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6 Reasons You're Not Losing Body Fat

Are you frustrated with your attempts at dropping body fat? Do you feel like you’re doing all the right things without seeing results? Don’t give up. Weight management is not a calorie-counting equation. Weight won’t fall off just from dripping puddles of sweat on the stepmill.  The following are six common reasons people fail to see the weight loss they’d expect.

1. You don’t realize what you’re eating

There is often a dramatic difference between what people think they eat and what they actually eat. As a personal trainer, I did dozens of consultations each month. I always asked two questions about nutrition. First, I’d ask “How’s your diet?” Almost every time, the answer I got back would be “My diet’s pretty good.” My next question would be “What did you eat yesterday?” Covering for the reality that it might not be “pretty good,” they’d respond “Well…yesterday wasn’t a normal day.” “No problem,” I’d say, “What did you eat yesterday?”

They’d walk through their previous day, which often sounded like this: “I ate a bagel and coffee because I was in a rush, had a couple cookies at work because someone brought them in, and a sandwich and chips at lunch because there wasn’t time to get something healthy. Dinner was good, though. I made chicken, potatoes and a salad.” “What did you put on the chicken?” I’d ask. Often, some kind of sweetened sauce was added.

“And for a snack?” I’d add. “Oh, I had some ice cream because I just needed something sweet, but I don’t do it that often.” “Ok, over the past seven days, how many times did you eat ice cream at night?” I’d ask. Usually, the response would be something like, “Wow, you know what? I had it almost every night! I didn’t even realize it.”

Until you’re forced to recall exactly what you’ve been eating, you may think your diet is much healthier than it actually is. In the above example, you could say that person eats a little better than the typical North American, but is the typical North American who we should be comparing our diet to?

Be honest with yourself. Write down what you’ve been eating. Is 90% of your diet made up of vegetables, a little fruit, meats, fish, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, high-quality nutritional supplements and good sources of starch (if necessary)? If not, you might be kidding yourself about how well you’re eating, which is keeping you from shedding body fat. Don’t compare the way you eat against the people you know; compare it against what a healthy diet actually entails.

2. You put too much faith in exercise alone

Exercise increases bone density, improves cardiovascular function, helps in managing stress, improves strength and balance, supports the maintenance of lean body mass, increases range of motion and reduces the risk factors of many other health problems. However, exercise by itself does little, if anything for shedding body fat.

The time you spend exercising pales in comparison to the time you spend in the rest of your lifestyle. You can’t undo 23 hours of bad habits each day with an hour spent doing something healthy. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people over the years who were frustrated they weren’t losing fat after starting an exercise program. They were dedicated to their 3 to 4 workouts per week every week. They’d sweat, work hard and push themselves beyond their comfort zone, yet they saw little to no difference in how they looked.

Those who add exercise to their lifestyle without modifying their nutrition tend to eat more. Often, the foods they choose are high-carbohydrate foods. They make these choices for two reasons. They have an increased appetite because of the extra energy they burned or they think they deserve something because they just worked out.

If you finish your workout and can’t wait to bite down on a bagel, or shovel some other source of starch in your mouth, you’re probably training with the wrong level of intensity. If you finish your workout and think you deserve something special, give yourself a pat on the back rather than eating something your body doesn’t need.

3. You haven’t dealt with a dysfunctional metabolism

Our bodies are bombarded by stress, lack of sleep, environmental toxins, poor quality food and nutrient deficiencies. To properly manage body fat levels, hormones must be balanced, inflammation must be managed and we have to create the right environment for the body to burn fat. If your metabolism isn’t functioning properly, you could do everything right and still not achieve the success you’re hoping for.

RealSmartResultSM, the LifeTime WeightLoss three-step approach to weight management, starts each individual with a deep look at his or her metabolism. We use questionnaires, lab testing and metabolic testing. The sad fact is most people rarely, if ever, get comprehensive lab work done. Without understanding how well one’s internal chemistry is working, it can be difficult to ensure they achieve the weight loss results they’re looking for. It would be the equivalent of taking care of your car by just getting a car wash once a week and filling it with gas. Without regular oil changes and tune-ups, the car would eventually wear out under the hood. Your body is way more complicated than a car is, so if you’re not checking your metabolic health through lab testing, you could be missing a major part of the puzzle in your weight loss goals.

Life Time offers a variety of lab tests, but the most complete is the Premium Longevity and Vitality, something those over the age of 30 should consider on an annual basis. I’ll be sharing my own lab test results from last year to this year in an upcoming article. Talk to a fitness professional at the Fitness Services desk about lab testing, or you can email us for more information.

4. You’re counting calories or avoiding fat

Remember the first time you went on a diet? You diligently counted calories, lived through the constant hunger and craving and your weight kept dropping. Then you eased off the diet and your weight crept back on over time. You’ve tried again and it doesn’t work. What gives?

In my experience, calorie-restricted diets often work for someone the first time they try it, but each time thereafter, they have less of an effect. How many times have you had heard your friend say “I’m going back on…” only to hear her say it isn’t working several weeks later? Low-calorie diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can halt weight loss efforts. Low-calorie diets are often higher in carbs, especially because so much of the pre-packaged “diet” food is high in carbs and low in fat and protein.

A low-calorie diet creates a calorie deficit, but the high carbohydrates keep insulin high and prevent the body from burning fat. Without fat available for fuel, the body has to rely on carbohydrates from the diet, which keeps carb cravings painfully high. The dietary carbohydrates contribute part of the energy needs, but not all, so the body’s metabolic rate often drops to save energy. When the body’s metabolic rate adjusts, weight loss efforts stop. The two options are to eat even fewer calories, or give up.

Instead, focus on eating the right foods and only eating when you have true hunger. It requires a lot less mental focus and you’ll be more happy with the results.

5. You’re training too hard

Yup. You read that right. If you think the answer to losing those last 5 to 10 pounds is to exercise harder, you could be mistaken. As exercise intensity and duration increase, cortisol production increases as well. Stress hormones can halt fat loss goals. Training at high intensities also burns a lot of sugar. If you consistently train as a sugar-burner, you’ll be more likely to burn sugar outside of exercise as well. A well-rounded training program incorporates some high-intensity exercise, but complements it with lower-intensity, fat-burning exercise as well.

The easiest way to ensure you’re training at the right intensity level is through an exercise metabolic rate test. We call it a CardioPoint at Life Time. It’s also called a Metabolic Efficiency Point test by other experts. Regardless of what it’s called, the goal is to define the best intensity to burn fat, and then create a training program that includes appropriate time dedicated to the various intensity levels. If you spend too much time training at too high an intensity, you’ll train your body to burn sugar instead of fat. If you spend too much time at too low an intensity, you won’t challenge your body enough to get it to change.

More often than not, the problem is training at too high an intensity, too early in a training program. Popular TV weight loss shows have left people thinking all-out, high-intensity exercise is the answer, but it’s not. It is a good recipe for injury, illness and burnout, though.

6. You’re not ready to lose weight

Whether you’re carrying an extra 10 pounds, 50 pounds or more, becoming lean and healthy requires commitment. Almost everyone would like to be healthy and lean, but not everyone is actually ready. If you think you can live the average American’s lifestyle, eat the average American’s diet, exercise for a few hours each week and get a beach body like you see in magazines, you’re not ready to lose weight. Long-term weight loss and optimal health require a commitment to a lifestyle that’s counter cultural.

The major focus for LifeTime WeightLoss is just that; lifetime weight loss. We don’t promote gimmicks. We don’t promote processed diet food. We don’t make promises that weight loss will be easy because it isn’t. Once you’ve made the commitment to live a different life than the majority of people, you can develop the kind of health and fitness that in today’s world is the exception, not the rule.

When you’re ready to lose weight, you’ll get rid of excuses that can hold you back, you’ll prioritize your lifestyle habits like sleep and stress management, and you’ll focus on eating what your body needs instead of what your friends, co-workers or other family members want you to eat. Finally, when you’re ready to lose weight, you’ll begin surrounding yourself with people on a similar path toward health.

To achieve long-term health and ideal body composition, you have to get your head in the right spot. You have to be ready.

Share your thoughts or ask questions below.

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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Reader Comments (15)

Thanks for writing this, this comes at a good time for me. I need to keep being reminded weight loss is not a simple calories in- calories out formula. I have lost more than 80 pounds in the last year but I still have about 60 more to go, and my loss has gotten much slower and it's really frustrating. Gotta keep tracking for sure, because those little "here and there's" totally sabotage me (coffee shop brownies, I'm looking at you!). I'm actually trying now to train a little less, like this morning normally I would do an hour on the treadmill and then my weights routine, burning like 900 calories, but I don't know if I eat enough to do that without shocking my metabolism. I only lost one pound in the last week, and even though part of me "knows" that's a safe healthy weight loss, I'm still programmed to want it to be so much more with how hard I feel I'm working.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShelley

I am trying to make better, healthier food choices, but I am so exhausted all the time and I want something sweet at least once a day. I know if I could get control of that "want," I could lose the weight. And, I KNOW it is not a physical want, but a psychological want. My skewed mentality is that I "deserve" a sweet treat for all the stress I go through all the time, but I know that just derails my efforts to gain better health and lose weight. Sugar is BAD in any form, but I just can't stay away from it. I've been using coconut oil for cooking and for my dry skin, and exercising for 15 minutes about two to three times per week on a rebounder while holding hand weights. I have also been taking Krill oil for about a month. I use Stevia most of the time, but sometimes I cave in to cane sugar or coconut sugar. My blood sugar readings are better, closer to "normal," and my ankles and calves don't swell as often. Since January of this year, I have lost 19 pounds, but then my weight can fluctuate about 4 pounds either way every morning when I weigh myself. Very discouraging. My next mini-goal is to get under 200 lbs. I want to be down to 170 by the end of May (my next doctor's appointment). My goal at that time is for her to tell me I am no longer diabetic, no longer need blood pressure, diabetes, or cholesterol medicine. I am dirt poor and cannot afford a bunch of tests. I wish someone would just tell me exactly what to eat, how much, and then I could do it. Any help anyone can offer me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

@Shelley: Congrats on your weight loss over the past year. That's outstanding. You'll have plateaus from time to time, but if you get stuck and feel like your nutrition and exercise are spot on, be sure to connect with a fitness professional and get some additional lab testing done. It's also worth keeping in mind, what helps people lose an initial amount of weight may not keep things going long-term. For some people, simply cutting back on junk food or sugary beverages helps them lose weight in the beginning. As time goes on, you may need to get closer to an ideal nutrition plan as opposed to just "better" choices. Good luck, and feel free to ask more questions on the site here or on our Facebook fan page.

@Heather: Nice job on your weight loss so far this year. It sounds like you might still have some regular cravings. Getting enough protein and vegetables with every meal can help. If you didn't have a chance to read it, I'd recommend reading the "The Healthy Way of Life Food Pyramid." It's a good guide to help you understand what to focus on with your nutrition. There is not perfect diet for each individual, but starting with some of the basics can help most people get a long way toward a more ideal weight and better health. Good luck!

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

Fantastic article! I began my weightloss journey 10 months ago and have since lost 43 pounds. Everything you discuss in this article is so true!! Great job, and thanks for sharing!!

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJune Krienke

What a great article, sometimes it's so easy to forget your changing your way of living to make it better. I've been eating carrots every time I want soda and it seems to be helping.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNina

I love this article. So informative and easy to read. Thanks Tom.

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJill

This article is great. Definitely challenges me to consider if I'm truly ready to lose weight and step into a lifestyle change. That's the only way I'm going to lose and keep it off. Lifetime commitment to a lifestyle change. Thanks for the writing the article.

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeanna

@Heather: At my LifeTime one of the nutrition coaches turned me onto a website, called I was at the gym 5 days a week for over a month and didn't lose a pound until i started using I've lost 12 pounds since the beginning of February using It's not a substitute for testing and coaching by a professional, but it does help you see if you are eating right or not. Good luck, keep up the great work!

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

@ June: Congratulations on your weight loss!
@ Nina: Thank you
@ Jill: Thanks
@ Deanna: Good luck! Share your progress on the site or on our Facebook fan page
@ Adam: Thanks for sharing the tip!

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

@Heather. Congrats on your weight loss so far! I just wanted to encourage you to keep up the great work. I share your desire to "treat myself" and have something sweet each day, but I realized over the past year that this is not just an emotional thing, it's also physical. Once I got my diet in better order the sugar and carb cravings subsided. I've lost 40+ pounds and feel much more even keel. I follow a Paleo/primal type diet, but I do eat some dairy and occasional sugar, mostly natural. There's lots of good info on "Marks Daily Apple" website. If I had to "just tell someone what they should eat" I'd say protein, healthy fats (EVOO, Ghee, Butter, Coconut Oil), vegetables, limited fruits in season, moderate amounts heavy cream, small amounts cheese and no processed foods, no grains, no refined sugars. I hope this helps. Keep striving for your goals, you can do it!

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

This article is timely. I recently received my evaluation for both the women's longevity and vitiality test as well as the stress and resilience test. I had been working with lifetime for a year with a trainer and doing regular cardio point and calorie point retests. I could be consistently good tracking food for months or go off the reservation and my weight would only fluctuate a few pounds.
The evaluation indicated metabolic stress syndrome and adrenal dysfunction. I have made lifestyle changes and have started the supplements I could get in the cafe but the one ordered online should finally arrive today.
Three days after the evaluation I weighed half a pound below the lowest weight I fluctuate back and forth between and am due to weigh again today so will see....
My workout routine has been drastically cut back and i feel like I am being a total bum. My trainer and the metabolic coach keep telling me to have faith. I also wonder about how realistically I can lose weight burning significantly less calories in the day. Again have faith.

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelinda

@Rebecca: Well said
@Melinda: Hang in there. I know it can seem counterintuitive to back off on exercise to lose weight and get your metabolism back to health, but it sounds like a you're getting great advice. There's a lot more to weight management and health than calories in and calories out.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

Adam -- plz say more about Is there a cost? Do they send you articles? Provide diets. I went to their website, but was reluctant to give my e-mail address b/4 knowing more. Thanks. Adam or anyone who knows may reply.

March 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAgnes

I use loseit (recommended by staff at LifeTime) and find it extremely helpful to track what I eat (total calories, breakout of protein).
Can enter details you have or select food/exercise from a list and it will estimate calories (consumed/burned).
Also has tool to set goal and estimate metabolism (or enter after taking test).

I find it a pretty good tool and no cost.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarry

"I’ll be sharing my own lab test results from last year to this year in an upcoming article." Did you ever end up writing this article, Tom? I tried finding it in the archives, but didn't stumble upon it. I'm interested in the type of results the test provides and how you used that info to improve your health over the year. Thanks!!

October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartha

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