Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
6 Mar

9 More Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight

It's not really about the scale...A few years back, I wrote an article explaining 17 possible reasons why you’re not losing weight. It was a troubleshooting guide of sorts, aimed at helping people identify some of things they may be doing (or not doing) that’s causing their stalled fat loss. The etiology of obesity and weight gain is multifactorial, and can be complex. Additionally, we’re all unique human beings. So it can be difficult to pin down one simple cause – or even seventeen simple causes. While unwanted fat loss comes effortlessly to most people that eat according to the Primal eating strategy – as the success stories and hundreds of thousands of positive user experiences indicate – sometimes we inadvertently sabotage our best efforts, stray from best practices, or don’t fully grok what we need to do to become efficient fat-burners. So let’s take a look at nine more possible reasons, shall we?

1. You’re engaging in too much mindless eating.

If you asked most people what made them overweight in the first place, it was that sneaky, tricky combination of eating and, well, doing everything else but focus on the food. It’s eating while watching TV. It’s eating while driving (I’ve seen a man eat a bowl of cereal on the 405). It’s eating while cooking (not tasting to stay abreast of the dish; full-on eating). It’s popcorn at the movies. It’s beer and wings and more beer during the game. In other words, it’s mindless eating. Eating that feels like breathing, like something you just do. You take a few chews, rarely enough to qualify as real mastication, and down the hatch it goes, with a follow-up handful close on its heels. Since increased frequency of eating (i.e. mindless eating or snacking) is strongly associated with the United States’ steadily increasing average energy intake, it’s plausible that mindless eating leads to eating more food.

Be more mindful when you eat; practice mindful eating. Eat food with others, sit down to dinner, take the time to appreciate the food you’re eating. Just because you’re scarfing down grass-fed beef and pastured eggs doesn’t mean you can get away with mindless consumption.

2. You’re eating too many “pleasure foods.”

Paul Jaminet really has a knack for coining phrases, doesn’t he (“safe starch,” anyone?)? A lesser known one is “pleasure foods.” These are things like nuts, dark chocolate, and raw honey – all foods that have gotten the stamp of Primal approval in the past, all foods that are calorically-dense and easy to overeat. This is hard to grasp, because these foods also confer some health benefits. Nuts are rich sources of micronutrients like magnesium, vitamin E, and selenium, and multiple studies suggest that nuts help weight loss. Dark chocolate got an entire post devoted to its impressive polyphenol content (and its fatty acid profile isn’t too bad, either), while honey is quite possibly the best sweetener around. At the very least, it and its bevy of bee-related compounds outperform other sweeteners like maple syrup and plain sugar and result in fewer metabolic issues. All that said, these foods are delicious, packed with calories, and can be overeaten, particularly because they have the reputation as “health foods.”

If you’re not losing weight, moderate your intake of these foods.

3. You’re eating too little.

It’s well-established that prolonged dieting – taking in fewer calories than your body expends – will eventually lead to a downregulation in the basal metabolic rate. This is simple stuff, really. Reducing your food intake will lower your body weight, usually, but it’s not a simple matter of dropping them lower and lower as you lose weight. The body isn’t a passive thing that you’re merely adding to and subtracting from. Instead, it’s a living, breathing, reacting, adapting entity that responds to the lowered caloric input by lowering its energy expenditure. Since you can’t lose weight forever (you’re not just going to waste away into nothingness), perpetually lowering your caloric intake will eventually work against your desire to lose weight.

Instead of sitting at a chronic caloric deficit, consider cycling your caloric intake. Eat less one day, more the next. You might also look into periodic refeeds, which may be able to kickstart a stalled weight loss.

4. You’re under “hidden stress.”

In the previous article, I explained how stress can make us gain weight, or stop losing it. Cortisol – which we release as a part of the stress response – inhibits weight loss, catabolizes muscle, worsens insulin resistance, and promotes the storage of fat. Although back then I was referring to the obvious sources of stress in our lives, like bills, traffic, jobs we hate, bosses we hate, relationship strife, there are other “hidden” types of stressors that result in the very same physiological responses as obvious stressors cause. Foremost among the hidden stressors is the lack of nature exposure. In the literature, researchers often speak of “forest bathing,” or spending a day or two or three in a forest setting to reduce cortisol, enhance immune function, and improve glucose tolerance. I prefer to look at this a different way. Instead of nature exposure being a positive anti-stress agent, urban living is an active stressor. Spending a day in the woods is a return to normalcy rather than an “intervention.”

If you’re not doing this already, take a day or two out of the week to get outside, preferably amongst unkempt, wild nature. It needn’t be a forest or a craggy cliff. The beach, the desert, or even a park will do just fine. In a pinch, you can even listen to nature sounds and look at nature scenes on your computer.

5. You’re too focused on diet to the exclusion of all else.

When you realize the wool that’s been pulled over the collective eyes of society regarding nutrition, it’s easy to become obsessed with your newfound knowledge. It’s easy to stay up late, night in, night out, perusing nutrition blogs, reading comment sections, devouring PubMed articles. You’ll hear about some arcane but totally essential nutrient and think that it’s the Answer. Am I getting enough magnesium? What about boron – I need some boron, right? How about vitamin A? Should I go for the preformed retinol or rely on the conversion from beta-carotene? Should I drive fifty miles out of town to get goose liver, or should I just take a vitamin K2 supplement and call it a day? Choline – that’s the stuff! Nothing but liver and egg yolks from here on out!

Diet is the obvious primary arbiter of body composition, but there’s more to life than worrying about what you put in your mouth. It’s counterintuitive, and there aren’t any randomized controlled trials showing it, but you might have more success just enjoying life, getting some exercise, and hanging out with good people instead of micromanaging your nutrient intake. Relax.

6. You’re getting too much exercise.

Although regular exercise is a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle, and smart training that includes lifting heavy things, walking lots, and sprinting occasionally can speed weight loss and improve body composition, there is such a thing as too much exercise. After all, effective exercise is effective because it’s stressful, because it challenges our physiology and propels us to rise to the occasion and improve ourselves by getting stronger, faster, and with more lean mass and less body fat. Taken to the extreme, exercise becomes a chronic stressor and a steady source of cortisol release (which as we discussed above makes us insulin resistant and promotes the accumulation of belly fat). Chronic stress in any form can also induce a hypothyroid-like state, where metabolic rate is lowered and weight loss slows or stops altogether, and exercise-induced chronic stress is no different.

Try to stick to the 4,000 calories a week (soft) limit, especially if you find your weight loss stalling.

7. Your macronutrients and training are mismatched.

For most people who stay reasonably active, doing lots of low-level movement as well as some lifting, a low-carb Primal way of eating is generally the most effective way to lose body fat. It tastes good, it’s easy to stick to, and, most importantly, it works. But some people like to push the envelope. They like waking up early and going for a run, then coming home at night and hitting the weights. They’re avid CrossFitters. They like seeing how far their bodies can go. They’re concerned with performance, above all else, and they want to maximize every last drop of physicality their bodies can muster. In that case, more dietary carbs are probably called for – especially if they’re trying to lose weight at the same time. Certain activities just require glycogen. I do plenty of activities that use up glycogen, but I’m not doing them day in, day out, so I don’t need to eat a lot of carbs.

If you are, if you’re doing WODs every day and playing in a basketball league on the weekends and doing jiujitsu twice a week, you’ll need to replenish those glycogen stores more often or else risk that chronically-stressed state that stops weight loss.

8. Your eating schedule is too disordered.

I tend to get hungry at different times throughout the day, and I have no issues eating meals at different intervals depending on when hunger strikes. That seems to be pretty typical. Although many Primal eaters relish the freedom from having to keep snacks on hand in order to stave off hunger and enjoy the fact that they can skip a meal or two and just rely on their hunger signals, there is a considerable amount of evidence that maintaining a regular eating schedule can improve the metabolic response to meals in some people. Women in particular seem to benefit most from a “regular meal pattern.” In one study of lean women, an “irregular” meal pattern resulted in lower postprandial energy expenditure than a regular meal pattern. In another study, lean women who ate meals on a regular schedule had better insulin sensitivity and improved blood lipids. And in one other study of healthy obese women, regular mealtimes increased postprandial thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and blood lipids.

Sometimes, you might need a little order to your eating, whether you’re IFing or not. And that’s totally fine.

9. You’re actually at a healthy weight and your body is “keeping” you from dropping any more.

I know, I know: your body is a huge jerk and he says mean things to you. But sometimes the body knows best. Sometimes, our current body composition is where we’re supposed to be, even if we only have a four or a two-pack (or none at all). Recall the natural bodybuilder who, upon dropping from 14.8% body fat to 4.5%, also dropped his metabolic rate, his body temperature, his heart rate, his testosterone levels, and his moodiness. Recall that women deposit fat differently than men and actually need some body fat for optimum fertility and health. Instead of obsessing over a few more percentage points on the body fat scale, think about how good you’re feeling, how your health issues have cleared up, and how you enjoy movement more. And if you want to alter your body composition, focus on addition – lifting heavy things, sprinting – rather than subtraction. You might be right where you’re supposed to be.

One final point: Note that I’m not saying eating too few calories or exercising too much or focusing too much on diet to the exclusion of all else will make you gain weight. I’m saying that it can lead to or exacerbate a stall in your weight loss. It’s a small distinction, but an important one.

That’s it for today, folks. Anything look familiar? Anything jump out at you? What have I forgotten? Be sure to skim the last article after reading this one to make sure it’s not something I’ve already covered.

Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Confused…in the bodybuilder example in the post, surely “dropping moodiness” is a GOOD thing?

    MissJelic wrote on March 7th, 2013
  2. At first, this was supposed to be so simple: just cut out refined carbs, eat plenty of protein, and get some exercise. Suddenly, it’s not that simple. The process is being hyper-analyzed and getting very complicated. I don’t have time to sit around and wonder which of the nine or combination of the nine is hindering weight loss. Makes me want to eat a Big Carl combo.

    Rex wrote on March 7th, 2013
    • Haha, nice.
      Sounds good right now.

      David wrote on March 8th, 2013
  3. I struggle with 1 and 2. I have trouble watch TV or Reading without feeling like I need to be eating at the same time. Also I have found I have a nut addiction. Can anyone relate? If I start eating nuts, I keep eating them and I don’t want to stop. I try to stay away entirely, because 95% of the time I don’t want to stop if I start! Does anyone have any idea why they are so addictive for me? Has anyone else experienced this?

    Leah wrote on March 7th, 2013
  4. Nice post. I’ve been sugar free for the last five months and have lost a considerable amount of weight. I put it down to not only the lack of sugar but also you look at every bit of food twice before you consider eating it.

    Amanda wrote on March 7th, 2013
  5. Oh well, seems like all the fun stuff is taboo… 😉

    I won’t have problem N° 6, that’s for sure! I could certainly use more exercise.
    But I wonder: If someone really does exercise too much… is that person really having weight problems (apart from not being fashion-model thin)?

    LadyG wrote on March 8th, 2013
  6. Hidden stress… that’s me, except mine isn’t so hidden and is sleeping in her crib as I type this lol 😉

    LisaL wrote on March 8th, 2013
  7. I hit a plateau recently in my quest to lose body fat. I had not seen the point about too much exercise before and I do an aweful lot of walking everyday because I always thought it was going to help me with my weight goals (and save on bus fare :)). I think I am well above that 4000 calories mark a week. Maybe it is time to back it off a bit…

    Donny wrote on March 8th, 2013
  8. I plead guilty to #1, #2 and #4. And the result is unfortunately definitely not #9.

    dennis wrote on March 8th, 2013
  9. Your first comment on mindless eating is so true. You should make yourself dedicate time to eating your meals and by this I mean actually put your food on a plate, sit down at the kitchen table and just eat, nothing else. No reading, watching tv, etc. Train yourself to eat in this manner and you will enjoy your food more and eat less.

    Jessie wrote on March 8th, 2013
  10. Hi everyone.

    I lived the primal lifestyle for 6 months last year, no cheating, I did it all to the letter. The results were….? I lost 2lbs of the 68lbs I needed to lose just to be at the top range for a healthy weight for my height.

    You will be surprised to hear that this did not put me off. My conclusion…? The primal way of eating was fantastic in switching off completely sugar cravings and maintaining my body weight. This meant for me that I had a very efficient metabolism and if I stuck to this way of eating all that I would need to do would be to ‘tweak’ it slightly for weight loss.

    It has taken me over a year, but now I have finally reached my goal by doing just this. How…? I increased my fat intake and I put in 1 or 2 IF days a week (not every week, but most). By increasing my fat intake I am able to feel full quicker and more sated. For me, as I’m sure everyone will be different, increasing fat was truly the key. I can now eat some of the things I used to love and I maintain my new weight with ease.

    My conclusion is that one size does not fit all and to win you have to be your own scientist. Stick with Mark’s rules, but do some tweaking. Isn’t life wonderful?

    Michelle wrote on March 9th, 2013
  11. This is a great addition to your article “17 reasons why you’re not losing weight”. I found both articles extremely helpful and thoughtful.

    Dan P. wrote on March 9th, 2013
  12. Also if you’re not drinking enough. Water tricks your stomach to be full, so you don’t overeat

    Adam wrote on March 10th, 2013
  13. Have to hand it to Mark, another well balanced and spot on article with easy to implement strategies. It’s refreshing to keep seeing a balanced approach to health and fitness without the zealot mentality!

    Paleo Nouveau wrote on March 10th, 2013
  14. 10. You’re drinking too much wine.

    Lots of primal folks believe that since they’ve cut out the refined carbs then they can drink wine regularly without any downside, but this is bullshit. The truth is that the Universe is not that kind to us humans: you cannot get half drunk every night on two or three glasses of wine and expect to be a healthy person. Yes, wine has been consumed for about 5000 years, but would you trust 5000 years worth of semi-drunken advice? Forget it. After being primal for 4 years I had to finally concede that two glasses of wine per night, with a few days off here and there, was not cutting it. I could see the adipose layer building up despite (or because of?) my strict primal eating. Effects will vary among individuals but there’s bound to be a universal trade-off associated with alcohol consumption, and I’m not even talking about the obvious downsides that everyone worries about. If you drink alcohol regularly I recommend that you stop for a while and see what happens. It can’t hurt….and if it does then you know you had a problem.

    mikehell wrote on March 12th, 2013
    • I like the excuse that wine has Reservatol in it. Yeah well so do grapes, so why not just eat the damn grapes!

      Also, i used to be able to drink, but now even if i drink a glass of wine (which usually goes hand in hand with arrowroot flour based birthday cake at parties), for the next few days i turn into a BALOON READY TO BURST everytime i eat. If I eat ONE BITE of something, even if its meat, i feel like i’m going to blow up. I think the combination of the sterilizing alcohol and the sugars in wine cause terrible bacterial overgrowth.

      rachel wrote on March 17th, 2013
  15. I think a possible reason for women doing a bit better by eating on schedule is the “homekeeper” stereotype [or evolutionary role?].
    If primitive women spent most of their time around the camp or close to it, foraging, doing camp work, then they’d probably have some of their members preparing meals that they all shared from the tribe’s food stores.
    The men out hunting and probably roaming farther would be on the go and a full meal could impede their survival work (ever accidentally stave off a workout – a run especially – with a meal?).

    Animanarchy wrote on March 14th, 2013
  16. My girlfriend was victim to #3 for years at no fault of her own. As with many people it was simply a lack of understanding or information on the topic.

    When we moved in together I began to educate her on the subject and she has gradually upped her calories, (coming from real foods of course ;).

    She has also become hooked on coconut oil and (surprise surprise) since beginning all this has felt great and seen legitimate results in the fat loss department.

    Nick wrote on March 15th, 2013
  17. 10) You aren’t drinking enough water.

    jason wrote on March 15th, 2013
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  19. I have been easing my way into paleo over the summer. First, I removed all gluten and nearly all grain (no pasta, rice, bread or white potatoes). The only grain has been 1-2 times a week (GF crackers). I had also been speed-walking/running for 40 minutes daily.

    Two weeks ago, I added in circuit/weight training (40 minutes which includes stretching) following 20-30 minutes interval walking or running (keeping heart rate in 140’s). Some evenings, I will go for a bike ride (6-13 miles) or follow a DVD to help with particular issues, like knees.

    I have Hashimoto’s — in second year of treatment. I’ve lost weight a few times in my life, but it’s never been this hard.

    I am 41 yearsbold, 5′ 3″ and weigh 131 pounds. I lost 4 pounds (of something) the first week. No change in the second. I lost an inch off my waist. My muscles are more defined. My bloating and bowel issues have ceased. I would still like to lose 10 more pounds (at least) because I’m still too thick. I know what my body looks like when I’m really fit. Moreover, I want be continue focusing on putting in food good for me and enjoying an active life. I am also planning to start meditating.

    I definitely have my share of stress — not so fabulous marriage and two tween/teen sons I homeschool.

    Thank you for your list. I’m going to start by cutting back on the nuts and the evening snacking. I don’t think it’s excessive considering I only eat two meals, but perhaps it’s a culprit. I did make a couple fruit crisps which used almond flour this week of which I had one serving of each. And, I ate some dark chocolate. Gosh, it’s hard to change/give up so much at once.

    Dawn K wrote on August 8th, 2013
  20. hi everyone i especially agree with #4 – im 49 4’10 asian and weight of 125 (very over my size) for about 2 years now my husband had been making me lunch consist of salad nuts and veges (during work) i intake every 2-3 hrs then at home i walk on treadmill, it did work i was so happy – then found out about green tea from dr oz, so i purchased thinking it would enhance my lost of weight, but it went the opposite direction green tea made me blotted, still thinking thats how the pill works, so i kept on taking green tea and my mid section got huge (looks pregnant), now im having the most difficulty just getting slimmer which brings me stress and frustration!!!

    dulce mendoza wrote on September 6th, 2013
  21. Agreed! Mindless eating and pleasurefoods are habits hard to break. It takes decipline to really focus on what you are doing on a daily basis. But sometimes we often search for quick weightloss solutions. I always reccomend people have a health nutritional pattern or habit while on medications or any other weight loss supplements. Thanks for sharing, bookmarked.


    Cathie Saines wrote on September 19th, 2013
  22. Hi there. I came across your blog via a google search on why I’m not losing weight. I’ve been working out with a trainer for the past 2 months. I started around the end of July, two days a week for an hour. At the end of August we moved to 3 days a week for an hour. He has me doing what he calls “functional training”, which consists of a little of everything. Some crossfit type stuff like flipping tires and swinging a sledgehammer, some more traditional gym stuff like squats and lunges, free weights, and a little bit of boxing. It varies from day to day, but I’m really enjoying the workouts. I’ve also added more exercise on the ‘non workout days’, things like easy cycling, walking, and hikes with the family. On top of that, I’ve eliminated soda (diet, as well as sugary) and fast food from my diet almost completely, as well as working to limit my ‘bready’ carbs (not entirely successfully, but it’s been an improvement from before at least). I’m a 5’8″ male, started this program at 279 pounds and 39% body fat, we take a weigh and measure each week. I’m now at 275 and 35.9% body fat, which by my math means I’ve lost about 10 pounds of fat and gained about 6 pounds of muscle (is that correct math?). So, my question is, do you think I should be satisfied with these results in 8 weeks? I get frustrated when I step on the scale and it hasn’t even crept under 270 yet. I know that the weight is not the only goal, but I also know that at 5’8″ tall, I am going to need to lose 75-100 pounds or more to be at a healthy weight, no matter how you slice it. I realize that the diet changes I have made may not be enough to get me to the end goal, but I feel like they should have been enough, when combined with the increased exercise, for me to see some initial drops in weight. Gah, I feel all complainy, but anyway… I like your site, will keep reading. :)

    Subversive wrote on October 1st, 2013
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