Why is losing weight so hard? How to overcome barriers to weight loss
Long-term weight loss can be a difficult process.
If you're on a weight loss journey, you've probably found yourself wondering time and time again: why is it so hard to lose weight?
The good news is you're not alone. Weight loss is a long process and involves plenty of ups and downs. It's not a linear journey, making it easy to get discouraged along the way.
But long-term weight loss is attainable: you just need to have the right resources and support by your side. We've put together a comprehensive guide on why losing weight is so hard, what you can do to make it easier, and how to make sure you keep the weight off for good.
How does weight loss work?
If you've been struggling to lose body weight and want to get to the bottom of why this is happening, it's important to first understand how weight loss works. Did you know that during weight loss you don't actually lose your fat cells? Rather, they shrink as their contents are used for energy expenditure .
So how do you shrink fat cells? At its most basic level, weight loss involves a formula that you've probably heard before: lower your energy intake and boost your energy expenditure.
By entering a calorie deficit, you can support your body to shed any excess fat. But this equation isn't the only factor impacting your weight loss progress.
Why is it so hard to lose weight?
Having trouble losing weight and feeling like your body is working against you when it comes to losing weight? You're not entirely wrong, thanks to a hormone called leptin.
Leptin tells your body when you have enough fat cells and that your appetite can be decreased . If you're carrying excess weight, you'll likely have higher levels of leptin which can lead to leptin resistance. This can make it harder for your body to tell you when to stop eating .
The good news? There are ways to navigate leptin resistance to achieve weight loss:
- Avoid processed foods
- Eat more soluble fibre
- Increase your exercise
- Work towards improving your sleep quality
Eating more protein can also be helpful as a way to feel fuller for longer, but be mindful that those with digestive and kidney diseases may not benefit from this approach .
Other potential factors like lifestyle, diet changes, and even your motivation levels can also make it difficult to achieve weight loss.
Common barriers to weight loss
Want to get into the right mindset to achieve sustainable weight loss? Great!
Let's look at some of the reasons why your weight loss efforts aren't delivering the results you want, as well as some ways to overcome these barriers.
You've hit a weight loss plateau
The most common barrier is hitting a weight loss plateau. This happens after the first phase of initial rapid weight loss, and as your body adapts to the lower caloric intake and higher energy expenditure, your weight loss starts to stagnate.
This can lead to taking more drastic measures such as yo-yo dieting, which is one of the reasons that only 10-20% of people achieve permanent weight loss .
If you've got a workout routine you enjoy, and a diet that keeps you in a negative energy balance (a.k.a. calorie deficit), try to play the long game and work through this plateau period as best you can (even though it can be frustrating).
Instead, consider refocusing your attention on prioritising rest, lowering your stress levels or even working with your doctor to explore strategies such as following a low-calorie diet plan.
You aren't in the right mindset
Motivation is key to achieving weight loss . But motivation is hard to sustain, especially when life gets in the way.
Often we let things like the weather, lack of time, or low mood dictate what we eat and how often we work out. Changing your mindset to make these things non-negotiable can help take away the decision-making process and keep you on track to reach your weight loss goals.
You have thyroid problems
Your thyroid is a gland in your neck that helps regulate your body, including your metabolism. If your thyroid is under-active and not producing enough hormones, it can result in a slowed metabolism and weight gain .
If you're confident you are in a negative energy balance, are eating the right foods in the right quantity, and are committed to your workout plan, a trip to your GP to get your thyroid checked might be in order.
You're feeling stressed
Did you know that stress produces a hormone known as cortisol? This hormone leads to higher levels of insulin, which can cause blood sugar crashes  as well as increase the chance of craving sweets and even junk food.
Taking some time to learn how to manage stress, whether that's through meditation, journaling, breathwork or even getting active, could improve your mental health and fix your stress and appetite levels.
You're not getting enough sleep
Poor sleep can increase your appetite and can lead to poor food intake decisions, like grabbing something sweet for a sugar rush.
Want to know how to improve sleep and give your weight loss a boost? Exercise is a powerful tool you can use.
Keeping the same bedtime routine and sleep schedule can be a helpful way to improve poor sleep. Avoiding caffeine later in the day, reducing screen time, and creating a dark, peaceful sleep space can all help, too.
You're on medication
Some medications like birth control, antidepressants and diabetic medication can prevent you from losing weight, even when you're doing everything else right.
Head to your trusted GP to see if this could be what's making it difficult for you to lose weight.
You aren't eating the right food
Finding the right meal plan or dietary changes needed to lose weight can be more challenging than it sounds. That's because even healthy food can have a high calorie count.
For example, things with high healthy fats, such as nuts and avocado, while healthy, might push your calorie intake too high.
The key here is to understand calorie density (a.k.a. how energy-rich certain foods are) to make informed decisions about how often you eat calorie-rich foods, and in what quantities, and create healthy eating habits you can maintain.
Long work hours
This one can be a big challenge. Working long hours or shift work can make it difficult to find the time to cook healthy homemade meals and get the ideal amount of exercise.
Try parking further away from your job to get incidental activity like an increased step count and meal prepping during your free time to make sure that you get a healthy balanced meal, even when you're short on time.
How many calories should you eat to lose weight?
Wanting to lose weight fast is common, but this isn't sustainable weight loss and can lead to fad diets. So, how many calories should you consume per day?
Unfortunately, there's no magic number because it all depends on your starting weight and your activity levels. Rather than thinking of a specific number, it's important to aim for a negative energy balance.
How do you achieve a negative energy balance? By consuming fewer calories than the energy that you expend . A simple way of thinking about this is that calories out should be higher than calories in.
For successful weight loss, you should aim for an energy deficit of around 500-1000 calories per day to lose roughly a kilo per week. But remember to reduce your caloric intake in a way that feels sustainable, otherwise, you might be more likely to overeat and blow your calorie budget when those cravings hit.
Can you lose weight without exercise?
There are 2 things you need to achieve weight loss success. A calorie deficit and physical activity.
While you may be able to achieve a negative energy output just by drastically reducing your calorie intake, it's often not sustainable, and it's usually not a healthy approach.
Cardio exercise and strength training are both recommended in moderation to help people lose excess weight, and an added benefit is they can act as disease prevention. Improved fitness can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer .
While it's recommended to do physical activity every day, with a weekly average of 150 minutes of moderate (or 75 vigorous) aerobic exercise and 2 strength training sessions , it is also possible to lose weight without exercise.
This can be done by reducing your overall daily calories through food choices, portion sizes, and prioritising high protein and high fibre foods.
And remember, even simple movements like boosting your step count, gentle stretching or taking the stairs can make a big difference over the long term, too.
How to lose weight sustainably and keep it off
Losing weight is tricky, and keeping it off can be even trickier. While diet and exercise are a great place to start, if you're not seeing the results you want, it may be time to consider a holistic weight loss program with added support.
Approaching weight loss holistically can help you feel good, inside and out. Juniper’s Weight Reset Program is a science-backed pathway for long-term weight loss. It combines medication with access to 1:1 health tracking, health coaching, and a community of like-minded women to help you lose weight for good, and feel your best.
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