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Here's Why You're Not Losing Weight

Plus how to actually do it without hating life.

Amy Sefton / BuzzFeed

Everyone has their own personal goals for their health and body composition, and sometimes those include weight loss. But there's a lot of misinformation out there. So BuzzFeed Life reached out to Dr. Holly Lofton, director of the Medical Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Medical Center, and registered dietitian Brian St. Pierre, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition, to ask them about some of the common pitfalls, stumbling blocks, and misconceptions around weight loss. Oh, and how to actually be successful at losing weight and keeping it off.

1. You're not eating enough.

Yes, losing weight means tweaking your diet so that you eat less than you presently are. But that doesn't mean you should go HAM slashing a ton of calories or skipping meals. First of all, cutting calories to the point where you're feeling hungry all the time or crave foods you miss eventually leads to overeating or bingeing sometime down the road. And if you cut calories super drastically, Lofton says that your body actually responds by making it even more difficult to lose weight.

Instead, Lofton suggests figuring out your calorie needs to maintain your current weight using an online calculator. From there, you can start cutting calories conservatively until you determine the amount that allows you to lose weight without feeling hungry all the time. Check in with a nutritionist for help figuring out a good starting place.

2. Or you're not eating the right things.

3. You eat whatever you want on weekends.

4. You aren't exercising enough.

5. Or you've been exercising the same way for a long time.

Your body is smart and it adapts to your workouts as you get better at exercising, St. Pierre explains. So as you get fitter, you'll burn fewer calories doing the same workout you did when you first started exercising. Yeah, it's not really fair. As we previously reported, after you've been doing the same workouts for a while, you'll have to up your time or intensity to increase the calorie-burning potential.

Try mixing things up and giving your body a new challenge with high-intensity workouts that mix strength training with cardio.

6. You overestimate how many calories you burn in workouts.


Sure, exercise helps create a caloric deficit that helps with weight loss, but just because you feel sweaty and tired, that doesn't necessarily mean you've burned a bazillion calories. "Even if you do intense intervals for 30 minutes, you've only burned a couple hundred calories," says St. Pierre. So, don't overdo your post-workout snack or meal. Remember that most everyday exercisers are doing workouts that help balance modest dietary fluctuations, rather than making humungous caloric dents.

7. You eat most of your calories at night.

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If you eat your heaviest meals for breakfast and lunch, you're likely to use those calories for energy for the rest of the day. When you save your biggest meal (or most of your snacking because you've been undereating all day) for the evening, there's less of a chance that you'll expend those calories (because you'll be going to sleep soon), so they'll be stored as fat, says Lofton.

8. You're going HAM on "cheat days."

Though cheat days can be used effectively, building them into a diet can cause bingeing for some people, St. Pierre says. If you view cheat days as a five-meal free-for-all, it can obviously screw with your goals, but it may even cause weight gain or foster an unhealthy relationship with food and eating. A better tactic is allowing yourself some discretionary calories throughout the week so that you're not being too restrictive at any one time, says St. Pierre. It's much more sustainable and it's better than trying to cram in all of the junk food you can in one day.

9. You get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night.

Wolfgang Lonien CC BY-SA / Via Flickr: wjlonien

Being chronically low on sleep can throw off your body's circadian rhythms, causing the release of hormones that increase stress and hunger, explains Lofton. And it can cause you to crave high-calorie foods. To keep all those rhythms and hormones in order, Lofton recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep in a comfortable, dark environment.

Check out these tips on how to get more and better sleep.

10. You order a lot of delivery.

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Even if you’re ordering the healthyish option, takeout can pack way more calories, sodium, and fat than something you would prepare at home. Plus, you’re getting it delivered to your couch, so you’re literally expending zero energy. So even if you’re craving pad thai, go to the grocery store and chop and prepare the ingredients at home. That way you know exactly what’s going into it and you’re burning at least a little energy making it, says Lofton.

11. You eat while watching TV or scrolling through your phone.

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When you eat while watching a show, you "don’t feel as satisfied because you’re distracted from tasting your food," which makes you want to eat more, Lofton says. And studies have shown that people tend to overeat by several hundred calories when they're paying attention to something other than their food, says St. Pierre.

But you don't have to go cold turkey right away. If you're used to watching TV and being on your phone while you eat, just eliminate one of those things for now. Or have the TV on in the other room or on mute; basically anything to draw more of your attention to what you're eating.

12. You eat super quickly.


It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your body is full, says St. Pierre. So if you're housing your meals, you're probably eating most (or all) of your food before your brain's had a chance to decide whether or not you even want all that.

Time your next meal. If you finish in a few minutes, try to make the next one last 10 minutes. Keep building on that until it takes you 20 minutes to eat a meal, says St. Pierre. He recommends things like putting your fork down or sipping water between bites, or, if you're eating with people, try to match the pace of the slowest eater at the table.

13. You eat a lot of fat-free products.

These often have lots of added sugar, Lofton says. And when it comes to losing weight, you want to watch your added sugar intake closely. As we previously reported here, sugar doesn't satiate you and often ends up as unneeded carbs that just get stored as fat.

When it comes to packaged food, don't go by the front of the package where you might see the words "fat free" or "high protein," etc. Those are advertising words which could mislead you into thinking that something is healthier than it really is. Instead, Lofton says, check out the label so you can tell how much protein, fat, and sugar are really in the product. "Read the back because that's where they can't lie," she says.

14. You try all different kinds of diets all the time.

It's tough to find something that's working for you — both in terms of weight loss and lifestyle — if you frequently make sweeping changes to the way you eat, like going paleo, then vegan, then dairy-free and gluten-free, etc. Lofton recommends resisting the pull of diet trends as they come and go. Instead, just stick to a meal plan that seems to be working for you. If you're having trouble finding one, check in with a doctor or nutritionist for help.

15. You booze a lot.

Fox / Via

Ready for a bit of a buzzkill? Drinking regularly makes it tough to lose weight. Not only does alcohol contain calories, but it also lowers your inhibitions, making you more likely to overeat or cruise Seamless as you stumble home, says St. Pierre. That doesn't mean you have to cut out alcohol entirely for weight loss, just cut back and aim for lower-calorie options. Also, plan ahead with healthy snacks so you don't go searching for chips or pizza after a few drinks.

16. Processed foods are a big part of your diet.

Steven Depolo CC BY / Via Flickr: stevendepolo

Because processed foods are a relatively recent addition to our palates, the holy carb-fat-salt trinity isn't something our brains are used to yet, says St. Pierre. As a result, these foods overstimulate the hypothalamus — the part of the brain that regulates our appetite and tells us we've had enough and should stop eating — to the point where it can't regulate our appetites effectively. Plus, processed foods are made to be maximally satisfying (perfectly crunchy or gooey or creamy, and so on) which makes you associate them with maximum pleasure, which then makes you seek the reward of eating them, St. Pierre says.

That doesn't mean you can only snack on raw vegetables and green smoothies (though that would probably be great for you). Just try replacing some of your packaged meals and snacks with healthier versions of comfort food classics.

17. You're often in a rush or stressed out or just busy AF.

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When you're in a hurry, you're likely to make decisions based on convenience, rather than what's best for your goals. And nothing is more convenient than processed foods that also happen to be higher in calories. St. Pierre recommends doing some planning ahead of time so you don't have to make game-time food decisions. That could mean packing a day's worth of snacks, reviewing menus online before choosing a restaurant, or knowing where the nearest spots are to grab healthy stuff on the go.

Here are some snacks and meals so you never have to order fast food again (unless you want to).

18. You have a goal weight.

One common slip-up people make is setting a goal weight — a number at which they'll finally be happy, St. Pierre says. When your weight loss effort is framed around a specific number, you tend to rearrange your life in a major way (cutting all carbs, giving up desserts, and skipping brunch and 10-cent wing night all at the same time), which makes you sad and frustrated. That's just not sustainable.

Instead, go into it with a goal lifestyle, says St. Pierre, one that corresponds to a weight you could be happy with and one that's actually realistic for your life. "Find that balance between body goals and lifestyle goals and where they intersect," he says, and you'll have a lifestyle you can really stick with.

19. You're not actually being as healthy as you think you are.

People start out way more vigilant about sticking to their diets and calorie goals but over time become less so without realizing, St. Pierre says. Maybe you used to hit the gym four days a week and cook all the time, but now you've gotten super busy and didn't even notice you were slipping. Every so often, take a step back to check in with yourself — evaluate how you've been eating, what your workouts have been like, your sleep, etc., and decide whether you need to re-up your commitment.

20. You just haven't given it enough time yet.

Sustainable, lasting weight loss can take a while. While a loss of one or two pounds per week is reasonable and doable for many people, there are no hard and fast numbers that equal "success" for everyone, says St. Pierre. Every body is different and everyone tolerates lifestyle change differently. For some people, the only way to lose weight without getting frustrated, bingeing, and giving up is to do it very slowly. Being realistic about how much weight you can actually lose in a given amount time with a given amount of effort is crucial.

So that was a lot of info.

As you integrate all this into your own weight loss efforts, remember to check in with yourself regularly to make sure your goals for your body are consistent with your goals for your mental health and happiness. Also, always check with a doctor before making any big changes to your diet or exercise routines.