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I Eat Healthy But I'm Not Losing Weight

You make good choices but you are still not losing weight. Or maybe you are losing some weight, but the amount in ratio to the time and effort it takes, doesn’t seem right to you.

This actually happens a lot. Chances are it would just take some minor tweaks here and there to get you on track with your fitness goals. But in the event that you have a deeper underlying issue – whether that be physically or psychologically – it is just a matter of identifying it and then developing strategies to solve it. You are NOT stuck forever!

When I have a client come to me with this (perceived) problem, one of the first things I say is “Okay, first let’s take a closer look at what you are eating”. I have you track your food as precisely as possible for about a week; and then I ask a series of questions upon review. This allows us to identify the issue and come up with possible solutions.

Based on my experience, there are several common – but often overlooked – reasons why, despite making good choices, you may not be losing weight.

You may think you’re eating healthy but...Mmmm are you really?

" If you choose a meal plan that is not in line with your core values and lifestyle, you will either not stick to it or hate it so much that it induces stress. Both set you up for failure."

What is “healthy” anyway? With so much conflicting information out there, it can be difficult to really know for sure. Most of us absorb the information that is thrown at us and just try to do the best we can.

Eat bananas! They have potassium!

Don’t eat bananas!!! They are high in sugar!

Eat meat! You need protein!

Don’t eat meat!!! It has carcinogens!

Eat yogurt! It has calcium!

Don’t eat yogurt!!! It’s loaded in sugar!

“Well I’m just not going to eat then! Okay! How about that?!”

It’s hard! But let me see if I can help clear it up a little.

It is often just a matter of finding what works for you. Specifically, YOU! Your preferences, lifestyle, current emotional/mental health, current physical condition (including allergies or sensitivity to foods), personal habits...all THAT matters when choosing a (new) way of eating. If you choose a meal plan that is not in line with your core values and lifestyle, you will either not stick to it or hate it so much that it induces stress. Both set you up for failure.

You have to be sure that what you are choosing is realistic AND biologically correct for you. If you have the resources to do so, hire a professional to help you. Depending on your needs, a fitness coach, dietitian, allergist, physician, and/or counselor may help.

However, if you need to figure it out on your own, I suggest going through a process of elimination to figure out how you and your body react to food. This will require a small amount of deprivation for a short period of time and a lot of self-awareness, but it can be done. Be open-minded! Instead of looking at it as “this is healthy” or “this is not healthy”, ask yourself “how does my body react when I eat this?”

Are you really tracking ALL your food intake?

Another topic I cover with clients is portion control. Even if you are vegetarian or a plant-based eater, I ask you to track your food. You may be eating all the “right” foods, but are you getting too much of it? Are you exceeding caloric needs? Or perhaps too much of one macronutrient but not enough of another?

Yes, cantaloupe is good... but most of us don’t need to eat the entire melon in one sitting. I take a look at the ratios of carbohydrates, protein, and fat - and the sources. Most of the time a minor adjustment in portions, and thus ratios, can make a big difference. I almost always ask people to add more leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or greens.

I know tracking food intake can be tedious; but it is important. Especially at the beginning of your journey. It is very easy to let unnecessary calories creep in and thus throw off your macronutrient ratio.

That little bite you took when you were serving food

The creamer in your coffee

Fruit juice, mixers, soda, beer, wine

(I know... That was painful to write but it’s true)

Track everything at first. In time, your newfound way of eating will become second nature and tracking will not be quite as crucial, but until then... track as precisely as possible. Don’t leave anything out. It’s the only way to really know how your body is reacting to what you put in it.

I use MyFitnessPal for myself and clients but there are a lot of great resources to make tracking food intake a little easier.

What is your stress level?

If you are still not able to get to a healthy weight after developing a way of eating that suits your specific needs, my next questions would be “Have you been stressed lately?” And, “what are you doing to manage your stress?”.

Let’s face it - we all undergo stress at times. It is important to have an outlet for it.

However, I’m not talking about minor, every day, “I got cut off in traffic” stress. I’m talking about every day, all the time, constant, major stress. The kind you live with for an extended period of time.

This has been found to be the problem for both overweight and non-overweight women. Studies suggest that “women who are vulnerable to the effects of stress are more likely to have excess abdominal fat, and have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol”. (See references). Basically, if you are constantly under stress, for whatever reason, you are more likely to be carrying extra fat on your belly (and around your organs but that’s another topic).

When under stress, the fight-or-flight response is activated. Your brain sets off a series of events that ultimately lead to a surge of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. While cortisol is useful in the midst of a threat, it also “curbs functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a fight-or-flight situation”. According to an article published by Mayo Clinic, cortisol alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive and reproductive systems. This isn’t a big deal when it comes to minor stressors throughout the day because your body’s stress response system usually self-regulates. Once the stressor has passed, hormone levels return to normal and everything else does as well.

The problem is when your stress is chronic – consistently present for a long period of time or it never goes away. Long term activation of the stress response system can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at risk of many health problems including, but not limited to, weight gain.

Before you dismiss stress as a possibility, take a moment to really self-reflect and evaluate your current situation. There is not a limited amount of empathy in the world. If it causes you stress, it is valid! Even being on a workout program that is not right for you, can cause stress that can inhibit weight loss. See Train Your Brain for more on this.

Are you pressuring yourself to lose weight?

Are all your workouts such high intensity that you dread them each time?

Do you shame yourself when you think you haven’t eaten perfectly?

Do you feel stress but dismiss it because “it’s not that bad”?

I tell my clients that we are operating in a no guilt, no pressure zone. Change in itself is challenging. We don’t need to make it any harder by inducing stress with guilt or shame. Instead we come up with strategies to ensure that your fitness program is alleviating stress - not adding to it. I even, sometimes, shift the focus from nutrition and exercise to mindset and stress management. If stress is the problem, then THAT is what we need to address.

Are you a Boomer, Gen X, Millennial?

Age is another possible factor to consider. Hold on though… I am NOT saying it is impossible for Boomers to lose weight. A study from the University of Warkwick

demonstrates that weight loss can be achieved at any age. I am simply saying that what worked in our 20s may not work in our 30s, 40s, 50s, and so on. Your caloric needs can change with age.

As we age, we involuntarily lose muscle. According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, we lose 3 - 8% per decade after the age of 30. What does this have to do with what you are eating? Muscle uses more calories than fat. Unless you are maintaining lean muscle, you will need fewer calories each day.

If I am your coach, I will tell you - if we have to lower your caloric intake, I want every calorie to count. Fewer calories means fewer opportunities for necessary nutrients. Remember, food is the only fuel your body gets. Supplement and make sure your food choices are nutrient dense. This doesn’t mean there isn’t the occasional indulgence. It just means that - unless you are strength training - your daily needs change.

Have you been tested for a medical issue that causes weight gain?

I have worked with women with PCOS, hypothyroidism, and other medical conditions that can make it difficult to lose weight. It is a challenge, and can be discouraging, but this too can be overcome.

If you have been overweight most of your life, and later encounter health problems, there is a chance your medical issue will be dismissed as a weight issue. This frustrates me because while I understand and agree that many medical problems can be helped by losing weight; I also think it is important to address any issue at hand. Find a primary care physician that will really listen to you and your concerns. Even if you have an issue that has been caused by obesity, it should still be addressed.

“7 Conditions That Cause Weight Gain” on outlines symptoms and treatments for conditions that cause weight gain.

While some medical conditions can make it difficult to lose weight, it is not impossible. Once the problem is identified it usually can be corrected.

don't lose hope

It can be very frustrating to feel like you are trying your best but still not seeing the results you want. Try not to lose hope. Take a deep breath and evaluate. Make sure that your expectations are healthy and realistic. Contact me for help. I do not have all the answers but I can provide guidance and support as we find the solution together.


Elissa Epel’s research team at Yale included Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., Jeannette R. Ickovics, Ph.D., Jennifer Bell, and Grace Castellazzo. Other researchers included Bruce McEwen, Ph.D. of the Rockefeller University; Teresa Seeman, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles; and Karen Mathews, Ph.D. of the University of Pittsburgh.2000 Stress May Cause Excess Abdominal Fat In Otherwise Slender Women, Study Conducted At Yale Shows

Eimear Leyden, Petra Hanson, Louise Halder, Lucy Rout, Ishbel Cherry, Emma Shuttlewood, Donna Poole, Mark Loveder, Jenny Abraham, Ioannis Kyrou, Harpal S. Randeva, FT Lam, Vinod Menon, Thomas M. Barber. 2020 Age is no barrier to successful weight loss

Elena Volpi, Reza Nazemi, and Satoshi Fujita 2004 Muscle Tissue Changes With Aging

Mayo Clinic Staff 2021 Chronic stress puts your health at risk

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