You’re doing everything right: You’re eating well, you’re drinking water, you’re exercising. But when weigh day comes around, you’re shocked to see that instead of dropping weight, you’ve put on a few pounds. Yes, it could be water weight. But there are some other, more surprising reasons you may not be losing pounds. Read on for 12 super sneaky reasons you’re not losing weight:
1. The most obvious: You’re eating too much.
It may seem like a pain, but keeping a food diary is one of the best ways to pare off those pounds. A 2008 Kaiser Permanente Study of more than 1,700 people found that keeping track of everything you eat can double your weight loss. In a 2012 study by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, women who kept a diary listing everything they ate from soup to nuts to condiments and sauces lost six pounds more than those who didn’t. If you have a smart phone, you don’t have to carry a little notebook with you. There are dozens of great food diary apps that will even count your calories for you. This is a great way to learn how to not eat so much.
2. Less obvious: You’re skipping meals.
Women in the Fred Hutchinson study who skipped meals lost almost eight pounds less than those who stuck to a minimum of three squares a day. The reason? The researchers speculated that skipping meals can lead to hunger and binge-eating, may alter the metabolism which makes weight loss more difficult, and could reflect a too-busy lifestyle that encourages not only meal-skipping but eating out.
Passing on breakfast or lunch to reduce the amount of calories you eat each day can seem like a shortcut to losing weight, and this strategy may lead you to drop a few pounds in the short term. But a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reports that skipping meals actually increases belly fat, so no matter what the scale says you end up looking like you’ve gained rather than lost weight.
Eat small meals and snacks throughout the day to keep your metabolism working steadily–that’s the safe way to reduce calories and reach your weight loss goals.
3. You’re eating “healthy.”
Studies by Food & Brand Lab at Cornell University—the folks who study the psychological effects of food labeling and portion size—found that people tend to eat more if foods are labeled “healthy” or “organic.” That’s even when they contain the same number of calories (though may substitute sugar for fat) as the “regular” versions. The researchers found, for example, that consumers assume that cookies labeled “organic” have fewer calories and less fat than “regular” cookies. This is called the “health halo” effect, and applies to foods labeled “nonfat” and “low sugar.” Don’t be fooled. Read the nutrition label and learn how to stay fit and healthy.
4. You have portion distortion.
One serving of food in most restaurants today was actually two servings 20 years ago, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. One serving of meat or chicken, for example, should be no more than the size of a deck of cards. So if you’re eating a whole chicken breast, you’re getting double the calories.
5. You’re exercising too little.
Exercise burns calories. If you’re not doing any or very little, you’re relying entirely on the amount of calorie burn you get from simply being alive—and it might not be much—to help you lose weight. Exercising regularly—a mix of cardio and weight training—offers a big assist, though it’s not as important as cutting back on calories, according to several newer studies.
If you find your weight loss slowing or that you’re not losing weight at all, pick up the pace now and then. New studies have found that kicking up your regular activity a notch—known as “interval training”—can help reset your metabolism to burn more energy for a few hours. If you’re a walker, for example, add a little jogging for 20-30 seconds every five minutes and build up to a minute or more. You should be breathing hard during those intervals. Talk to your doctor before undertaking any new exercise program.
6. You’ve hit a plateau.
If you’ve already lost 10 pounds or so, you are suddenly a smaller person so it takes fewer calories to keep you going than it did before. You can do one of two things—cut back on your calorie intake or up your exercise a little. A good diet plan and exercise plan adjusts for your lowered energy needs as you lose weight. Don’t stress. While it’s discouraging, it happens to everyone and you’ll get past it as long as you stick with the weight loss plan.
7. You’re gaining muscle.
If you’ve been working out regularly, especially if you’re weight training, you’re probably building muscle and possibly increasing bone density which can keep the scale at a standstill for a bit, and even inch it up. Don’t rely just on your scale to judge your progress. If your clothes are fitting better or your Body Mass Index is getting smaller, you’re on the right track, no matter what the scale says.
8. You’re juicing instead of eating.
Many people today are trying juice “cleanses,” hoping to lose weight by replacing healthy meals with fresh fruit and vegetable drinks. But juicing extracts the fiber in fresh produce that helps you feel full and it can increase your calorie intake. A cup of fresh pineapple, for instance, is about 83 calories, while a cup of pineapple juice is about 120 calories.
Enjoy juice as an occasional between-meal snack, but not as a substitute for meals. And make vegetables the primary ingredients in juice, as they are lower in sugar and calories than fruit.
9. You choose fat-free everything.
Many food brands try to appeal to dieters with fat-free products, such as salad dressing and snacks. But fat-free items often have as many or more calories as full-fat versions (because extra sugar has been added, for instance, to help with flavor). Even worse, researchers at Cornell University found that people who eat fat-free snacks tend to consume more calories than those who eat the standard versions because they make up the difference by consuming more of the diet food.
Reduce your fat consumption by eating foods that are naturally low in fats but still filling, such as vegetables and fruit, and opt for healthy fat options like avocados and nuts. When selecting low-fat or fat-free products, check the sugar content on the item to ensure all of the fat hasn’t just been replaced by sugar.
10. You’re underestimating portions.
Paying attention to the amount of food you consume is an important step in eating healthy to lose weight. But most of us are so conditioned by the enormous portions of food served in restaurants that we don’t accurately gauge the right amounts when we’re eating at home.
11. You’re overeating after working out.
Regular exercise is important to your health and helps keep your body burning calories, but working out does stimulate your appetite and that can lead to overeating. The journal Obesity Review published an analysis of many studies which revealed that up to 50 percent of people trying to lose weight actually increase their daily calorie consumption when they begin an exercise routine.
Stick to your healthy eating diet plan even when working out leaves you extra hungry. Your metabolism will adjust as your body adapts to the increased activity.
12. You’re just plain expecting too much.
The first week or two of a healthy diet can result in five or more pounds lost, a significant change that can be exciting for anyone who has struggled with excess weight. But after that initial drop, progress generally slows to a healthy one to two pounds lost each week. That can be discouraging, but remember that you are probably trying to reverse years of weight gain.
Be patient. Slow but steady isn’t exciting, but a study by the National Institutes of Health found that those who lost at the healthy rate of one to two pounds per week were far more likely to keep the weight off than those who lost faster.