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Do you eat well, exercise often and still feel like you’re not losing that stubborn weight? Find out why, according to experts.

By Jennifer Cohen
Updated October 28, 2020
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Do you eat well, exercise often, and still feel like you’re not maintaining a healthy weight? Truth is, eating well and exercising often is a very relative and general statement. If we’re honest with ourselves, I’m sure we could admit that we’re all capable of trying a little harder in both areas.

Total-body wellness is a lifestyle. Fat loss happens when you ditch the scale, find an activity you enjoy, and start to see food as fuel instead of something to feed your emotions or occupy your time.

No matter who you are or what your background is, chances are one of these nine reasons could be why you’re not shedding pounds:

You’re not eating the good stuff

If you’re working out but not losing weight, the first place you should be looking is the kitchen. Some people focus all their energy on burning off calories that they don’t take the time to consider what they’re putting in as fuel. A good rule of thumb is to stick to all natural, whole foods.

Tip: Look for foods that have the fewest ingredients on the label—if you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not something you want to be putting in your body.

You’re not striking the right balance

If you’ve been shunning carbohydrates because you think they’re making you fat, you might want to reconsider. Cutting out an entire macronutrient from your daily diet can make you feel deprived and tempt you to binge. Instead, reach for healthy, complex carbs—think sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, oats, peas, beans, and whole grain bread. Of course, an occasion sweet is fine, but a steady diet of simple carbs, like candy, soda, sugary sweets, and processed foods with added sugar, won’t help you reach your weight-loss goal.

Tip: Go for starchy carbohydrates, which are digested more slowly and release glucose into your bloodstream more slowly.

You’re eating too much

If you’ve already cleaned up your diet big time and you’re still not losing weight, it may be that you're simply eating too much. In order to shed pounds your body needs to run a calorie deficit, meaning you need to burn more than you consume. That being said, you shouldn’t have to deprive yourself either. Life is about balance. Don’t become consumed with counting calories or weighing yourself every day.

Eat whenever you’re hungry and eat slowly enough so you can stop just before you get full. And don't be afraid to give yourself "healthy" cheats. The moment you start depriving yourself is when you start to feel like you’re missing out on something and you want to binge.

Tip: Healthy snacking during the day will keep you from overeating during meals. I always carry a few Kind Bars in my bag because they're a great snack made with whole foods and have nothing artificial.

You’re doing too much cardio

Yes, cardio is a necessary part of your workout routine. It keeps your heart healthy, boosts your metabolism, and gives you a good sweat (you should break one daily).

However, only doing cardio—or doing too much of it—can actually add to the problem. Longer cardio sessions, like staying on the elliptical for 90 minutes or going for regular 10-mile runs, can eat away at your lean muscle mass, which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories. It causes the body to become more endurance-focused, storing energy as fat to ensure it has plenty of reserve fuel to keep you going for all those miles. Not to mention it dramatically increases your appetite, making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking or overeating.

Tip: Federal guidelines for physical activity suggest that adults do strength training, focusing on all major muscle groups, two or more days a week.

You’re not lifting weights

This one goes hand in hand with  number 4. I'm not saying you can't or shouldn’t do cardio. If you love to run or bike for reasons other than losing weight, then by all means don’t stop. But if you’re working out but not losing weight and your primary goal is fat loss, there are other forms of exercise that give a much better bang for your buck. The best way to lose weight and build lean muscle is by doing some form of strength training in addition to your cardio. The more muscle tone your body has, the more fat you'll burn.

If you’re not ready to give up your cardio routine just yet, try adding some interval training by performing short bursts of all-out effort mixed into your regular session. These workouts are much more effective at promoting hormones that target stubborn fat. Then, start adding some resistance training to your routine.

Tip: Body weight exercises like push-ups, squats, and lunges are a great place to start to help build up to lifting actual weights.

You're not working hard enough

There's no exact equation to working out and eating healthy—it’s a matter of trial and error, finding out what works specifically for your body. And more time spent in the gym doesn't always equal a more fit person. Unless you’re an athlete, body builder, or a marathoner-in-training, the average person shouldn't be working out more than an hour a day.

Your workouts should be intensity-dependent, not time-dependent. Keep this fact in mind: the harder you work, the shorter your workout time may need to be.

Tip: Maximize time spent at the gym, in fitness class, or in your at-home workout routine so you can achieve that coveted afterburn effect, which keeps your metabolism revved for 24-48 hours afterward.

You’re not taking time to recover

When you do achieve that afterburn and you’re really feeling your workout the next day, those are the days to focus on different muscle groups. Or, if you prefer to work out your whole body, establish a workout routine where you work your entire body one day and then take the next day to do light cardio, stretching, or complete rest.

Recovery and rest are often more important than the workout itself. It’s during those periods that your body does most of the actual fat burning.

Tip: Give yourself time to fully recover so you’re ready to work hard the following day. Most importantly, listen to your body. Push yourself, but also give it some love, too.

Your body is under too much stress

Exercise is a stressor on your body. When you have a healthy balance of exercise-related stress and recovery time, your body is healthy and can lose its excess fat. However, not giving your body enough time to recover can also be a negative (see above) as you'll start to produce an excessive amount of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Cortisol is both normal and important when working out; it’s involved in processes that give your muscles the energy needed to get moving. But when your body is exposed to cortisol for longer periods of time, it starts to cause negative effects, like stubborn fat in areas you don’t want.

Exercise isn’t the only stressor that can produce excess cortisol. A stressful personal or professional life can also make your body produce too much of this hormone. When you stop exercising, your body stops producing cortisol; however, it may not be quite as easy to turn off the mental stressors going on in your life.

Tip: Make sure you’re keeping your mental and emotional health in check in addition to your physical health. You should strive for total-body wellness.

You’ve plateaued

You’re exercising regularly and eating healthfully, but now the numbers on the scale won’t budge; your weight loss has plateaued. There are lots of reasons this can happen, says the Mayo Clinic. If you’re cutting calories, you may experience a rapid drop in weight initially, as your body burns stored glycogen for energy. You might even lose a little muscle along with fat. To rev up your weight loss again, you may need to cut more calories or amp up your physical activity.

Tip: Add resistance training to build muscle and burn fat.

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