Why we stopped losing weight even though we exercise?
Imagine you have been losing a good amount of weight and suddenly the same number on the scale keep staring back at you for weeks.
Does the number on the scale reflects the effort you have put in for the past few months? All the blood and sweat in the gym have no rewards anymore.
Seeing your weight plateauing on the scale is demoralising, putting you in despair.
Your head starts to think, is it over? Could it be my genetics? Diet went wrong? Slow metabolism? Wrong training plan?
There are many factors.
Fighting against your own genetics might sounds unrealistic but there are many reasons that cause your weight loss to plateau.
This happens to almost everyone i have trained or heard of. In fact, weight plateauing is a very common problem. But the science behind it can be quite confusing.
Weight loss plateau is normal, you don’t lose weight in a consistent way!
Losing weight or cutting weight is not a linear process. You can’t predict or control how much you can lose.
You may lose 2-3 pounds in one week but nothing in the next couple of weeks. Suddenly you might gain 1-2 pounds the following week. Weight fluctuations do happen, especially for women. In which i will explain further into details.
Before we move on, let us focus on a more serious scenario-
You have completely stopped losing weight with no changes in your body fat percentage.
Yes, it happens once in a while. So don’t panic or feel despair.
Instead, we should stop thinking about losing weight and start thinking about the reasons behind these “sticking points”.
20 Reasons why you have stopped losing weight.
1. You gain muscles along the way.
In any training program, especially weights training, muscle gain is inevitable. You might have loss some fat but the body weight is compensated by muscle gain.
Muscle is higher in density than fats. 1 kg of muscle occupies less space or volume than 1 kg of fat. Hence, with lean muscles on your body, you will appear to be smaller but weighs heavier.
So, lets focus on how we look rather than looking at the meaningless number on the weighing scale. Increasing muscle mass gives you a leaner and fitter appearance, even though the number on the scale doesn’t change.
2. You are no longer in the calorie deficit zone.
One must first understand that to lose weight, calorie intake has to be lower than calorie expenditure. We want to make use of our fats for energy output.
Always check on your calorie intake, you could be eating the same amount of calories or even more. You need to constantly keep your intake low in order to lose weight.
Eating the same amount of food and doing the same exercise daily does not change anything.
3. “Cheating” too much.
Its not wrong to have “cheat” days. In fact, its good psychologically.
But the problem is that most people don’t do it correctly. They tend to lose control and over ate.
Often people misunderstand the meaning of “cheat days”. It actually means eating normally without being too strict. Once a while having a few bites of “sinful” food to stop your craving. You still have to eat in moderation.
“Cheat” days doesn’t mean you can go all out and eat the entire kitchen, eating like a dinosaur and bursting your belly.
Its very easy to consume large amounts of alcohol, sugary drinks and fatty foods.
Don’t end up putting in thousands of calories into your gut and spend the next few days burning off the “Cheated” calories. It’s not worth it.
4. You could be starving.
Cutting down on your calorie intake doesn’t mean starve yourself. You need good amount of calories to stay active, keeping your metabolism rate high.
A car without sufficient fuel will not travel for long. In order to drive further, you need to fill up your tank to the desired, optimum amount of fuel. While over filling have no benefits. It just adds on the car’s weight.
Furthermore, eating too little affects your training performance and slows down muscle recovery. You don’t want that to happen.
Reducing your calorie intake below Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is not advisable. You actually burn less calories when your BMR slows down.
Case study of weight loss by starvation:
Research done on a group of people that reduce 50% (half) of their total energy needs for a month. There is a drastic reduction in their body after the 2nd week. However, 10% of their muscle mass were reduced together with water loss.
Evidence have shown that long term dieting through starvation leads to significant reduction in muscle mass, bone mass and organ size. After which, they also put on fats back fast.
Why? Let me explain.
After placing your body in starvation mode for a long period, you’ve lost tons of weight and you are back to normal eating. Such ultra low calorie diet are not sustainable.
Your body will have some side effects once you return to normal eating. Our body’s system does not “reset” to normal after that. It has already tuned itself on using muscles as energy sources at the expense of fat mass and sugar. Therefore your BMR is greatly affected.
With the very low BMR, your body is primed to replenish back the fats that you have lost. Not the muscles. You can only regain your muscles by re-training.
5. You are not exercising enough.
Yes, cutting down on your food and watching what you eat is good for fat loss. But you still have to maintain an active lifestyle. Make sure that you are consistent in your training.
Pump up your activity level and start burning more. Engage in different sports and do a wide variety of exercises. Once you have maxed out your daily calorie expenditure, reduce your calories further.
A combination of endurance training and weights training is a must.
6. You are overtraining.
We need to understand and reframe how we think about training. Doctors advice of daily 30min of cardiovascular exercise helps to prevent certain cancers, reduce cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, strengthen our hearts and regulates our sleep.
I see clients who exercise twice a day and still can’t lose the weight they want. Instead, they end up always feeling tired.
Over-exercising can do more harm than good. Here’s why.
Working out too hard or too much increases cortisol level. Cortisol is a hormone that increases when you are stressed. It greatly affects your nervous system and slows down fat loss.
It also affects thyroid and testosterone levels, further increasing your fat storage.
7. You could be having poor sleep and chronic fatigue.
Lack of sleep also reduces our body’s immune system, making us more susceptible to frequent illnesses. So start fuelling up on vegetables and fruits that are rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
Check if you are having sleeping disorders eg, sleep apnea. Studies and researches have shown a link between sleeping disorder and weight gain.
Training without proper rest is detrimental to our health. Taking a break from hard training and getting more sleep is crucial to lose the few extra pounds. Healthy sleep allows our body to recover and repair itself.
8. Low energy levels.
Focus on having a healthy lifestyle, rather than just weight loss. Lighten up your weight loss efforts and take it easy. Start looking at long term result.
Do what you love instead of trying to love what you do.
Because you tend to be more energetic when you enjoy your workout.
Have a small snack before your training to boost your energy and perk you up. Sometimes do take power naps prior training to increase alertness and performance.
9. Lack of motivation and confidence.
Set new targets and fitness goals. Move on to the next stage if you plateau. Instead of setting weight loss targets, set some other fitness goals. Eg, Increasing the number of chin ups or push ups.
Try to gather positive reasons for exercising. Remember:
Train because you love yourself, not train to punish yourself.
Punishing and pushing yourself because of the number on the scale is not sustainable. Stay positive.
10. Are you eating the wrong carbohydrates?
Try consuming more low Glycemic Index (GI) foods instead of simple carbohydrates. Low GI carbs such as whole grain bread, multi grain cereals, brown rice, strawberries, apples, apricots, pears and kiwi are believed to help in losing weight.
11. Hormonal changes in women.
Many women with fluctuating estrogen (female sex hormones) levels face difficulty in maintaining their weight. Most will notice weight gain and some have trouble losing weight.
Some women reaching menopause will notice a sudden weight gain during this time. During menopause, estradiol (a type of estrogen) decreases. This estradiol hormone helps to regulate metabolism rate.
Other reasons for estrogen imbalance includes over-training (exercise too vigorous), lactation, high testosterone levels, anorexia and ovary removal.
Consult a doctor to check on your hormonal issues.
12. Eating too much processed foods.
Processed foods are often high in trans fats which are extremely unhealthy. They are also high in sugar and contains artificial ingredients which are not supposed to be eaten.
These unhealthy fats increases body’s oxidation that leads to inflammation in our body.
However, people can easily become addicted to processed food and completely lose control. These junk food often release high amounts of dopamine in our brain, making us feel “happy”.
Try to replace processed foods with natural single ingredient whole foods such as nuts, berries, corns, sweet potatoes etc.
13. You are binge eating on healthy food (eating too often).
It’s common to see people eating a huge bowl of salad and fruits.
Though these are healthy stuffs, it still contain calories. Excess calories converts to fats, thus making weight loss difficult.
You often heard about people eating many small meals. Be extra careful with the number of meals. More doesn’t mean it works for you. You don’t need more than 5 meals if you are not moving around too much.
Regulate your number of meals with your activity level for the day and eat in moderation.
14. Not drinking enough water.
Stay hydrated for your organs to work properly. Drinking a glass of water before meal can help to reduce calories intake.
Drinking more water does not cause water retention.
In fact, it helps to reduce water retention. Drinking plenty of water will prevent your body from conserving water.
15. Drinking too much alcohol.
Drinking alcohol has become part of our human culture. It’s part of socialising and fulfil as a “feel good” drug to many.
1gram of alcohol contains 7 calories. It is twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein.
Since alcohol does not store as glycogen in our liver and muscles, it is the first fuel to be burned off. When that happens, fat burning slows down drastically. Most of your work done is just to remove the alcohol content in your system.
Other alcohol side effects includes mental impairment, alcoholic addiction, fatigue, risk of diabetes and liver diseases.
16. You might have a medical condition that slows down weight loss.
Some drugs such as anti-inflammation steroid pills and anti-depressant pills are notorious for causing weight gain.
If your thyroid gland is not functioning well, you will often feel fatigue and weak due to slow metabolism. Weight loss will be greatly affected.
Cushing’s syndrome is a condition caused by high levels of stress hormones (cortisol). It causes weight gain around the face, neck or waist.
Have regular health checks to make sure that you are not having any of the above syndromes.
17. Too much work stress.
Too much stress cause a spike in cortisol level, slows down weight loss.
18. Low Testosterone (T) level in men.
Testosterone is responsible for healthy metabolism and muscle tone.
Drop in Testosterone (T) level cause some men to gain weight especially in the waist area. As men gets older, testosterone decline gradually. Especially for men over 50 years old.
Low T slows our metabolism down and accelerate muscle loss, thus increasing body fat.
19. Quitting smoking.
It happens to some people. Those who just quitted smoking might experience some weight gain in the beginning. Some people have reported feeling hungry easily during the first few weeks.
However, more studies have to be done to support this conclusion.
20. Unrealistic goals.
Are your expectations for weight loss too high?
Losing weight takes time and most people tends to lose their patience before reaching their targets.
If you have just started training, weight loss is not significantly in the first few weeks. Reason is because our body needs to adapt to the physiological changes. Some glycogen stores and water gains in our muscles also do contribute to the weight gain.
Try to set realistic targets, keeping your fitness journey a sustainable one.
Whenever you reach a plateau, ask yourself a question, is it worth the effort to go beyond your limits?
Is it a need or a want?
At some point, having a desired number on the weighing scale is no longer important. Or it may not even be possible for you to achieve.
Let’s just dump the scale for the moment and enjoy the process of training and eating well!