Nutrition

5 Science-Backed Reasons Your Weight Loss Has Stalled

So, you’ve been really careful about your eating habits and exercising routine and you’re not seeing the scale budge  what gives?  

There are several possible reasons that you might hit that dreaded weight loss “plateau”. Here are some scenarios that might give you some answers and help with how to get your weight loss moving again. 

 

You’re eating more than you think 

If theres one thing you need to know about weight loss, its that you can’t lose weight, no matter how much you work out, if you have poor dietary habits. Think about a chocolate bar  it can take 1-2 minutes to consume 250-350 calories without much thought.  

But it likely takes 10 times as long to burn those calories off through exercise. If you’ve never read the labels on your food or kept a food journal of your food intake, give it a try.  

Even if you’re not counting calories, writing down your portion sizes can help make you aware of where you might be getting off track. 

 

You’re burning less than you think 

The first time you try a new workout, it might feel close to impossible. But over time, if you practice the same style of exercise, it can feel easier as your body adapts to the challenge. 

To continue to burn calories efficiently for weight loss, you need to continue to challenge your body  and often this means varying the type and intensity of your workouts. 

Another potential weight loss roadblock can occur when you overestimate how many calories you burn when you exercise. If you hop on a cardio machine at the gym, it might have the technology to tell you how many calories you’re burning during your session. 

However, these numbers are often based on a general person (for example, a 70kg, 35-year-old male) instead of your specific age, weight, and heart rate. Wearing a heart rate monitor that takes your measurements into account can help, but they are still limited in their accuracy. 

 

You’ve lost a lot of weight already 

If you feel like you’re doing everything right (eating a healthy diet and following a challenging workout routine) and still not seeing weight loss after you’ve been successful for a while, you’re not alone.  

Research shows that these weight loss “plateaus” can happen between 6-24 months after starting a weight loss plan, and it can feel unexplainable.1 One potential explanation for this phenomenon is “metabolic adaptation”. 

When you go from eating anything you want to following a calorie-controlled diet and get off the couch and into the gym, it’s a drastic change for your body and will boost your metabolism to help you burn calories and lead to weight loss.  

On the flip side, if you’ve been cutting calories and burning a lot through exercise, your body adapts to this new “normal” level of intake. If you’ve lost significant weight (often between 5-10%), its possible that your metabolism has set that as your new “baseline” 

Your body thinks you need to cut back even further (and work out harder) to shift into weight loss mode again.  

 

You’re too Stressed 

Although we often think of weight loss as a simple equation (calories in vs. calories out), our bodies are also impacted by many other factors related to our lifestyle.  

Science has shown how high levels of stress can actually lead to hormonal changes that make it harder to lose weight.2  

If you want to be at your healthiest physically, don’t forget that you also need to take care of your mental health  finding ways to de-stress can benefit many areas of your life, including your weight. 

 

You’re Not Getting Enough Rest 

Similar to the impact of stress hormones on your weight, you might also be causing more harm than good if you’re not resting enough.  

Both hours of sleep and rest days for your muscles can play a role in stalling weight loss. If you don’t have ample recovery time for your muscles, you can’t push as hard during your next workout  a cycle thats hard to break without building rest days into your exercise plan.  

Similarly, not getting enough sleep can increase those stress hormones and make you too physically tired to perform well at the gym. 

 

Take Home Message 

There are many reasons that you might see the scale stop moving once you’ve started to lose weight. However, you don’t have to give up!  

Take a closer look at your routine  your food habits, workouts, and self-care  and see what could be tweaked, even if it seems like a small change.  

If you really feel stuck, you might try reverse dieting (taking a break from an intense weight loss program) or switching to a new method of eating or exercise.  

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.


1. Thomas, D. M., Martin, C. K., Redman, L. M., Heymsfield, S. B., Lettieri, S., Levine, J. A., … & Schoeller, D. A. (2014). Effect of dietary adherence on the body weight plateau: a mathematical model incorporating intermittent compliance with energy intake prescription. The American journal of clinical nutrition100(3), 787-795. 

2. Xenaki, N.,Bacopoulou, F., Kokkinos, A., Nicolaides, N. C., Chrousos, G. P., & Darviri, C. (2018). Impact of a stress management program on weight loss, mental health and lifestyle in adults with obesity: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of molecular biochemistry7(2), 78. 



Claire Muszalski

Claire Muszalski

Registered Dietitian

Claire is a Registered Dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach through the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.

Talking and writing about food and fitness is at the heart of Claire’s ethos as she loves to use her experience to help others meet their health and wellness goals.

Claire is also a certified indoor cycling instructor and loves the mental and physical boost she gets from regular runs and yoga classes. When she’s not keeping fit herself, she’s cheering on her hometown’s sports teams in Pittsburgh, or cooking for her family in the kitchen.

Find out more about Claire’s experience here.


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