You can’t understand why your weight loss is slow. You signed up for the latest diet plan. Your enthusiasm is palpable and this time you’re going to do whatever it takes to shift those excess pounds.
It all goes brilliantly for the first few weeks and then your weight loss completely stalls. Some days you’re even gaining weight and you’re convinced the scales are lying…
Welcome to the hell hole of the weight loss plateau. I have been there so many times and I’m ready to give you some tips to find the escape hatch…
These are some of the top reasons for “Why your weight loss is slow“:
- You don’t need to lose weight.
- Your diet is sending your body into hibernation mode.
- There are underlying health issues.
- As you lose weight, your body needs fewer calories.
- You’re eating more than you think.
- You’re doing the wrong sort of exercise.
It’s time to take stock and find out where your weight loss plans are going wrong…
Do You Need To Lose Weight?
Ask yourself this one question.
Are you chasing an impossible dream?
I don’t mean that in any “you don’t deserve to lose weight content”. It’s just that anorexia and eating disorders are on the rise and the statistics are shocking.
Aim For A Healthy Weight Loss
This article is for people who want to reach a healthy weight, not for people trying to get to impossible levels of extremely low body fat egged on by fake images on social media.
To make things worse, it can be hard to get an accurate figure for what your normal weight should be. For people with strong muscles, particularly men, BMI charts give false readings for a normal weight.
I’ve known too many people with eating disorders in my lifetime. It destroys lives.
If you think you might have a problem with eating disorders please seek out help. Make a doctor’s appointment or call a helpline. UK helpline. US helpline.
If you do need to lose weight, please read on.
The Cause Could Be Your Diet
What the… I know this is so frustrating…
So many diets rely on really low-calorie intakes to get quick results. The problem is crash diets slow down your body’s metabolism. It’s a bit like sending your body into hibernation mode.
Crash diets will often leave you dehydrated so as soon as you rehydrate the weight goes back on. The NHS points out some of the issues with crash diets such as headaches, dizziness, constipation, and cramps. Even your hair thinning!
It’s not good! Unless you’ve been advised otherwise by your doctor, (you can sometimes be told to go on a really low-calorie diet if you’re clinically obese), it’s far better to opt for slow and steady weight loss.
Meal prep and planning your meals in advance can help you stick to a healthy eating plan.
Fast Weight Loss Can End In Overall Weight Gain
Most of us have been tempted by the lose 10 lbs in-a-week headlines. Fast weight loss can work for just a couple of pounds. But if your aim is significant weight loss, losing too much weight too quickly with a restrictive calorie intake normally ends in failure.
With fast weight loss, rebound weight gain can leave you heavier than when you started. It takes a lot of willpower to keep the weight off.
Most of us don’t want to end up back on a diet in a year’s time. Instead, gradually losing weight, 1lb to 2lb a week is far more sustainable.
As long as the number on the scale is gradually going down, don’t worry about how long it takes. For some people just losing 0.5lb a week will be a big deal.
Don’t sweat it. Life is about more than chasing numbers on a scale. It’s okay to aim for slower weight loss. Start living more, being active and the weight will be easier to drop.
The Research – Slow And Steady Weight Loss
I’m all for questioning established advice. So if someone tells me “slow and steady weight loss” is a myth, I’m the type of person who digs into academic papers to get at the truth.
This paper by Nackers, Ross, and Perri, looked at the rate of initial weight loss and long-term success in obesity treatment. It concluded that FAST weight loss was 5 times more likely to achieve 10% weight loss at 18 months than SLOW weight loss!
So crash diets are good? Really? Did I miss something!
This is the problem of taking snippets from academic papers. If you read the paper, FAST weight loss is 1 to 2 lb a week. That’s not a crash diet.
All participants in the study were encouraged to follow the same diet and hit the same exercise targets. It’s just that some were better at sticking to the targets.
Those that got off to a great start had more incentive to stick to their weight loss plans. They were making real, significant changes to their diet and exercise habits. Making sustainable changes works best.
There May Be Underlying Health Issues
Before we dig into the most likely reasons your weight loss is slow, you may want to rule out any health issues.
The main health issues known to affect weight loss and slow your metabolism are Cushing’s syndrome or hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid).
(I lucked out developing a goiter on my neck when my son was a toddler. The goiter eventually cleared up but I now live with borderline hypothyroidism).
Thyroid issues are common and will affect one in eight women during their lifetime. Many women don’t realize they have a problem, so I suggest seeking out medical advice if you have any concerns.
As You Lose Weight Your Body Needs Less Calories
Your calorie needs are based on your existing weight, your age, sex, and the amount you exercise. So someone with a lot of weight to lose will find it much easier to build a calorie deficit.
Ever wondered why those “lose 10 pounds in 21 days” headlines are aimed at people weighing 200 pounds plus? It’s because it’s a lot easier to make fast progress if you have a lot of weight to lose.
That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to lose weight quickly. Following these quick weight loss diets usually leads to higher rebound weight gain. All your hard work is undone!
If you only have 7 pounds to lose, it’s harder to build a weight loss deficit. Be prepared for slow weight loss. Find an exercise regime you enjoy and aim at creating a healthy lifestyle.
With patience and persistence, you’ll make it to your ideal weight.
Your Weight Loss History
This is a tough one. There’s increasing evidence that your weight loss history affects your ability to lose weight.
Yo-yo diets are not just bad for your health, they can make it harder to lose weight by messing up your metabolism. Your metabolism can slow as you lose weight with your body trying to hang on to your body mass.
That doesn’t mean you should just give up! HIIT exercises and strength workouts will help you get in shape and give your metabolism a boost.
It’s Normal For Your Weight To Fluctuate
I’m sure most of you will know your weight fluctuates during the day. It can change by several pounds depending on:
- when you last had food
- if you’re fully hydrated
- or even the type of food you’ve had to eat.
Salty food and carbs will make your body retain water. This means the food you had to eat at lunch or the day before can add pounds to your weight on the scales.
It’s the main reason so many people lose a lot of weight quickly when they start a low-carb diet. A lot of the weight loss in the first week will be water.
If you’re female, you can expect your weight to fluctuate even more. You don’t need me to tell you how bloated your period makes you feel!
How To Keep Track Of Your Weight When It Fluctuates
I find the best way to keep track of weight loss is to weigh myself first thing every morning. (After I’ve been for a wee of course)!
Instead of getting too hung up on what the scale is telling me every day, I track the wins. I record my lowest figure for the week.
As long as my “lowest figure” keeps going down overall I’m happy.
Check Your Weight Loss Using A Tape Measure And/Or Body Fat Calipers
When I’m trying to lose weight I always use a tape measure to track my progress.
I measure my waist, hips, thighs and the widest part I can find around my bottom. You can also measure your arms if it’s somewhere you gain weight.
Why do you need to take measurements?
Muscle mass is heavier than body fat. So if you’re combining your diet with increased exercise – and you should be, you could be gaining muscle weight.
This doesn’t mean your diet is failing. It means you’re getting stronger and fitter. The tape measure is a good way to confirm you’re still shifting body fat.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) provides acceptable body fat norms as 25 to 31% for women and 18 to 24% for men.
These are quite generous and fitness ranges of 21 to 24% for women and 14 to 17% for men are better targets.
Take Note Of Your Rolling 7 Day Average
This is another good trick to get a more accurate picture of your weight loss. Add up your recorded weight for the last 7 days and divide by 7 to get the average.
Each day you can calculate a new 7-day average and you should see a downward trend. Your rolling 7-day average will flatten out the daily fluctuations.
Your Weight Loss Is Slow Because You’re Eating More Than You Think
Diets based on calorie counting, (or points counting), can be difficult to stick to. There’s the slice of toast you forget to account for or the cheeky biscuit you had with your coffee.
It doesn’t help if you work in an office surrounded by temptation. Finding healthy snacks at meetings can be hard.
Quickly forgotten, but slip-ups like this can throw your planned calorie deficit out the window. They also do little to change your eating habits and help you make the switch to healthy eating.
In many ways it’s not so much the quantity, but what you’re eating that counts. These are the two main culprits high-jacking both your diet and your overall health:
- Processed foods. These are laden with refined carbohydrates, unhealthy canola or vegetable oils, excessive sodium, and additives. Think of processed food as junk calories. It leaves your body searching for more food to get the nutrients it needs.
- Added sugar. Sugar is highly addictive and raises your blood sugar levels. How many people are able to eat just one sweet? It’s really difficult. When you’re trying to lose weight it’s best to quit added sugar completely or use natural sweeteners such as green stevia, rice malt syrup, or honey in moderation.
For many people ditching the diets and opting for healthy eating is a much better way to lose weight.
You’re Eating Too Many Carbs
It’s trendy to restrict carbs but the problem is the medical profession is completely divided on the issue. I listened to a medical panel recently discussing the pros and cons of a low-carb diet.
Amazingly, although most of the professionals on the panel were wary about recommending a low-carb diet, a few of them were restricting their own carb intake! If the medical profession is divided on this issue, where do we turn to for advice?
The only theory that really stacks up about weight loss is the need to eat fewer calories than your burn every day.
Calories in < calories out if you want to lose weight.
So just about all diets, such as the carb restricting Keto diet, restrict food items you can eat so you end up consuming fewer calories and losing weight.
That’s great, isn’t it?
Not if it leaves you craving carbs.
I’ve been in discussion groups where Keto followers are obsessing about their first “binge meal” for the minute their diet is over.
It’s far better to eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet than restricting food groups. Cut out the empty calories of highly processed food and fill up on:
- Protein from lean meat or legumes, (beans, peas, and lentils).
- Fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Whole-grain carbohydrates
- Small quantities of healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
- Occasional dairy or plant-based substitutes.
Experiment and find out what works for you. For most people eliminating all highly processed foods and excess sugar from their diet will make a huge difference.
✅ I need my porridge to be able to run or walk at midday and could never opt for a keto diet. I find a plant-based, low-fat diet filled with the carbs I need to exercise is better for my health and fitness.
It’s about finding a balance. The idea should be to get fit and healthy, not just to lose weight. If your weight loss is slowing down or you’re finding it very difficult to lose weight, rethink your diet.
Your Weight Loss Is Slow Because You’re Doing The Wrong Sort Of Exercise
It’s easy with exercise to get into your comfort zone. If you want to lose weight, the best way is to find your comfort zone and then push yourself a little bit harder.
I can’t say do this or do that when it comes to exercise. It depends on where you’re starting from.
If you haven’t exercised in years, a fast-paced walk is a good place to start. (Always get medical advice before launching into a sudden exercise program).
The trick with weight loss is to keep challenging yourself.
Your fast-paced walk starts to feel easy? Try a slow run!
A slow run feels easy? Try running faster.
It’s the intensity that makes the difference.
I know so many runners who are “fat but fit”. From a health point of view, it’s way better than being unfit but it’s best to keep within the boundaries of normal healthy weight.
Slipping into a slow long-distance mode for run after run just doesn’t challenge your body. If you want your times to improve, and your weight on the scales to come down, up the intensity.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re walking, running, or doing yoga, unless you’re spending hours every day exercising, (and who has the time), your body needs to be worked hard if you want to lose weight.
You’re Not Building Muscles
It’s a fact that muscles burn more energy than fat cells. Building muscles will boost your metabolism. It’s one of the reasons men tend to have faster metabolisms than women.
Any strength-building exercise will help with your weight loss. Take to the gym, join a yoga class or find a climbing wall.
I’m not talking about bulky muscles. Toning up your body will give your metabolism a boost and help protect your body from injury.
Stress Is Affecting Your Ability To Lose Weight
Weight loss is complex and stress is yet another factor that could be affecting your ability to shift the pounds.
Stress affects everyone differently. Some people may lose weight but in others, it can trigger comfort or binge eating and even affect your metabolic rate.
It’s not a condition to take lightly and seeing a doctor should be the first priority if you’re suffering from the effects of stress.
Facing up to the causes of stress and seeking help to reduce or eliminate it from your life should be your first step. Sadly I know this can be very difficult in today’s society where support systems are often lacking or non-existent.
For low-level stress, mindfulness can be helpful and meditation is a good way to calm the mind.
Daily exercise really does help. It won’t solve your problems but it will give your mind a brief respite.
You’re Not Drinking Enough Water
Staying hydrated is so important if you’re trying to lose weight. Your brain plays tricks on you.
It can tell you to eat when really you’re just thirsty. Fortunately, there’s a very simple solution: drink a glass of water before you sit down to eat.
Try Avoiding Alcohol
When you’re trying to lose weight, alcohol is your enemy. It reduces your inhibitions and self-control. The next thing you know, you’ve eaten half a tub of Ben and Jerry’s while watching Bridget Jones’s Diary.
It’s a good idea to cut or limit alcohol when you’re trying to lose weight. It will also give a big boost to your health!
Be More Active During The Day
It’s easy to start exercising and immediately cut back your general daily movement because you feel tired! Going out for a 2-mile run, then sitting on the couch all day isn’t the way to lose weight. You need to keep your normal movement up.
Walk about the office, walk to the local shop, take the stairs instead of the lift – it all helps.
Lack Of Sleep May Be The Reason Your Weight Loss Is Slow
Studies have shown the amount of sleep you get may be related to your weight loss.
Making sure you get between six to eight hours of sleep every night will help you stick to your weight loss plans.
You Need A Support Group To Lose Weight
Some people will have the resolve to lose weight on their own, others need a support group to successfully lose weight.
Weight loss is tough and being accountable for your choices to a group or coach makes a difference for many people.
Find what works best for you, but if you’re struggling don’t go it alone. Seek out your support group, people who encourage you to get fit and spend less time with people who want you to slip back into bad habits.
Why Your Weight Loss Is Slow – You Need to Be Patient
I know how frustrating it can be when you’re trying to lose weight and the number on the scale just never seems to go down. Try switching your focus to exercise rather than pure weight loss.
It can improve the way you feel about your body, help you feel healthy, and add a little zest to your life!
If you’ve found this post helpful, you may enjoy my other weight loss-related articles:
- Fat vs. Muscle: How Does It Affect Your Weight?
- Can You Eat Raw Rolled Oats And Is It Healthy?
- 12 Cheap Vegan Meal Prep Recipes On A Budget
- How To Stop Thinking About Food: These Tips Will Help
- Vegan Meal Prep For Weight Loss (7-Day Plan With Super Easy Recipes)
- Is Diet More Important Than Exercise? (When You Want To Lose Weight)
- What’s Normal Weight For A Five Foot Seven Inch Tall Woman?
- Why Diets Don’t Work (7 Reasons To Ditch The Diets)
As you get lighter your body needs fewer calories to maintain its current weight. This makes it harder to lose weight as you continue on your diet. Most people on a diet will lose weight at a faster rate in the first few weeks. A lot of this will be water, especially if you’re following a low-carb diet. Exercise, both cardio and strength-building exercises, are good ways to prevent hitting a weight loss plateau and will help you reach your target weight.
It’s always better to lose weight slowly. Otherwise, a lot of the weight you lose will be water weight and muscle weight. You don’t gain weight overnight so it’s unrealistic to try and lose weight quickly. Rapid weight loss rarely works in the long term. Dieters often regain the weight they lose and even put on extra pounds. It’s better to aim for sustained weight loss over a longer period of 1-2lb a week. Adjust to a healthy lifestyle and keep the weight off for good.
A weight loss of 1-2 lb a week is a realistic target for most people. If your weight loss has stalled try increasing your exercise intensity such as a HIIT workout, add in strength building, (bodyweight exercises at home or visit a gym) and try keeping a food journal to make sure you’re sticking to your diet.
There are many diets claiming you can lose a lot of weight really quickly. These diets fail to say most of this weight will be regained just as quickly. A safe level of weight loss is one to two pounds a week. Most people can safely lose 10 pounds in 1-2 months.
Monday 1st of March 2021
I have been on a weight loss journey for 2 years and have only lost 33lbs., which tracks out to about 1.37 lbs a month, and I am actually trying to lose weight. I switch up my workouts, I only drink water, I count my calories diligently and overcompensate when I can. I am so frustrated. This was a helpful article, I will talk to my dr about getting screened for Cushing's syndrome because my weight loss is consistent with that (only in the arms and legs, not in the midsection, consistent round face). Thank you
Monday 1st of March 2021
Hi Samantha, I'm not surprised you're frustrated. It's really harsh when you're doing everything possible to lose weight and the progress is slow. It's a good idea to get your doctor to check for Cushing's syndrome and I would also check for any thyroid issues. On the plus side you are losing weight even if it's slow so be proud of your 33lbs weight loss. That's a lot of weight you're no longer carrying around. I suggest you check with the doctor that your weight loss goals are realistic. The aim is to be healthy. Try and make sure the exercise you do is something you enjoy. This is your life. Don't waste it waiting to be the size you want to be - find an activity you love doing today.
Tuesday 1st of December 2020
Thanks for the article. I reached a plateau after a month of intense excersize and dieting, I was just about to feel hopeless because the daily self control and tough sessions of excersize seemed to do nothing. I know its only been a month, but I've been giving it my absolute best shot. This article however makes me understand that I am in fact well on track, maybe just a little impatient. Feeling motivated all over again.
Wednesday 2nd of December 2020
Hi Vicky, you do need to be patient when it comes to weight loss. It takes time to gain weight so it makes sense it takes time to lose it. I'm concerned about your description of intense exercise and dieting. Make sure you're not overdoing it. Low calorie diets can put your body into starvation mode so make sure you're eating enough calories and aim for slow and steady weight loss. I always think that exercise should be enjoyable. If you're not enjoying it - you haven't found the right exercise yet. You want to be looking forward to your exercise sessions not dreading them. Make sure your weight loss goals are realistic. Too many women are dragged into the horrible trap of anorexia (there is help out there if you need it https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline). Just make sure your goals fall into the normal category for BMI. Build your exercise level slowly and keep it realistic. Just remember the images you see of models and celebrities on social media are often fake. Seek out friends, parents for support or call a national helpline. Becoming fit and healthy should be enjoyable. If it's not don't struggle on alone, please find some support.