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The 10 Most Common Reasons People Can't Lose Weight, Nutritionists Say

If the scale isn't moving, other factors beyond calories and cardio could be at play.

If you've ever tried to lose weight on your own, you know that it can be a struggle. You have to be mindful of your calorie intake, suppressing those pesky cravings while also upping your daily exercise and movement. But even when you feel like you're doing everything right, sometimes the scale just won't budge. While it's tempting to give up when you're not seeing progress, you might want to address other factors first, as you may not be aware of the many common reasons people can't lose weight.

"Body weight is complex, and therefore can be challenging to manage," Karla Robinson, MD, medical editor at GoodRx, tells Best Life. "Weight management is determined by a lot of factors … To effectively lose weight, someone needs to build habits that address all of the factors that may be contributing to their excess weight. And this can be hard to do."

If you're curious about what's holding you back from achieving your goals, you're not alone. Read on to find out what nutritionists and doctors say are 10 common reasons people struggle to lose weight.

RELATED: If You Want to Lose Weight, "Avoid These Foods Like the Plague," Fitness Expert Says.


close up of mature man holding two dumbbells doing exercise at the gym to be healthy and fitness - portrait of active senior lifting weight

It may not necessarily be surprising—or fair—but as we age, it gets more difficult to lose weight.

"The older you get, the less muscle mass you carry on your body," Robinson says. "Lower muscle mass can cause your metabolism to slow down and retain fat."

One way to combat this is by incorporating more strength training to "build and retain muscle," Robinson suggests.

Weight cycling

Woman stepping on scale to check weight

If you've lost and regained weight often over the years—a process known as "weight cycling"—you might not see progress anymore, Emily Van Eck, MS, registered dietitian (RD), tells Best Life.

"The more times one loses and gains back a significant amount of weight, the more at risk they are for cardiometabolic problems like insulin resistance, raised cholesterol, and loss of lean body mass, not to mention increased weight," Van Eck says.

Karen Louise Scheuner, MA, RDN, intuitive eating and body image coach, also points to yo-yo dieting and weight cycling.

"This decreases the metabolism with each subsequent diet, [and] the body becomes more efficient at storing fat for survival, as dieting is a threat to our system that will fight against starvation/famine," Scheuner notes. "This makes losing weight very challenging, if not impossible for some folks, particularly chronic dieters."

RELATED: Fitness Coach Shares "3 Easy Steps" to Lose Weight Before Summer.

Underlying disease

female patient talking to obstetrician
Chinnapong / iStock

Another weight-loss component that's out of your control is underlying illness, which can have more of an effect than you might realize.

"Some people have underlying diseases, like hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), that make it harder to lose weight," Robinson says. "Health conditions such as these can impact metabolic rates and hormone levels, which can make weight management difficult."

Fad diets

weight loss motivation

We've all been there: We see an ad for a new weight-loss program that touts "amazing results," inspiring us to try yet another avenue to shed excess weight. But these trendy diets can actually create bigger problems, especially if they force you to limit or be selective with your food groups.

"Diet fads don't work because they're often restrictive; they typically don't advocate for healthy lifestyle changes; and they can encourage the omission of whole food groups, like carbohydrates," says Nichole Dandrea-Russert, MS, RDN, author of The Fiber Effect and nutritionist at Purely Planted. "Instead of omitting carbohydrates altogether, it's important for consumers to understand that the type of carbohydrate matters."

Dandrea-Russert notes that the carbs in a can of soda don't have a nutritional benefit, but "carbohydrate-rich whole foods" can move you closer to your goals.

"Bottom line: Don't ditch the carbs! Instead, consume whole food sources of carbohydrates that deliver plenty of nutrition to support weight management, like whole grains, fruit, and legumes," she says.

RELATED: Lose 50 Pounds by Following 2 Simple Rules, Successful Dieter Says.

Lack of sleep

Man Lying Awake in Bed Because He Can't Sleep

Sleep is integral to so many different aspects of our well-being, but weight loss especially.

"The quality and quantity of consistent sleep can have an impact on weight loss," Robinson shares. "Although it can be challenging, getting at least seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night can positively impact your body's metabolism and help regulate the hormones that let your body know you're hungry throughout the day."

In addition, you may also end up consuming more calories when you're not getting enough sleep.

"Insufficient sleep and interruptions in circadian rhythm may also predispose individuals to poor metabolic health, promoting weight gain," Dandrea-Russert says. "Research shows that insufficient sleep can also increase caloric intake by 250 calories a day since sleep deprivation increases the desire to eat and may lead to unhealthy food choices."


stressed woman sitting on the floor
vorDa / iStock

Stress is another area that makes weight loss harder for some people.

"Whether you're worrying about losing weight or facing other types of stressful challenges, stress can increase cortisol levels," Dandrea-Russert explains.

She continues, "Cortisol, in the right amount, helps your body respond to danger, therefore it's important. However, excessive cortisol can cause sleep disruptions, which is detrimental to metabolism and making wise food choices. Cortisol can also lead to poor dietary choices and a feeling of hunger, even if you're not truly hungry."

Melissa Pfeister, Stanford Medicine-certified nutritionist and founder of Stripped With Melissa, also points out that some people are "stress eaters," meaning they use food to cope with the stress in their lives.


three generations of women, genetic inheritance
PeopleImages / iStock

While you can combat stress with exercise and meditation, you get what you get in terms of your genetic makeup. One thing you might not realize this affects, however, is your weight-loss journey.

"Genetics play a significant role in the body's sensitivity to weight gain," Robinson says. "Inherited genetic traits include how the body stores fat, metabolic rates, and the capacity for exercise. You may also inherit an underlying disease that makes losing weight challenging."

RELATED: The Only Foods You Should Be Eating at Night, Doctor Says.

Insufficient fiber

Top view close up of delicious, healthy homemade oats breakfast garnished with variation of mixed fruits toppings served in a white plate on wooden dining table and a hand picking a spoon full of it to eat.

Also on Dandrea-Russert's list of reasons you may struggle to lose weight? Your fiber intake, or the lack thereof.

"Over 95 percent of Americans don't consume the recommended amount of fiber daily," she says. "Fiber prevents constipation and can assist with weight management because of its ability to fill you up quickly and keep you full longer. Fiber is also critical for gut health and helps produce short-chain fatty acids in the colon through feeding healthy bacteria in our gut."

In fact, a recent study found that higher fiber intake was associated with weight loss, Dandrea-Russert points out.


woman upset over weight loss
bymuratdeniz / iStock

There are other deterrents to weight loss that don't have to do with your diet or workout routine—including your outlook and approach.

"We must get our head strong if we want our body strong, and in order to do that, we have to realize weight loss is not a one-size-fits-all [journey]," she shares.

Pfeister points out that a big problem with weight-loss and diet apps is that they don't factor in "stress and emotions," which directly affect how much and what we eat.

In addition, don't let your motivation disappear if the number on the scale stays stagnant for a bit, or even teeters up at some point.

"Don't quit after a slip," Valerie Dickerson, MS, RD, at Structure House, stresses. "Even with the best of plans, no one eats perfectly healthy 100 percent of the time. Just get back on track at the next meal and move onward."

RELATED: Certain Foods Trigger Natural Ozempic-Like Weight Loss Effect, Doctor Says.

Unhealthy environments

A man looking into his open freezer and refrigerator

Going hand in hand with your mindset, if your environment and the people in your life don't support your goals, it's likely that you'll struggle to attain them.

"We can't help that everywhere we go we see processed foods, food advertisements, snack foods, etc., but we can help what we choose to bring into our home. Make your home your safe zone and keep trigger foods out," Dickerson advises. "Surround yourself with a variety of healthy foods and keep them front and center in your fridge/pantry. Make a list of healthy takeout/restaurant options so you don't get overwhelmed with cooking."

The same goes for the people you surround yourself with. Dickerson recommends joining "groups of like-minded people" who will keep you motivated.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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