You step on the scale and see the same numbers. After hurling a few cuss words and threatening to shoot it, you wonder what you’re doing wrong. Nothing has changed in over a month!
Although the scale numbers may not have changed, your body composition (measurement of body fat, muscle, and bone density) probably has.
Excess body fat is the main culprit, not overall body weight. The more body fat you burn off, the more weight you ultimately lose, so the scale matters.
But seeing the same numbers is the first indication of success or failure and can be demoralizing: What the hell? Why haven’t my efforts worked?
If you’ve run into a roadblock in your weight-loss goals, below are nine possible reasons why.
#1 – Doing Cardio Over and Over and…
Some people only do aerobic or cardio exercises (jogging, bicycling, etc.). Although cardio improves the cardiorespiratory system and burns fat calories, strength training — like lifting weights — builds muscle. Muscle also burns fat calories, even when you’re resting.
Tip: The best routines for weight management and overall health include cardio, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises.
#2 – Not Increasing Intensity
The human body adapts by supplying the necessary resources (improved oxygen delivery, muscular endurance, or strength) to meet the physical demand. However, if you don’t periodically pump up the intensity (like increasing weight on the chest press machine or running faster on the treadmill), you may plateau and not see more optimal results on the scale.
Tip: Try mixing up a cardio routine with high intensity interval training (or HIIT), heavier weights, and circuits.
#3 – Not Moving Enough
Most people don’t meet physical activity recommendations established by evidence-based organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and American Heart Association (AHA). Current recommendations for cardio exercises are 150 minutes a week to maintain general health, but 250 to 300 minutes for weight loss.
For improved muscularity, the same guidelines recommend strength training for major muscle groups at least twice a week on nonconsecutive days.
Tip: Increase daily physical activity with not only strength training and cardio, but by doing more yard work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking far away, or walking the dog. You can also break up 60-minute exercise routines in increments, like 20 minutes of exercise in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
#4 – Nutrition: Not Modifying Diet or Eating Enough
Proper nutrition and daily physical activity go hand-and-hand for optimal health, but after years of not worrying about what we eat, reducing intake of foods packed with not-so-healthy ingredients (excess sodium, saturated fat, and processed sugars) can be extremely difficult. You may not lose much body fat if you continue to eat the wrong foods, even with a new exercise routine.
Some people think they can speed up the fat loss process by severely reducing daily food intake while going “beast mode” in the gym. Not eating enough may signal the body to store more fat (similar to saving extra food in a freezer for emergencies). If you skip breakfast, you may become famished by lunch time, then end up devouring crappy fast foods.
Tip: Add more raw, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, lean meats like grilled chicken or fish, and whole grains in your diet. Try to eat small healthy meals throughout the day. It’s all about portion control!
#5 – Medication
Although medications treat different chronic conditions (pain, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.), some of them carry an unwelcome side effect: weight gain. Weight gain may come from retention of fluids, lower metabolism, or an increased appetite.
You may even feel too tired to exercise because of a particular medication.
Tip: Before stopping your prescription, talk to your doctor about an alternative.
#6 – Not Managing Stress
We all experience different kinds of stress that impact our daily lives — from family, work, school, finances, and even technology. Unfortunately, chronic stress can cause weight gain because of the hormone cortisol. If the stress continues, cortisol signals the body to store more fat and increase your appetite.
Tip: Exercise, a hobby, listening to music, and an active sex life are great de-stressors!
#7 – Not Getting Enough Sleep
Good sleep repairs, restores, and revitalizes our bodies. Poor sleep disturbs all the processes that make us feel refreshed. Being sluggish may also impact the quality of exercise or kill the motivation to exercise all together. Also, the longer we stay up, the higher the chances of extra caloric intake. How many of us eat late-night snacks in bed while watching TV?
Tip: Put away all unhealthy snacks and electronic devices before bed, and then make the room as dark as possible for better sleep.
#8 – Improper Hydration
Like adequate sleep and nutrition, our bodies need water. Water is used for many biological functions, like distribution of nutrients, waste excretion, temperature control, joint lubrication, and blood pressure management. Yet, too many of us choose sugary and caffeinated beverages over good ol’ fashioned H20. Water doesn’t flush away fat, but it has zero calories and suppresses the munchies.
Tip: Instead of soda or some other sugary beverage, try a low or zero-calorie Crystal Light packet in bottled water.
#9 – Health-Related Condition
Some diseases thwart the best efforts of physical activity by delaying weight loss or even causing weight gain. It’s not uncommon for someone with diabetes or hypothyroidism to have difficulty losing weight.
Besides cortisol, hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and leptin may contribute to weight gain if left unbalanced.
Tip: Stress management, adequate sleep, healthy diet, and exercise are crucial for keeping your hormones in check. Still, it’s always a good idea to make your annual medical appointments, which may identify a problem before it gets worse. But if you experience unexpected weight gain or rapid weight loss, contact your doctor immediately.
Don’t Give Up
Weight-loss can be extremely difficult. It requires a lot of “nevergiveupness” to reach the point where you’re happy to see the numbers on the scale. No wonder it’s a multi-billionaire business!
Like any long-term plan, if you periodically tweak your strategy and keep at it, you’ll reach your goals. And when it happens, it will probably be the only time in your life when you’re proud to call yourself a loser.
James W. Lewis is a former Command Fitness Leader in the Navy. After retiring from active duty service, he returned to school and obtained a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology. He also has certifications through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). He currently works as a personal trainer at a major northern California university and as an exercise physiologist at a cardiac risk reduction center. His writing credits include American Fitness Magazine, Kraze, Naptural Roots Magazine, and a book titled, Exercises for Older Veterans with PTSD.