out/reduce fast food, refined sugars and flours, increase vegetables, water and exercise, and reduce stress. So if you haven’t already done so, start there.
But for those of you who have improved your diet, made healthy lifestyle changes, and are feeling better but are still not seeing weight-loss, this is for you.
First, I want to say kudos to you for making these changes. Although your weight may not be ideal (yet), do not negate the fact that your body is healthier on a cellular level, and the benefits you’re feeling are important for your short-term and long-term health.
That being said, we all want to reach our ideal weight. So…
Here are eleven reasons you might not be losing the weight you think you should be:
- You’re eating too many high glycemic foods, ie. refined flours, white rice, white potatoes (potato chips, french fries) and sugar. Even if you’ve improved in this area, these are the #1 culprits for weight gain, because the sugars in these foods will immediately get stored as fat in your body if they’re not used. It is therefore difficult to lose weight when these things insidiously sneak into your diet on a regular basis.
- You’re eating more food than your body needs, i.e. your portions are too big. Even if the food you’re eating is healthier than it used to be, it may still be more than your body needs. In many instances when you improve your diet, the food you eat is more nutrient-dense and also sometimes calorie-heavy, like nuts; you’ll need less of this type of food to fill you up, despite the fact that you may have needed bigger portions to feel full in the past (when you were eating empty calories). You’ll need to re-adjust your habits for portions. It will also help to listen to your body’s hunger; for instance, are you satiated but still eating based on an emotional need? If so, can you attend to the emotional need without using food?
- Lack of physical activity: Although weight is mostly affected by nutrition, exercise can indirectly have a big effect. First, lack of exercise slows down your metabolism, causing you to burn fewer calories in general. But more importantly, physical activity is considered a primary food, meaning that it nourishes you even though it’s not food that you put into your mouth. If you’re not doing an exercise that you like, or if there is lack of physical activity in your life, you’re not benefitting from the endorphins, the adrenaline, and the other fulfillment that comes with exercise, which could include being in nature, being engaged in social activity, or having time to process thoughts if you’re doing yoga or walking. If you’re unfulfilled in the area of exercise, you may be filling that need with food. The other thing exercise can do is to help relieve stress; high stress can slow down metabolism. This is why you also want to make sure that the exercise you are doing isn’t too stressful (i.e. high intensity without rest).
- Metabolism is slow or stuck in a rut: This can be helped first and foremost with exercise. Slow digestion might also be a culprit because when your digestion is not moving efficiently, you will burn calories at a slower rate; attending to gut health is crucial for healthy weight loss. You can shake up your metabolism by occasionally eating a much smaller amount of food for dinner (like an all-vegetable meal) that’s easy to digest and light on your stomach, or you can shake your metabolism out of it’s routine by doing one extra long exercise each week.
- Stress: When you’re stressed, you go into flight or flight, and the hormone cortisol is released. Your energy moves to your extremities (in case you actually need to fight or flight) and away from your digestion, which slows down your metabolism. Additionally, your body will hang on to weight for survival if it feels like it’s in a crisis. Solution: engage in stress-reducing techniques regularly, i.e. meditation, yoga, deep breathing, gratitude journaling, therapy, massage, walks in nature, talking with close friends, spending time with animals, etc.
- You’re not eating as healthy as you think: Sometimes we’re just not being honest with ourselves. You might think, ‘I’m not eating too much sugar,’ or ‘Generally I make good food choices.’ Try tracking your food for a week to see what you’re actually consuming. Often times it’s a mindfulness issue; we’re just not aware of what and how much we’re eating because we’re distracted by life.
- Lack of consistency: What you do consistently determines your health. Do you make healthy choices only sometimes? Do you spend a week or two making healthy choices, then stop if you don’t see results right away? How long have you actually incorporated a fully healthy lifestyle, inclusive of nutrition, lifestyle, and exercise? In a society full of quick weight loss schemes (which always work but never last), it’s often difficult to have the patience to shift all your habits and then be consistent long enough for change to happen. But happen it will, I promise.
- Thyroid is out of whack: One job of the thyroid is to regulate metabolism, so an under-active thyroid often results in low metabolism. The number one sign of an underactive thyroid is fatigue even after plenty of sleep. Solution: Get your thyroid levels checked by your doctor. You can also make sure you’re naturally getting enough iodine, which is important for healthy thyroid function. Seaweed is a great natural source of iodine. Also, avoid eating raw cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and kale) which can block iodine absorption; eat them cooked or fermented (like sauerkraut) instead . While it’s important to consult your doctor, also know that healthy diet and lifestyle can often re-set healthy thyroid function.
*Note: I would stay away from thyroid supplements because amounts of ingredients are unregulated and are often too high dosage.
- Toxicity: Taking in toxins through processed, artificial, or pesticide-ridden food can disrupt hormone function, and toxins can get stuck in fat cells, which can affect overall health and ability to lose weight. While I’m not generally a fan of intense detoxes, if you feel your diet has been toxic for a long period of time (chemical dyes, medications, artificial sweeteners, pesticides, additives, trans fats, etc), you may benefit from a detox that will help draw these toxins from your fat cells. Note also that if you’re losing large amounts of weight because you have switched to a healthier diet, after having eaten a toxic diet for many years, you’ll go through an unintentional detox as your fat cells release these toxins. Drink lots of water and be gentle with yourself!
- Life is out of balance: You may know all of the above nutritional information, but maybe you’re depressed, unfulfilled, angry or lonely. Sometimes the emotional impact of what’s going on in your life is too much, too painful, and it’s actually a conscious or subconscious choice to ‘self-medicate’ with food, otherwise known as ‘emotional eating.’ If that’s the case, first determine if there’s steps you can take to change your situation. Second, is there something else besides food/drugs that can help you emotionally? Therapy? Meditation? Support groups?
- You’re not ready to lose weight: This one requires some serious honesty with yourself. Are you actually ready to lose the weight and prioritize your health? For many, there is some benefit to not losing weight. Here are some examples: weight loss can draw attention from the opposite sex, which may be uncomfortable for some, especially those who have been victims of sexual abuse. Sometimes staying overweight allows you to delay action or responsibility for other things in your life. For some, prioritizing one’s own health comes with guilt, especially for those who are caretakers for other people and who always put others first. For some, it comes down to not feeling worthy of prioritizing your own health. If there is some benefit from the weight you carry, or if attending to your health causes a strong resistance, self-sabotage might be happening, even with the best of conscious intentions. Solution: First, be compassionate with yourself and attend to the blocks you’re having against getting healthy, either with the help of a therapist, through journaling, meditation, etc. Then revisit weight loss when you’re truly ready to step into health.