Why do some people gain weight despite weight-loss efforts?

If you are trying to lose weight and you are still not losing weight, you are not properly keeping track of calories in vs. calories out. Try logging your food for a month so you get an idea of how many calories you are actually consuming. There are also calorie-tracking devices that you can purchase to help you get an idea of how many calories you are burning. If you are still not losing weight after doing those things, you may have a medical condition causing the weight gain and may want to consider seeing your physician.

Weight loss efforts don't always translate into weight loss. The problem is that we automatically associate weight loss with deprivation. Fact is - weight loss is basic energy utilization - there are 3500 calories in a pound, burn more than that and you will lose weight. Many people ascribe to fad diets, think they are eating fewer calories than they are, make misassumptions about how many calories they are burning via exercise, and have trouble with "stealth" calories such as those found in soda, condiments, all the add ons when eating out etc. There are no formulas or magic pills or bullets - it's about dropping the number of calories, keeping active, and making changes that are sustainable for life.

Weight loss through cutting calories results have often been less than expected. People have been told that reducing caloric intake by 500 calories a day will cause them to lose a pound a week; researchers at the National institute of Diabetes say that a more realistic formula provided you stick to the caloric reduction would be a 50 lb. weight loss over three or more years. The weight loss rule of 3500 calorie per pound rule ignores the body's adaptation to altered body weight and the basal metabolism rate[ which is the body's resting metabolism or burning of calories and the need for calories. This basal metabolism rate actually decreases or slows down so as you lose weight your need for baseline calories decreases as the basal metabolic rate decreases.

Ultimately it comes down to not creating enough of a calorie deficit to induce weight loss. Some people aren't successful in their weight-loss efforts because they are not self-monitoring and tracking what they are doing. The average person underestimates his food intake by as much as 33% and overestimates his physical activity by about the same amount.

It takes a lot of physical activity to burn a significant number of calories and very little food to eat a significant number of calories. For example, if a person walks an extra 2½ to 3 miles to work off two cookies, that's approximately 45 minutes to walk off about 30 seconds of eating.

Thinking in these terms, it’s not surprising that straying just a little from your food plan or your physical activity goals can affect your weight-loss efforts. Trying to stick to a weight-loss plan on your own can be difficult, even daunting. Weight Watchers gives you a structured program that teaches you how to make the right choices to lose weight and keep it off, and gives you the skills to use them in every situation.

Weight Watchers offers a comprehensive approach to weight loss that can help you reach your goals.

There are many variables that affect individuals in the quest for weight loss. It is important to understand there are three sciences at work in regards to weight loss - Physical/Biological/Behavioral. There are factors in each science that can contribute to weight gain. I will focus on the physical sciences and potential hurdles that can arise.

Physical science indicates that in order to lose weight an individual must be in an energy deficit (consume less energy then they expend). The first hurdle that occurs for individuals is under reporting caloric intake. Various studies have reported that normal weight individuals under-report by 20%, and the obese population upwards to 40%. This under reporting can be a conscious or unconscious behavior. An example of unconscious would be a lack of education in nutritional values of food, and a misunderstanding of serving sizes. This example would lead to potential weight gain. 

Another hurdle is the weight scale as the only litmus test in regards to weight loss. If you asked any individual if body fat is what they want their weight loss to come from, they would answer yes immediately. Unfortunately, the weight scale does not assess what type of weight you are losing or gaining (muscle, fat, water). It is quite possible an individual shows a net gain on the scale, but the fact is the individual lost 5 lbs. of fat and gained 6 lbs. of muscle. In this example the individual is doing a great job, but the scale incorrectly states otherwise. 

I have discussed just a few factors that would contribute to weight gain despite weight loss efforts. I cannot understate the importance of looking at all sciences for potential weight gain. 

Obesity is a very complicated medical problem. There are physical, medical, and psychological issues that contribute to this problem. That being said, may people continue to gain weight because of misinformation about the nutritional quality of the foods they eat, the balance of proteins/carbs/fats they consume, and the timing of their meals.

By doing a body composition and diet analysis we can often identify the challenges that prevent appropriate weight loss and help a person get on track.
Even a good weight loss program doesn’t always show you the results you want on the scale. If the numbers are increasing – there may be a few reasons.

Kat Barefield, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
For many people, it boils down to a combination of two factors 1) lack of movement, especially throughout the day, and 2) misjudging calorie intake. For others, emotional eating sabotages weight loss efforts.
Most people who are trying to lose weight have the best intentions and truly desire to lose weight. Yet despite this, they tend to follow the 80/20 rule. That is, they follow their nutrition and exercise plan 80% of the time, but the other 20% of the time they over-indulge or unintentionally miss calories. In fact, most people underestimate the calories they eat by 20-50% despite best intentions. In one classic study, obese participants tracked calories and reported eating only 1,000 calories a day. (They blamed a slow metabolism for their inability to lose weight). After weighing and measuring all the food they consumed throughout the course of a day, researchers demonstrated that they ate twice as much – 2,000 calories a day. Their metabolism was also measured and was appropriate for their age, height, weight. In other words, nothing was wrong with their metabolism. So, if you’re eyeballing portions or if you’re not tracking calories, it may be time to boost your calorie IQ. Keep a food log and use a food scale, measuring cups and spoons to measure what you eat. If you’re like most, you’ll have to retrain your brain on the proper portions for your body.
If you’re sedentary most of the day and exercise a few times a week, it’s time to kick up your physical activity by limiting your sitting time to no more than 2 hours at a time. Take short walks, stand and pace whenever you can. One 20 minute walk burns 100 calories. If you do that daily, you'll lose 10 pounds after a year. Bottom line-move at every chance you get. Vven fidgeting burns more calories.
If emotional eating is a challenge for you – tackle it head on and commit to overcoming it. I recommend the books “Feeding a Hungry Heart” and “A Course in Weight Loss.” Also, Dr. Michelle Cleere and I did a webcast on emotional eating on 1/27/11. You can watch it here
As you make positive changes by moving more and eating fewer calories, it’s just a matter of time before you start losing. Stay persistent, focus on what you’re doing right, learn something from your setbacks and you WILL succeed.

To lose weight many of us give up unhealthy foods and replace them with healthy choices, which is good, but we often neglect to pay attention to portion sizes. Even healthy foods can cause weight gain if they are eaten in excess. Anytime you are eating more calories than you are burning, you will gain weight. To help understand how many calories you are consuming, it is important to keep a food log. If you've never logged your food before, it might be a wake up call. I have personally struggled in this area; eating a healthy, low fat diet was not helping me lose weight and I would get discouraged. So I started logging my calories. To my shock I was still eating well over 2500 calories a day in healthy food! My problem was portion control and excess snacking. As you begin to log your food, you start to recognize serving sizes and understand the calories in each portion.

Weight-loss will also be much slower if you have only changed your diet, but neglect fitness. Fitness is essential to weight loss and good health. Fitness doesn't have to be anything complicated; just start moving. Start walking every day, get up every hour to move around, or do laps up and down the stairs in your home. The key is move your body, because your body is 'made to move.'

Be patient and don't give up. Don't expect quick results because quick results are rare and often are caused by extreme, and unhealthy measures. Slow and steady results - a pound or two a week - are healthy and sustainable. During the process you are creating healthy habits to last your life.

In the beginning of a weight loss program it can be common to gain some weight because you are building muscle mass through exercise. Muscle weighs more than fat, and although building muscle will help you lose more weight in the long run, during the first few weeks of your program your weight may go up on the scale. Do not get discouraged, as this means you are on the right track with your program, and soon the weight on the scale will begin to decrease. If, over time, you find you are still gaining weight despite your weight loss efforts then it is important to start tracking and measuring your food to be sure you aren’t eating hidden calories you were unaware of that may be causing weight gain. You also want to be sure you are exercising at a high enough intensity level to create the calorie deficit you desire. Burning an extra 500 calories per day will enable you to lose 1 pound of body fat per week.  

Weight loss efforts is very subjective in nature.  Over a short period of time you could follow a program perfectly and have a large water retention day and your weight be up.  Over a long period of time however no one who I personally have ever worked with when following a program that I designed for weight loss has ever gained weight on that program.  We understand the mechanics of weight loss.  If you are willing to follow a program as designed you will lose weight.  You can take that to the bank.
Sometimes people gain weight during their weight loss goals.  However this should not be feared as a set back or failure.  Simply you maybe gain some muscle in the process and still lost body fat.  Simply put if you lost 3 pounds of fat and gain 4 pounds of muscle you have gained weight.  However since muscle is less dense than fat is you can look skinner even though your weight has gone up.  Eventually as you gain more muscle your metabolism will get faster and you will lose more weight and bodyfat in the long run.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Researchers are beginning to discover factors that link appetite, sleep and body weight. And as bizarre as it may sound, conditions that cause sleep eating may be the reason some people continue gain weight despite their best weight-loss efforts.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.