Suffering from a stuck scale? A slow — or plateaued — weight loss rate can be extremely frustrating, especially if you think you’re doing everything right. You’re being careful not to overdo it on calorie-dense “healthy” foods (Costco-sized tubs of guacamole, we’re looking at you). You’ve nixed all those sugary margaritas and sports drinks. And you’ve stopped kidding yourself that unlimited bacon is fair game.
So what gives? You probably just need to fine-tune your approach. And surprise: It might not involve diet and exercise. Check out our list of unexpected culprits that could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
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6 Surprising Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight
1. You’re underestimating how much you eat.
Are you sure that glop of cashew butter in your morning smoothie is exactly two tablespoons? Do know how much olive oil in your salad or hummus on your baby carrots you’re really consuming? It’s easy to unknowingly add extra calories every time you “eyeball” your portions. “We’re eating more than we think,” says Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who studies the science of obesity.
Don’t count on those notoriously inaccurate chain restaurant calorie counts, either, says Pagoto, who observed the wildly different sizes of her side order of baguette at various Panera locations. Her suggestion: Factor in some error correction when you tally those cals. “If you think you’re eating 1,700 calories, it’s probably more like 1,900,” she says.
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2. You’re not anticipating all those receptions and special events.
You’ve probably guessed all those delicious passed appetizers baked in buttery flaky crusts are not helping your weight loss cause. But one or two won’t hurt, right? An occasional indulgence won’t derail your goal, says Pagoto. But an entire holiday season of “just a little bit” and “just a few sips” will pack on a couple of pounds over time. “You’ll always be in catch-up mode trying to get rid of those additional pounds so you never lose the original weight,” she says. “If people focused on how to get through the next holiday without gaining weight, they would be so far ahead.”
3. You’re not giving yourself credit for new muscle mass.
It’s a dieter’s dream: The scale isn’t moving because you’ve been exercising so diligently that you’ve been replacing fat pounds with new muscle weight. Well, if you’ve been working a resistance routine pretty hard, there is a chance that your sculpted self-improvement isn’t being reflected on the scale, even if you’re looking leaner. “You think you’re not losing weight, but you’re really gaining muscle,” says Joan Chrisler, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Connecticut College, who studies the effect of weight loss on women. “It’s so easy to get discouraged.” A better gauge of your progress might be how your clothes fit and feel. (Check out these 19 reasons to work out beyond the perfect body for a little extra motivation!)
4. You’re not getting enough sleep.
Lack of shuteye can derail your best weight loss intentions, according to recent research that sheds light on this little-known link. And it hits from several angles. “When you’re feeling tired, you want to perk up by eating something, and we gravitate towards certain foods,” says Pagoto. (Hint: It’s not salad.) “And the last thing you want to do is exercise when you’re falling asleep at your desk at 4 p.m.” Not only does too little sleep throw a monkey wrench into your appetite and stress hormones, life just feels harder. “When you’re tired, following through with a plan is more difficult,” she says. Be cognizant of that — and keep some healthier snacks on hand — and you can prevent your slump from downward spiraling.
5. You might be uncomfortable with the new attention.
If you think carrying extra weight is uncomfortable, the process of shedding pounds can bring up all kinds of surprising and scary emotions, too. “I’ve had clients who had lost a noticeable amount of weight tell me they were getting lots of compliments. They said ‘I was the same person before. Why didn’t my coworkers notice me then?’” says Chrisler. “But they felt uncomfortable with the attention and started to gain the weight back.” Be mindful you’re not sabotaging your goals because you’re blindsided by too many “Way to go’s!” Accept compliments graciously and then change the subject if you prefer.
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6. You’re setting your goals too high.
Fitting back into your high school Guess jeans is a noble goal. Just make sure it’s realistic, advises Pagoto. “Data suggests that the bigger the goal someone sets, the more likely they will be disappointed they’re not achieving it and want to throw up their hands in the air,” she says. Her advice: Set many small goals. “When you get there, you’ll think ‘I nailed it!’ and want to keep up your efforts.”