Working Out But Not Losing Weight—9 Reasons Why
Do you eat well, exercise often and still feel like you’re not losing that stubborn weight? Find out why, according to experts.
Do you eat well, exercise often, and still feel like you're not maintaining a healthy weight? The truth is, there are lots of variations in how people perceive eating well and exercising.
There are many misconceptions over what is healthy and not. Total-body wellness is a lifestyle, not a number on a scale. We've provided 9 reasons why you diet and exercise plant aren't working—along with actionable steps you can take to help you on your wellness journey.
You’re Not Eating the Good Stuff
If you're working out but not losing weight, the first place you should be looking is the kitchen. Some people focus all their energy on burning off calories that they don't take the time to consider what they're putting in as fuel. A good rule of thumb is to stick to all-natural, whole foods.
Tip: Look for foods with the fewest ingredients on the label—if you can't pronounce it, it's probably not something you want to put in your body.
You’re Not Striking the Right Balance
If you've been shunning carbohydrates because you think they're negatively affecting your weight loss goals, you might want to reconsider. Cutting out an entire macronutrient from your daily diet can make you feel deprived and tempt you to binge.
Instead, reach for healthy, complex carbs. Examples include:
Whole grain bread
Of course, an occasional sweet is fine, but a steady diet of simple carbs, like candy, soda, sugary sweets, and processed foods with added sugar, won't help you reach your weight-loss goal.
Tip: Go for starchy carbohydrates, which are digested more slowly and release glucose into your bloodstream more slowly.
You’re Eating Too Much
If you've already cleaned up your diet big time and you're still not losing weight, it may be that you're simply eating too much. In order to shed pounds your body needs to run a calorie deficit, meaning you need to burn more than you consume.
Consider your wellness goals and strive to build a diet that works towards them. For example, MyPlate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a visual for what a healthy plate might look like.1 They recommend you fill half your plate with fruits and veggies and half your plate with protein and whole grains.
While individual diet plans may vary, you may want to consider focusing more on changes you can make to your diet to optimize the nutrient-rich food you're consuming—instead of obsessing over calorie counts and numbers on a scale.
Eat whenever you're hungry and eat slowly enough so you can stop just before you get full. And don't be afraid to give yourself "healthy" cheats. The moment you start depriving yourself is when you start to feel like you're missing out on something, and you want to binge.
Tip: Healthy snacking during the day will keep you from simply eating too much during meals. I always carry a few Kind Bars in my bag because they're a great snack made with whole foods and have nothing artificial.
You’re Doing Too Much Cardio
Yes, cardio is a necessary part of your workout routine. It keeps your heart healthy, boosts your metabolism, and gives you a good sweat (you should break one daily).
However, only doing cardio—or doing too much of it—can actually add to the problem. Longer cardio sessions, like staying on the elliptical for 90 minutes or going for regular 10-mile runs, can eat away at your lean muscle mass, which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories.
Longer cardio causes the body to become more endurance-focused, storing energy as fat to ensure it has plenty of reserve fuel to keep you going for all those miles. Not to mention it dramatically increases your appetite, making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking or overeating.
Tip: Federal guidelines for physical activity, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggest that adults do strength training, focusing on all major muscle groups, two days a week.
You’re Not Lifting Weights
This one goes hand in hand with number doing too much cardio. I'm not saying you can't or shouldn't do cardio. If you love to run or bike for reasons other than losing weight, then by all means don't stop.
But if you're working out but not losing weight and your primary goal is fat loss, there are other forms of exercise that give a much better bang for your buck. The best way to lose weight and build lean muscle is by doing some form of strength training in addition to your cardio. The more muscle tone your body has, the more fat you'll burn.
If you're not ready to give up your cardio routine just yet, try adding some interval training by performing short bursts of all-out effort mixed into your regular session. These workouts are much more effective at promoting hormones that target stubborn fat. Then, start adding some resistance training to your routine.
You’re Not Working Hard Enough
There's no exact equation to working out and eating healthy—it's a matter of trial and error, finding out what works specifically for your body. And more time spent in the gym doesn't always equal a more fit person. Unless you're an athlete, body builder, or a marathoner-in-training, the average person shouldn't be working out more than an hour a day.
Your workouts should be intensity-dependent, not time-dependent. Keep this fact in mind: the harder you work, the shorter your workout time may need to be.
Tip: Maximize time spent at the gym, in a fitness class, or in your at-home workout routine to achieve that coveted afterburn effect, which keeps your metabolism revved for 24-48 hours afterward.
You’re Not Taking Time To Recover
When you do achieve that afterburn and you're really feeling your workout the next day, those are the days to focus on different muscle groups. Or, if you prefer to work out your whole body, establish a workout routine where you work your entire body one day and then take the next day to do light cardio, stretching, or complete rest.
Recovery and rest are often more important than the workout itself. It's during those periods that your body does most of the actual fat burning.
Tip: Give yourself time to fully recover so you're ready to work hard the following day. Most importantly, listen to your body. Push yourself, but also give it some love, too.
Your Body Is Under Too Much Stress
Exercise is a stressor on your body. When you have a healthy balance of exercise-related stress and recovery time, your body is healthy and can lose its excess fat. However, not giving your body enough time to recover can also be a negative (see above) as you'll start to produce an excessive amount of cortisol, a stress hormone.
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2016 explained how the mental and physical demands of exercise can induce a stress response. This stress response includes the release of stress hormones like cortisol, and other stress molecules.
Cortisol is both normal and important when working out; it's involved in processes that give your muscles the energy needed to get moving, per StatPearls. But when your body is exposed to cortisol for longer periods of time, it can cause negative effects, like stubborn fat in areas you don't want, according to StatPearls.
Exercise isn't the only stressor that can produce excess cortisol. A stressful personal or professional life can also make your body produce too much of this hormone. When you stop exercising, your body stops producing cortisol; however, it may not be quite as easy to turn off the mental stressors going on in your life.
Tip: Make sure you're keeping your mental and emotional health in check in addition to your physical health. You should strive for total-body wellness.
You're exercising regularly and eating healthfully, but now the numbers on the scale won't budge; your weight loss has plateaued. There are several reasons this can happen.
However, one reason, per the CDC, is that if you lose weight, your daily calorie intake required to maintain your weight will shift. For example, you may lose weight initially consuming 1,700 calories a day. However, as you lose weight, the number of daily calories needed will also decrease.
So, to rev up your weight loss again, you may need to cut more calories or amp up your physical activity. Simple ways to do this, per the CDC, include using skim milk instead of whole. Or, adding more exercise to your daily routine, such as by doing a few set with resistance bands while watching television.
Tip: Add resistance training to build muscle and burn fat.
A Quick Review
So, if your wellness goals include weight loss and you are struggling to meet your goals, there are numerous options you can try to achieve optimal wellness. From watching eating habits to changing up your workout routine, there are solutions.
And, remember that if exercise or dietary changes are new to your lifestyle, it's a good idea to run your fitness plan by a healthcare provider. They can help ensure it is safe and appropriate for your individual health needs.