Rachel is a health blogger who coaches other women in diet and exercise. She has lived with chronic migraines for 16 years.
What Am I Doing Wrong?
You’ve been trying really, really hard to drop those extra pounds. You’ve been watching what you eat, hitting the gym, drinking lots of water, and doing everything “right.” Yet for some unexplained reason, the extra pounds aren't budging! You're not alone—in fact, not seeing results in a desired time frame is one of the most common reasons that people throw in the towel on their weight loss mission.
The reasons behind your frustrations are a lot simpler than you may think. A minor tweak in your eating, drinking, or sleeping habits could be the small push you need to kick-start your weight loss, or bring you down from the dreaded plateau.
My Weight Loss Journey
I struggled with my weight for all of my life. It affected me in a lot of ways, the worst of which was low self-esteem. From the time I was a teenager, I tried every diet ever created. I could never stick with anything long term, and any small weight loss would always come right back. I was stuck in a vicious cycle of depression.
The turning point in my weight loss journey was developing an understanding of the relationship between how much I should be eating, and how much I should be exercising. By tracking my calories, I realized that I was consuming so many more calories than I would have guessed. I could also see by the nutrient breakdown that I was often overloading on carbs or sugars.
I started making small changes, like only eating carbs on days that I worked out. In the fitness world, this is referred to as "earning your carbs." I cut out refined sugars, and kept a close eye on my natural sugar intake, from things like fruit. I added much more water to my daily diet, and made sure I was increasing healthy fats and decreasing bad fats.
I learned to accept the fact that I would have to eat in order to replace what I was losing through exercise. I used to be terrified to eat after a workout, thinking I would destroy my progress. In reality, I was harming my body by starving it of the proper replenishment. Not eating enough calories had kept me stuck just as much as overeating had.
5 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight
1) You’re eating too many calories. Sounds like a no-brainer, but even if you think you’re eating conservatively, you still might be off the mark. We tend to significantly underestimate how many calories we actually consume. For instance, you know you ate a hot dog and you accounted for those calories—but what about the ketchup, relish, and mustard you put on top? What about the glass of juice you drank along with the hot dog? We tend to overlook calories that hide in sneaky spots, like condiments or beverages. In fact, sneaky sugars could hold their own place on this list!
The number of calories you need to eat to lose weight depends on several factors, like your gender, age, height, and level of activity. You can use this quick calculator to determine what your daily calorie intake should be.
2) You’re not eating enough calories. When trying to lose weight, we can be very fearful of overeating. After all, that’s part of what got us into this mess! This fear often leads to under-eating, though, which has a negative effect on our progress. If you are engaging in regular exercise, especially lifting weights, it is vital that you replace what you’re losing. That’s how the body works—put energy in, take energy out, repeat!
By the way, ditch the outdated idea that you need to run until your legs fall off to lose weight. While cardio can help you lose some fat, weight training is more effective and will also tone your body. Building muscle mass will help you lose fat mass!
3) You’re not getting enough sleep. Yes, the lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain! There are more American adults who struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep than ever—about 164 million. So, why does this affect our ability to lose weight? For one, losing sleep may make you feel hungry, even when you're not. There are two hormones to point the finger at: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells you when to eat, and lack of sleep produces more ghrelin. Conversely, leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you aren’t getting adequate sleep, you have less of it.
Another side effect of not getting enough sleep is skipping exercise or sitting still for longer periods. When we’re low on energy, it’s much less painful to reach for a cup of coffee and a sugary donut, but this is damaging to our end goal of dropping weight.
Some ideas for improving your sleep quality:
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Maximize comfort in your sleep space, and reduce distractions like televisions.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine or nicotine for 3-4 hours before bed.
4) You go off the rails on weekends. Weekends are generally less structured and more relaxed than weekdays. They should be, right? It’s your chance to unwind and escape with friends and family. Unfortunately, though, those two to three days (if you count Friday) of carefree eating and minimal exercise can easily ruin four days of great effort. Adding alcohol to the mix can be even more detrimental.
Now, it’s not necessary or expected to be perfect for seven days per week. That model wouldn’t be sustainable for anyone! However, to lose weight, you will need to maintain a fairly consistent diet and exercise regimen throughout the week.
So, how can you let loose on the weekends without blowing all your hard work? One night, try having a glass of wine or a more satiating entrée—but not both! Another night, you could share a dessert after having a more sensible meal. Be very, very careful about “cheat meals” or “cheat days.” Eating one cookie on a day when you ate sensibly won’t derail you. However, eating one cookie and saying “Oh well, I ruined my diet for today. Might as well eat a dozen cookies!” is a surefire way to sabotage yourself.
5) You’re not drinking enough water. Staying hydrated is important for everyone, regardless of lifestyle. When it comes to losing weight, drinking water is especially important. Drinking a glass of water before a meal helps you feel fuller, and eat less. It’s great for keeping you full and curbing snack cravings. Your metabolism also speeds up when you’re properly hydrated. Why do you want a fast metabolism? Your body will be constantly burning energy and looking for new sources of energy to burn. Translation: burning fat and losing weight becomes easier.
We have long been told that eight 8-ounce glasses are the proper amount of water to consume every day. Water consumption goals are actually more individualized than that. Check out this handy chart to determine how much water you should be taking in:
Recommended Daily Water Intake
Start By Tracking What You Eat
Everyone’s path to losing weight is different. Medical conditions, dietary restrictions, and other factors can play a part in each individual’s personal journey. Having a basic understanding of how the body works and what it needs puts you at a great advantage.
To get started on taking control of your eating habits, try a tracking app like MyFitnessPal. This amazing, free app helps you track calories, nutrients, water intake, and exercise. The best part is, the app has a huge preloaded database of foods (including restaurant menus) so you don’t have to manually enter your calories and nutrients. It makes one of the most hated tasks of weight loss super easy—and the insights you can gain are so valuable.
- Consumer Reports, "Why Americans Can't Sleep"
- Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, "The vast majority of Americans are overweight..."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Rachel Leigh
Rachel Leigh (author) from North Carolina on August 09, 2018:
Hey Raven-- Essentially, all that intermittent fasting does is encourage you to eat less calories. It's no more or less effective than simple calorie restriction. If a diet plan makes you uncomfortable or you can't stick to it, its probably not the right plan! Please feel free to contact me directly here or on social media if you ever want to chat more about this stuff (or just vent!) lol
Raven B from Peyongteak South Korea on August 08, 2018:
I'm trying intermittent fasting right now and honestly, it sucks... I lack the motivation to work out and I have a 6-month old that exhausts me during the day.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 02, 2018:
You really need to have discipline to succeed in your diet. We try but sometimes, we let go.