You’re hitting the gym on a regular basis and doing your best to eat green salads in lieu of cheeseburgers, yet your pant size is relatively remaining the same. What gives?
If you’ve been finding it difficult to lose weight lately, there’s probably an explanation ― and, most importantly, a solution. There are a few key steps that you can take that can get you on the path to achieving your health goals.
Below is a breakdown of why you might be hitting a plateau as well as expert advice on how to troubleshoot any issues.
1. You are losing weight — it’s just happening slowly.
According to Lisa D. Ellis, a nutrition therapist in White Plains, New York, there is a false notion that a successful diet will have someone dropping something like 10 pounds a month. For most people, that is an unrealistic standard.
“I point out to my clients that shedding just a half pound a week ends up as a total loss of 26 pounds a year,” she said.
Ellis added that losing at a slower pace is also a safe way to ensure that your weight loss sticks. “A half-pound a week is a rate that won’t cause a person’s body to sense the weight loss as famine,” she said, noting that when a body senses a famine, it tries to regain the weight when the perceived famine is over, which is one reason why people regain weight at the end of a crash diet.
2. You aren’t drinking enough water.
Eugenio Marongiu via Getty Images
Michael Jay Nusbaum, surgical director of the metabolic medicine and weight control center for Atlantic Health and chief of bariatric surgery at Morristown Medical Center, said that you cannot burn fat if your body is dehydrated.
“The process of burning fat is very expensive water-wise. You need to be drinking more than 48 ounces of fluid per day,” he said, adding that if you notice that your stool is hard or that you’re constipated and unable to move your bowels easily, “then your body is telling you loud and clear that you are dehydrated.”
3. You are not sleeping enough.
Get those Zzzs. Your brain and body will thank you for it.
“Any time we sleep for less than seven hours, our metabolism slows down,” said Craig Primack, an obesity medicine physician in Scottsdale, Arizona. “One study showed that the same person burned 400 fewer calories when they slept for five and a half hours vs. eight and a half hours.”
4. Your medication may be to blame.
Towfiqu Photography via Getty Images
Primack said that certain medications ― such as those for blood pressure, diabetes and depression ― can not only slow down weight loss, but may also foster weight gain. But that doesn’t mean that you should ditch them: Talk to your doctor first.
“For our patients looking to lose weight, we try to talk to their primary care physicians to see if there may be a good alternative to these medications. If there is not, we work to implement low-carbohydrate and low-calorie diets to override the weight implications of those medicines,” he said.
5. You eat healthy sometimes.
“A lot of the reason people have a hard time losing weight initially is they aren’t completely committed to the process. They are always quasi-dieting,” said Erin Wathen, a certified life and weight loss coach and author of the upcoming book Why Can’t I Stick to My Diet? “For example, during the weekdays, they are good. On the weekends, not so much.”
In order to make a serious dent in your weight loss plan, Wathen recommended trading in the concept of a short-lived diet for a healthy lifestyle change.
“Fully commit to making lasting change ― not until the reunion, the wedding or until you reach the magic number and then you can eat how you have always wanted,” she said.
6. Your workout may no longer be challenging your body.
Westend61 via Getty Images
“Weight loss plateaus are also quite common and happen when someone has lost a certain amount of weight but the body levels out,” said Justin Blum, CEO and owner of the Raw Fitness Franchise. “If this happens, switch up your routine to incorporate other types of activities you are not currently doing.”
If all you’ve been doing is hitting the elliptical, for instance, try adding strength training, sprints, high-intensity interval training or trying new fitness classes throughout the week to “jumpstart your body again,” Blum said.
7. You’re stressed.
Blum said stress can play a major role in weight loss, especially chronic stress because it “makes your body believe it’s using calories to deal with stress and makes you ‘hungry’ because your body thinks you need to replenish them when you don’t.”
Blum added that cortisol and comfort food the biggest culprits when it comes to stress causing weight gain and preventing weight loss.
“Stress management is just as important as following a diet plan, but the good news is exercise is one of the greatest ways to combat chronic stress,” he said.
8. You’re prioritizing exercise over nutrition.
d3sign via Getty Images
You can put in hours at the gym, but if you aren’t eating well enough, then you may not be experiencing the weight loss that you desire.
“People often believe that if they just exercise more, they will lose weight. However, weight loss and healthy weight maintenance boils down to 75 to 80 percent nutrition and only 20 to 25 percent physical activity and exercise,” said Molly Devine, a licensed dietitian/nutritionist and founder of Eat Your Keto. “So if your nutrition isn’t on point, it doesn’t matter how often or how hard you work out, the weight loss may not come.”
9. You’re not keeping track of how much you are eating.
A few chips, a fistful of nuts and several crackers can really make a difference if you’re consuming them daily.
“Often, people grossly underestimate how much they really eat in a day. They may not count liquid calories or tasting food, or the mid-afternoon snack. Little things that really do add up,” said Pam Sherman, a certified trainer and founder of The Perfect Balance. She suggested logging your meals into a tool like MyFitnessPal or Lose it! to keep track.
10. You’re not accounting for alcohol.
Thomas Barwick via Getty Images
“You don’t have to have a drinking problem for alcohol to be holding you back from your ultimate weight loss goals. It’s pretty sneaky how it affects our metabolism and most diets don’t usually instruct to cut out alcohol,” said Karolina Rzadkowolska, founder of Euphoric Alcohol-Free, a space that empowers people to find freedom from alcohol for happier and healthier lives.
According to Rzadkowolska, alcoholic drinks can pack on empty calories. “One glass of wine has between 150-200 calories. A beer clocks in between 100-200. And some heavy IPAs can be 300 calories,” she said.
Rzadkowolska added that alcohol can also increase your appetite and lead to unplanned snacking. (Hello, drunk munchies!)
11. It may be an underlying medical issue.
If you’re making the right lifestyle choices and you’re still having trouble, you might be experiencing an underlying issue, said Jill Brown, a health and nutrition coach and fitness trainer in Los Angeles. In her experience, this could mean that something is slowing down your metabolism or you could be experiencing a hormonal imbalance.
“A sluggish thyroid or low estrogen levels can cause this, for example. Quite simply, you need to be burning more calories than you’re consuming and if your metabolism has slowed down, you may want to find out why,” she said.
12. You could have a nutritional deficiency.
Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm via Getty Images
“I would say that one often overlooked cause of trouble losing weight is vitamin deficiencies,” said Arielle Levitan, an internal medicine physician and co-founder Vous Vitamin LLC.
Studies suggest, for instance, that vitamin D deficiency may be linked to obesity and that people with vitamin D deficiency have a harder time losing weight.
“In addition, we find that repleting certain other key vitamin deficiencies such as iron, B12 and magnesium can allow people to feel better, more energetic and as a result, have an easier time living a healthy lifestyle which includes exercise, adequate sleep and thoughtful meal planning,” Levitan said.
13. You’re not eating enough protein.
Studies have shown people feel fuller longer and consume less calories over time when they eat more protein.
“Your body digests protein slower than any other macronutrient, which means your blood sugar and hunger don’t spike, so you’re less likely to overeat,” said Greg Pignataro, a certified strength and conditioning specialist.
“Searching for Normal” is HuffPost’s attempt to answer some of the internet’s most pressing queries: Is it normal to ____? Why am I ___? Why do I ___?