Here’s why you’re not losing weight (and what to do instead)

by | May 11, 2022 | Last updated Jul 20, 2022

Why is it so hard to lose weight? | Common reasons for not losing weight | Practical tips if you’re struggling to lose weight | Start losing weight with Noom

Have you been eating healthier, loading up on veggies, tracking your calories, working out, and still not seeing the scale budge? 

If you’re having a hard time losing weight, we know it’s frustrating. 

Most media and fitness memes would have you believe that losing weight should be as simple as eating less and moving more, or burning more calories than you take in. 

And while eating in a calorie deficit can help you lose weight, the reality is that weight loss is a lot more nuanced. 

So if you’re having trouble losing weight, we’ve outlined some common reasons for not losing weight, as well as five practical tips you can use to finally see progress on the scale.  

Note: This article is based on our Noom Weight curriculum. Learn more below.

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.

Why is it so hard to lose weight?

Have you ever heard that losing weight just boils down to calories in, calories out? That we need to burn more calories than we take in in order to lose weight? 

While it’s true that you need to eat in a calorie deficit to lose weight, there are also biological and physiological factors at play that can make it difficult to lose weight—even if you are eating in a caloric deficit. 

For example, everyone burns a different amount of calories in a day, and this varies from day to day. 

Your metabolism and hormones also influence how many calories your body burns in a day. So it may be hard to lose weight even when a caloric deficit is achieved. 

Aside from that, many people set out to lose weight with a plan that ends up not being sustainable, such as cutting out entire food groups or eating too few calories—neither of which can be maintained for the long term. 

To lose weight and keep it off for the long haul, it’s important to make healthy lifestyle changes that you can stick to. 

At Noom, we’re all about helping people change their behavior and adopt healthier habits, while also encouraging them to enjoy their favorite foods and treats (in moderation). 

For instance, cutting your calories too low can actually backfire. 

You need calories for energy to function properly. And not eating enough can lead to headaches, fatigue, a weakened immune system, and slow your metabolism down, among other negative side effects (none of which are helpful for weight loss, either!). 

And if you lose weight quickly with a fad diet, you are more likely to gain it back (and then some)

On the other hand, if you choose an approach that’s more sustainable, your progress might be a bit slower, but will probably last longer since you can stick to it. 

5 common reasons for not losing weight

In addition to physiological factors (metabolism, hormones) that could be preventing your weight loss, these are a few of the common behaviors that might be impacting your ability to reach your weight loss goals.

1. You’re underestimating your food intake

A handful of chocolate chips here, a spoonful of peanut butter there, a dash of creamer in your coffee—are you really tracking all your daily calories? Seemingly insignificant, these calories can add up. 

Remember that the best way to stay within your target calorie range is to accurately document your food and how many calories you are eating.

Even if you are tracking everything, we tend to underestimate how many calories we eat at a time. 

Was that dollop of mashed potatoes on your plate really 1/4 a cup or was it more like 3/4 a cup? 

Did you put half a tablespoon of butter on your steamed broccoli or was it more like a full tablespoon? 

Underestimating just how many calories we eat in a day can prevent eating in a healthy calorie deficit, which is needed to achieve weight loss. 

2. You aren’t choosing foods that are filling 

If you find yourself constantly hungry, even if you are staying within your suggested calorie range, that’s not a healthy or sustainable way to live. 

It’s important to eat to fuel your body and still feel satisfied. If you aren’t choosing foods that are filling, then you will probably feel hungry and eat more to feel satisfied—and eventually go over your calorie target. 

One way to eat for fullness (and still stay on track with your weight loss goals) is to choose foods that have low caloric density

Caloric density is the calories per serving of a food divided by the weight of the food (typically in grams). Foods with low caloric density tend to contain more water—basically a miracle ingredient that keeps you full. 

Studies have shown that food weight, not calories, is a huge factor in how full you feel. This paper published in Physiology & Behavior explains that people who eat more water-rich foods that are low in caloric density (like fruits and veggies) tend to lose weight, even if they don’t intentionally reduce their calorie intake. 

When you eat foods low in caloric density, you’ll feel full quicker with fewer calories. When you eat foods with high caloric density, you need to eat more calories to feel full.

Noom’s philosophy is simple: Eat more foods with low caloric density.

3. You aren’t managing your stress

This probably isn’t news to anyone—if you’re alive today, then chances are you carry a good amount of stress. 

And studies show that chronic stress is associated with weight gain, a weakened immune system, anxiety and depression, and chronic conditions like hypertension or heart disease.

But why are stress’s effects so intense?

When we encounter a stressful situation, our body produces cortisol.

Not only does cortisol influence our body’s stress response, but it also plays a role in regulating our:

  • Metabolism (how our bodies turn food into energy).
  • Blood sugar levels (one way our body maintains healthy, functioning cells).
  • Inflammation (an immune response that, when chronic, can cause problems and pain).
  • Other immune responses (many of which can be weakened by too much stress).

That stress may be hindering your weight loss. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce stress and control that cortisol (more on that later). 

4. You’re focused more on exercise than what you eat

A lot of people who workout regularly wonder why they’re not losing weight. 

Yes, exercise burns calories. But not nearly as many as we think.

Calories burned through exercise only account for a small percentage of the total calories we burn in a day. 

A 150-lb woman that’s moderately active burns about 2,500 calories per day

But, according to Harvard Health, if that same woman rides a stationary bike at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, she will have burned just a little more than 250 calories (only 10% of the total calories she burns in a day).

That’s about as many calories as in just half of a large blueberry muffin. 

And because many people think that exercising allows them to ‘burn off’ the calories from a treat, it’s easy to end up eating the same amount of calories (or more) than your body is burning, which can lead to the scale not moving (or even weight gain). 

4. You aren’t sleeping well 

In a study published in the journal Sleep, people who got 4.5 hours of sleep or less chose snacks that had twice the amount of fat than people who got 8+ hours of sleep. 

This resulted in the sleep-deprived crew to eat considerably more calories: 623 versus 377.

In other words, when you are sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to reach for calorie-dense comfort foods for that boost of energy. 

Also, quality sleep is important—if you don’t get enough quality sleep, it could impede your weight loss efforts. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that adults who had better sleep were associated with greater weight and fat loss

Long-term, these effects of not getting enough sleep could impact your ability to reach your weight loss goals.

Note: This article is based on our Noom Weight curriculum. Learn more below.

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.

5 practical tips if you’re struggling to lose weight

We know not being able to lose weight can feel frustrating. 

But you can refocus and achieve weight loss if you follow one (or several) of our practical tips below:

1. Focus on developing healthy, sustainable habits

For successful weight loss, you need to develop healthy, sustainable habits that you can carry with you for the rest of your life. 

So if you eat only grapefruit, black coffee, and cabbage, you might lose weight—but there’s no way you’ll be able to sustain that style of eating and lose weight in the long-term (plus, you need more nutrients and calories than that!). 

Some examples of sustainable habits that can also help you achieve your weight loss goals:

  • Choosing foods with low caloric density (and also treating yourself regularly to avoid overeating foods that are off-limits!)
  • Increasing your movement (aiming for 3,000 to 5,000 steps a day is a good place to start.)
  • Cooking more meals at home than you eat out.
  • Finding activities you enjoy (hello, living room dance party!) 

It’s also important to note that not all of your health goals need to be weight-related. 

There are a number of other habits that might not directly contribute to your ability to lose weight, but can improve your health and help you feel great. Try drinking plenty of water each day, meal prepping, getting quality sleep, and hitting the gym four days a week. 

By celebrating these healthy behaviors, you’ll take the pressure off yourself to achieve a certain goal weight you have in mind—and still be making healthy habits that you can keep up long-term. 

2. Manage stress

As we mentioned earlier, too much stress can impede your body’s ability to lose weight. 

Much of the narrative about relieving stress and practicing self-care includes lots of images of bubble baths, foot massages, and lighting scented candles. 

And while those can all help you find your zen, reducing stress requires a bit more of a concerted effort than that. 

We recommend practicing mindfulness. 

This can be any practice that boosts your awareness of yourself, your body, and your habits and staying in the moment rather than focusing on the past or the future. 

Meditation is one mindfulness practice that has major health benefits, including reducing stress. 

In fact, mindfulness meditation may help lower cortisol levels. A study from the journal Behavioural Brain Research found that brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. 

So even if you’ve never meditated before, we recommend adding it to your practice. Guided meditations (you can find some on YouTube or with an app) can make a big difference. 

We also have some other Noom-approved tricks for reducing stress, including:

Opt for an “oh, well” stress statement

This doesn’t mean giving up; rather, it’s acknowledging how you feel in the moment (stressed), accepting it, and carrying on anyway. 

We like to think of an “oh, well” statement as a motivational phrase to help you accept a stressor and move on, preventing you from spiraling into a state of ongoing stress.

Single-tasking

When you single-task, you do one task at a time, so you can do it well and get more done. 

Single-tasking is also key to making more mindful choices (rather than when you are multitasking and frazzled, and that bag of kettle-cooked potato chips seems like a good snack). This will help reduce stress. 

3. Get enough quality sleep

It’s recommended that adults get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep a night, but that’s easier said than done. 

Sleep doesn’t come easy for everyone, but some tips to get quality Zs include:

  • Eat dinner at least 2 to 3 hours before bed.
  • Stop using screens 1 hour before bed, and remember to turn your phone on night mode.
  • Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb, so you don’t get texts or calls.
  • Lower your lights 1 hour before bed.
  • Go to sleep earlier. Try setting an alarm for 1 hour before lights-out to keep you on track. 
  • Take a room-temperature or cool shower before bed. (Yeah, it’s not the coziest option. But it works.)
  • Lower your bedroom temperature to below 70 degrees. 
  • Meditation before bed.

4. Use measuring cups and food scales to track food

As we noted earlier, many people underestimate just how many calories they eat in a day. 

Using measuring cups, measuring spoons, and food scales are all the best ways to precisely measure and track your food to make sure you are staying within your recommended calorie target. 

Now, we aren’t saying to bring your measuring cups to your local restaurant or coffee shop and measure every single thing out. We know that’s not reasonable (and would definitely lead to some awkward looks from bystanders.)

But if you’re looking to make sure you stay within your calorie target and eat in a healthy calorie deficit to lose weight, accurately measuring and tracking your food as often as possible is a great place to start. Bonus: The more you make a habit of measuring out your food, the better you’ll get at estimating how much you’re eating when you don’t have your tools nearby. 

5. Ride the waves

Ultimately, if you’re feeling stuck in your weight loss journey, it could just be a plateau

A plateau is when you go two or more weeks without weight loss, even if you had previously been losing weight at a steady pace. 

We know it’s frustrating, but sometimes you just need to be patient and ride the wave. Plateaus happen to most people on their weight loss journey. 

Just because the scale has stopped moving doesn’t mean it’s time to give up.

Our experience shows that if your plan was working, then it will likely continue to work if you stick with it—it does not mean that you’re doing something wrong. 

So be patient with yourself, give yourself some grace, and acknowledge all the hard work you’ve done so far even if it hasn’t shown up on the scale: drinking more water, getting in your steps, cooking at home, and increasing your activity are all achievements to be proud of. 

Ready to make a lasting change?

A healthier you, wherever you are.

Start losing weight with Noom

At Noom, we know it can be frustrating and discouraging when you set out to lose weight and don’t see it reflected on the scale. 

It’s important to give yourself grace and be patient, even if you aren’t seeing the weight loss results you had hoped for. While there could be any number of reasons that you’re not losing weight, Noom has the tools and expertise to help you get back on track and lose weight. 

Through a science-backed curriculum to help you understand your eating habits, one-on-one coaching to keep you motivated and accountable, and a food-logging system to track your progress and help you make healthier food choices each day, Noom can help you lose weight and maintain healthier eating habits long-term.

Noom offers guidance and support to help you through every part of your weight loss efforts—even (and especially) during times when you feel stuck.