Ask The Expert: Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

So… you’ve been working out, making smart nutritional choices, increasing water intake, and you’ve even found ways to sneak in more steps throughout the work day – and still, the scale isn’t budging. This is enough to drive anyone into frustration and then eat chocolate and want to give up. But before you throw in the towel, let’s take a look at 3 major areas that could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts.

1. Sleep

Getting your zzzz’s is more important than you probably thought! Of course, just because you start sleeping more doesn’t mean you’ll automatically start losing weight. But, you might be surprised to find out that lack of sleep, or low quality sleep, could be derailing your weight loss efforts. From the obvious (when you’re tired you may mindlessly nosh) to the not so obvious (excess cortisol and increased insulin), sleep is as important to monitor as your calories and your activity.

sleep-during-race-trainingThere are two sneaky little hormones that could be forcing your hand into the chip bag (literally!) when you’re not getting enough sleep: grehlin and leptin. When you’re sleep deprived, you produce more grehlin which is the ‘go’ hormone – the one that tells you you’re hungry. So, you eat more.

Then, there’s leptin, the ‘stop’ hormone’, which is affected in exactly the opposite way from lack of sleep. There is less leptin being produced so the ‘I’m hungry’ switch doesn’t come on quite so quickly. So, you don’t stop. Makes sense of why you might be eating more when you’re tired.

Lack of sleep has also been linked to an increase in blood sugars, causing a spike in insulin. Too much insulin promotes the storage of body fat.

Of course, it’s good to note that sleeping more doesn’t automatically fix anything. In other words, if you start sleeping 10 hours a day, you’re not going to end up dropping 10lbs in a month! But, you may notice some changes if you’re able to get the average daily recommended sleep (7.5 hrs for adults).

Analyzing your sleep quality is also a good idea (try FitBit or Sleep Cycle). If your sleep is restless, you should try avoiding heavy meals close to bed time, cut off (moderate) alcohol consumption at least one hour prior to bed time, and unplug by getting rid of electronics in the bedroom.

2. Stagnation

You’ve been hitting your favorite workout for months, seeing great results and having a blast! But lately you’ve noticed the changes have slowed down, and you’ve hit a plateau. Blame it on homeostasis. Homeostasis is the ability of the body to maintain a state of equilibrium within its internal environment when dealing with external changes. When we do the same movements repetitively over a period of time, our bodies become more efficient at that movement, resulting in burning fewer calories. Try varying the volume and intensity of your exercises, incorporate cross training, and try something new.

See more: 12 BOSU Workouts to Try at the Gym

3. Stress

Take a deep breath! When you experience a stressful situation, your body produces the hormone, cortisol, which is a good thing if the threat is life or death because it provides a rush of energy and strength! We all deal with varying levels of stress from day to day, but the way we deal with it (or don’t deal with it) can lead to excess cortisol in your system that is not necessary. With prolonged stress, your body never ‘winds down’, causing a chronic increase in cortisol.


Too much cortisol can suppress the thyroid, lower your immune response, imbalance your blood sugar in the short term. More importantly, over time, excess cortisol can lead to loss of muscle mass, chronically increased blood sugar, which can become a precursor to type 2 diabetes, and increased body fat (especially around the belly).

Chronic stress is also linked to depression which can lead to a higher consumption of food. One recent study found that obese people had a 55% increased risk of developing depression over time.

As you’re probably gathering, none of this sounds good for someone on a weight loss journey. Pay just as much attention to how you ‘cope’ with the stressors in your life and minimize (or get rid of) those that you can. Here are some ideas:

  • Limit your caffeine intake – If you’re already stressed, caffeine can further increase the release of cortisol. Try herbal teas when possible or even half-calf if you simply can’t avoid your afternoon pick me up!
  • Exercise smarter, not harder –  More isn’t always better. Yes, I said it … when you’re concerned your exercise efforts aren’t yielding the weight loss results you desire, we tend to do longer workouts to tip the scales in our favor. Keep in mind that exercise is still ‘stress’ on the cellular level. We have to balance this type of stress by cross training, being mindful of duration and, intermittently, mixing in higher intensity bouts .
  • Unwind –  Whatever you do, find time for yourself each and every day. Going to sleep earlier, sleeping in every once and a while, reading a good book or going for a pleasant walk are all ways you can sneak in some me time throughout the week.

Before you ditch your weight loss journey due to perceived ‘lack of results’, remember that getting fitter may not register on the scale right away. If you’re still not satisfied with the numbers you’re seeing, take a look at the three areas listed above and see if some subtle shifts in sleep, stress, and predictability might give you the jumpstart you need.


Photo credit: Angus柒

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the VP of Fitness Programming for the FIT4MOM® franchise. For more than two decades, she has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, Silver Sneakers, and BOSU® as a fitness business and programming consultant. An experienced educator, freelance writer, and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable serves as Vice Chair of the ACE Board of Directors and is the founder and co-owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool.