10 Reasons You Aren’t Losing Weight When You Think You’re Doing Everything Right

by | Apr 28, 2014

Photo by EverJean

Weight loss can sometimes be very elusive, even for a foodist. You already know that dieting will never give you the long term results you want, so you focus on eating real food and going to the gym.

So why are you still overweight?

There could be any number of reasons you aren’t reaching your goals and the best way to troubleshoot is to tackle it like a scientist. Generate a hypothesis, collect data on yourself, and test different solutions until you find what works, because the answer will be slightly different for everyone.

The good news is that there are several common (but easily overlooked) mistakes that may be holding you back. Start here and your issues may resolve more easily than you think.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to go back to restrictive dieting, which makes it harder––not easier––to achieve your goals.

10 Reasons You Still Aren’t Losing Weight

1. You’re still sedentary

This one has been difficult for me in the past, despite the fact that I’ve been working out regularly since I was 12 years old. If your job involves sitting at a desk or using a computer all day, chances are that even if you go to the gym daily you are still leading a sedentary life.

Solution: Use a pedometer

Fortunately the solution doesn’t require more gym time, just a bit more standing and walking. Making sure that you reach 10,000 steps per day is a simple way to burn more calories without noticing. Track your activity with a pedometer like a Fitbit to be sure you’re hitting your daily goal.

2. You’re misjudging your portion sizes

Humans, especially dieters, are notorious for misjudging portion sizes––specifically large portion sizes. Research has shown that while we are decent at judging the calories in smaller dishes, we vastly underestimate the number of calories in larger portions and as a result overeat much more than we realize.

Solution: Keep a food journal

With practice you can get better at judging portion sizes. Even if you think you know how much you are eating take two weeks to track your food intake with a food journal and measure out and document your portion sizes. While I don’t recommend keeping this up forever (life is too short to be so neurotic), it is a great way to recalibrate your expectations of what appropriate portion sizes should look like.

Most of us can feel completely satisfied eating 20% less food, and some of us can eat less than even that without noticing. Using smaller plates can help as well, but with the huge portions of food most of us are served outside the home it is better to get good at judging portions without relying on your personal dishware.

3. You aren’t tracking your habits

Despite our best intentions, it is surprisingly difficult for us to be honest with ourselves about our behaviors. You may believe you don’t eat much bread every week, cook nutritious and diverse foods at home on a regular basis, and stick to a reasonable number of cocktails when you go out on weekends, but it is easier than you think to slip into a rut and neglect your home court habits for days or even weeks on end.

Solution: Use the Lift app

The more I track my habits using the Lift app, the more I realize how fluid my regular habits can be. What is scary is that even though I am well aware of how important habits are to my health, without regular tracking I would honestly have no idea how my habits evolve and wouldn’t be able to adjust as rapidly when mindlessness gets the better of me.

What’s nice about Lift is that it doesn’t feel obsessive, like calorie counting or portion measuring. I’ve created dozens of interesting habits I try to maintain in my healthstyle including trying new foods, eating fermented foods, meditation and shopping at the farmers market. Simply checking them off my list each day has been an incredibly powerful way to stay on track. Lift has also made me more mindful of healthy habits I didn’t realize I have and wish to continue to cultivate. Why is it so easy for me to forget that mushrooms are awesome? Turns out there’s an app for that.

4. You’re insulin resistant

If you have more than 20 pounds to lose and have not had much success despite eating relatively healthfully, you may have some degree of insulin resistance or even metabolic syndrome. When you are insulin resistant your body is more inclined to store the calories you eat as fat rather than burn them as fuel. This means you can gain weight eating types and amounts of food that a person with a healthy metabolism could eat without consequence. Such a bummer.

Solution: Try the foodist recalibration

Fortunately, insulin resistance can usually be improved with a low-carbohydrate diet and exercise. Though I do not recommend restrictive dieting as a long term solution for weight control, the temporary foodist recalibration for 2-8 weeks can help restore insulin sensitivity and improve metabolism. I’ve even created a special group in the Lift app to help. For the full explanation of the recalibration and how to transition to life-long weight maintenance check out my book, Foodist.

5. You’re working out too much

Back in the day before I became a foodist, I had a serious working out problem. I’d wake up at 5am every school day and go to they gym for two hours before heading to class, then I’d spend countless hours on “long runs” every weekend trying to burn more calories. The problem is that while exercise definitely improves health, it also promotes hunger. Too much exercise can therefore be a barrier to weight loss for some people, because it makes it nearly impossible to control your appetite.

Solution: Chill out

I absolutely recommend making time for exercise, even formal gym time and weight training, as part of your regular healthstyle. However, if exercise is taking up a huge amount of your time and you still aren’t losing weight, try chilling out a bit and focusing more on walking 10-15K steps per day rather than spending more time in the gym. I imagine you will enjoy it.

6. You don’t chew

Practicing mindful eating is still the best way I’ve found to slow down, eat less, and enjoy my food more. The problem is that it’s really hard to do. One way to address this issue is to focus on something concrete that forces you to pay attention to the food in your mouth. This is where chewing can help.

Solution: Count your chews

Counting your chews for each bite is an easy way to refocus your attention on your eating and consciously slow down. I recommend chewing each bite 20 times or more before swallowing. If you have trouble remembering to chew, try putting your fork down between each bite. I have a rule that if I am in the process of stabbing food with my fork to prepare another bite I ask myself if there is food in my mouth already. If there is, I am reminded to set down my fork and focus on what I’m already eating. This practice alone could change your life, and has already done so for many of my readers.

7. You aren’t sleeping enough

Our brains and bodies rely tremendously on a variety of hormones that regulate when we eat and sleep. Because of these circadian rhythms, we function optimally when we eat our meals, sleep and wake at the same time each day. Similarly, too little sleep has been associated with weight gain.

Solution: Prioritize sleep

Getting on a regular schedule and getting enough sleep is a key component of your healthstyle. Developing good sleep habits and prioritizing sleep may help you get back on track.

8. Your diet is too strict

Telling yourself you can’t eat this or that particular food is one of the most effective ways to guarantee you’ll overeat it in the future. Not even Adam and Eve could handle the pressure.

Solution: Have it later

Research has shown that telling yourself you can eat something later is far more effective than outright denying yourself a pleasure. To your brain, having it later is almost as good as having it now. Try it, it works.

9. Your diet is too limited

As powerful as psychological cravings can be, biological cravings are still a real thing. Eating a nutrient dense and diverse diet helps ensure that your body is receiving a wide range of micronutrients and has everything it needs to function optimally.

Solution: Eat new foods

One of my favorite healthstyle habits is regularly trying new foods and building diversity into my meals. Not only is this incredibly fun, it has also helped me reduce cravings for sugar, flour and other less-than-healthy foods that used to plague me.

10. You believe health claims on food labels

Yes, foods that tend to be higher in fiber, protein, vitamins, calcium, omega-3s and other trendy nutrients tend to be better for you, but that doesn’t mean that artificially adding these things to junk turns them into health food. Even worse, health claims on foods create what is known as a “health halo” that encourages people to think foods are healthier and less filling, unintentionally convincing us to eat more.

Solution: Focus on ingredients

Avoid the hype by ignoring health claims and turning directly to the ingredient list. Focus on real food and real ingredients to avoid being duped.

Did you solve a weight loss plateau? Tell us how in the comments.

Originally published June 17, 2013.

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29 Responses to “10 Reasons You Aren’t Losing Weight When You Think You’re Doing Everything Right”

  1. Lisa says:

    I make pretty much all of those ten mistakes. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. teckdeck2008 says:

    Good call on the working out too much. I work out an average of 2 hours a day when I have the time and I can tell you for a fact that I eat a lot because of it. Luckily, I have always been skinny and all that food literally goes to the recovery process. However, if I had to loose weight I could not do it.

  3. jake says:

    #1-9: you’re eating too much;
    #10: what you’re eating (too much of), is probably garbage.

  4. Marci says:

    Thank you, Darya. I love how you not only summed up the most common pitfalls, but you offered realistic solutions.I’m going to share this with my clients!

  5. Liane says:

    Good reminders, great post – thanks!

  6. AJ says:

    This is a fantastic post!

  7. Dee says:

    Lol @ even Adam and Eve couldn’t handle the pressure…. But Jesus in the wilderness did….

    Great post! I just need to be assured that I’m indeed doing everything right…

  8. Kari says:

    Huh. Never saw the recalibration thing. That sounds like a great idea, thank you. I have adult onset asthma, (asbestos is bad for you) which I have begun to treat naturally, which is working great, but you know what would REALLY help me breathe is losing the weight I gained on the meds they put me on previously. It’s slow going and my metabolism is clearly a bit wonky at this point, so hey, I’ll give that a shot.

    But apart from that, I have a question for you, Darya. You mention biological cravings as separate from psychological ones. Can you explain that or point me to an article? I have long argued that if you’re craving something, you must actually need something in it, and should have it then. This belief has even caused fights with friends who think I’m excuse hunting. Except that I crave things like grapefruit, and I hate grapefruit. Just every now and then I MUST eat one. My desire to eat ice cream is much more ignorable than the whole grapefruit thing. So I have figured desire for enjoyable foods, at least in me, is an entirely different phenomenon than a full on craving. Is this true?

    • Darya Rose says:

      I think there is something to what you’re saying, but it is difficult to untangle it scientifically since there is so much variability among individuals. There have been documented cases of pregnant women eatings dirt and sand [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18693477], likely due to anemia (iron deficiency). On the other hand, people crave cigarettes and alcohol because they are addictive, not because of a deficiency.

      I think it is easier to tell what is going on in yourself when you are very in tune with your food and your body. I’ve noticed a difference in my own body’s responsiveness to different foods since becoming a foodist. Grapefruits contain a unique molecule that blocks the breakdown of certain drugs in the liver, but that’s not really an explanation of why you want to eat a food you don’t like. At any rate your friends should lighten up :)

      • Kari says:

        Thanks for your reply. If it helps, the grapefruit makes me feel energized and good once I’ve eaten it. I really wish I liked them. I’ve tried a variety of approaches.

        I agree that being in tune with your body is key. Paying attention to that has steered me towards large amounts of veggies and a lot of evening walks, as well as instilled a strong inclination to stay home when ill.

        I’ll tell my friends you said so. ;)

        And oh look… an M&Ms banner ad. I don’t like M&Ms any better than I like grapefruit so I know it’s not my browser history.

      • Darya Rose says:

        Already asked for them to be taken down. Hopefully they’ll be gone soon.

  9. Koren says:

    Put the fork down between bites. Yup, I can do that! I’m totally the girl who’s already reaching for the next bite before finishing the first, so this is great advice. Thanks, Darya.

  10. Grant Parish says:

    I thought this was a great article and I picked up on several habits I need to change.

    But Darya, I am a weak person and the Twix and M&M ads on the right side of the page were distracting me the whole time I was reading the article. I am now having a powerful biological Twix craving!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Was there seriously a candy ad? Really?

      • Grant Parish says:

        Yep. Twix and M&Ms all on the right side navigation bar. Apparently they rotate with the Tide ads. I took a screen shot but I don’t see a way to attach it here.

      • Karen says:

        I use the Adblock Plus addon in Firefox and never see ads on the net anywhere!!

        Funny, my daughter just had a tonsillectomy and now she’s got ads on her Facebook for prescription drugs!

  11. Helen Mary says:

    First of all thanks for sharing the information Darya. I follow every aspect to lose weight effectively. I have a few questions for you. I’m on a weight loss program and been doing workouts with diet plans. Though my diet isn’t that restrictive, when getting bored, I try small portions of desserts and chocolates to satisfy my cravings. Also I take energy drinks for recharging after the workouts. Are these things good to be follow? Kindly help

  12. Bendiab Tarek says:

    merci darya pour le rappel et les conseils,ma femme et moi ainsi que ma fille ainée,on est en surpoids,et on est entrain de suivre un régime pas trop sévère,surtout le soir,en évitant de manger sucré et en limitant les rations de pain tout en se b&asant sur les salades de légumes.

  13. Rosanna says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I think I’m going to have to give the food journal thing another try but like many habits, I get lazy to keep at it. Plus I’m afraid to admit how much of a serial stacker I am… Even if the snacks are healthy!

  14. This is great information! I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head (several times) with respect to mystery weight gain. Being aware of the details of what we are doing in terms of exercise and eating is key to reaching our health and wellness goals.

    I loved #10 especially and would take it even further (you might have in your hyperlinked post). I’ve learned from experience that when I focus on eating foods that are closest to their natural state, I can pretty much eat what I want and in whatever quantities I want, and my weight regulates itself. Add in things that come in packages with health claims and even if I’m counting calories, I slowly gain weight. Apparently nature knows something. ;)

  15. Danielle says:

    Thank you for this. I have insulin resistance for a while now. I have been looking for what foods are inflammatory, and this is the first time I have read anything about it. I sometimes feel sick like everything in my body is swollen. I am going to try your recalibration. I hope it helps with my weight loss and the pain. I hope more people start talking about this.

  16. Judith says:

    I love the reminders about mindful eating, but cannot imagine how anyone has time to walk 10 -15 K steps or spend two hours a day in the gym, plus shop, cook, clean up, spend any time at all with your family, do your laundry and get 8 hours a night unless you are unemployed or don’t commute to work.

    I am trying Fitbit to incorporate more activity into my normal day, but I think setting that kind of exercise goal is just unrealistic for anyone who has a family and the responsibilities that go along with it.

    • Darya Rose says:

      If you think 10K steps a day is unrealistic, then there’s no need to hold yourself to it. It’s what works for me and many others, but someone more pressed for time might have better luck with interval training or kettle bells, that only take a few minutes a day.

  17. Denise DeGrazia says:

    OK, I hate to mention this but it is all about eating too many calories, people. Weight loss is all about creating a caloric deficit. I know that counting calories and weighing your portions seems like an OCD drag but it works. It’s not so much about what you eat or how much you exercise but how many calories you are shoveling into the mouth. If you are not losing weight you are eating at maintenance. Great, if you don’t need to lose weight. But if weight/fat loss is the goal you need to be more precise in your eating intake. Particularly if you are a smaller woman. Most calorie recommendations are too high. I’m sure I will get hate mail but counting calories precisely as possible works. It works for maintaining too.
    Mindful eating and getting off your butt is great but there are lot’s of overweight folks who claim to eat healthy and “clean” and all that. Plus I see lot’s of overweight people pounding away on the treadmills at the gym like crazed hamsters with no visible results.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Myself and thousands of my readers have lost weight and kept it off without having to do math every day. Certainly that method can work, but this site is for people who want more out of life.

      • Denise DeGrazia says:

        Darya, I totally agree with that notion and in fact lost over 40 lbs not counting calories. I did a lot of intermittent fasting. Granted lots of people are not going to do that. It does work to reduce mindless eating though and is just one of many tools that can help reset the “hunger” habit. Most of what people think is hunger is not real hunger.
        However, a very large number of people have NO clue about how much they eat and how much they should eat to lose weight and even maintain weight loss. Without getting a grip on that people yo-yo up and down and become frustrated that they are doing all the “right” things (exercise, eating healthy foods) and are not losing weight. The problem is that they are just eating too much (too many calories) to create a deficit needed.
        I was always skeptical of calorie counting since it seems a bit like nailing jello to a tree. However recently I got one of those nutritional data scales with a phone app on a sale and decided to give it a try. It works.
        I am very small and lean but I was able to drop 6 lbs of fat pretty easily doing that. For those who are stuck it a rut it may help to shed those last 5 lbs. So that’s why I mentioned it. Sometimes it helps to get the mindful eating process in gear and really have some reality checks rather that deluding oneself into thinking they are eating less than they are.

      • Darya Rose says:

        Totally agree. Thanks for the clarification. I even recommend in Foodist that people get a food scale and get realistic about how much they are actually eating. It’s the math I don’t trust.

        So basically I’m all about keeping track and journaling (especially if you’ve never done it before), but prefer a slightly more holistic method. Here’s a summary: http://summertomato.com/7-reasons-keeping-a-food-journal-is-better-than-counting-calories/

  18. Lazyretirementgirl says:

    Thanks so much for the reference to Lift. It is a terrific resource which I doubt I would have found without your mention.

  19. Gabrielle says:

    This is a great article Darya – making conscious choices to change is a big part of the journey to creating healthy habits. Going beyond the diet and taking things such as sleep patterns and exercise into consideration is a very important aspect of healthy weight management and is often overlooked. Thanks for sharing!

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