Why am I having so much trouble losing weight?

Craig B. Primack, MD
General Practice
Weight loss is hard because our bodies are programmed for times of famine. We have several overlapping systems that all work together to trigger us to eat. As we do one thing to counteract our hunger, the other system takes over and drives hunger through another pathway.

Two of our hormones that change when dieting are leptin and ghrelin. Simply, leptin keeps us feeling full and ghrelin triggers us to eat before meals. As we lose weight the fullness hormone decreases and the hunger hormone increases. Unfortunately this leads to increased hunger as we lose weight and less fullness. This effect has been shown to last at least a year after losing weight and is most likely the hormonal reason and pathway for weight regain after loss.

The answer lies in the Law of Thermodynamics which states that your weight will be determined long term by the relation between calories consumed versus calories expended.

Time and time again I hear people say they eat healthy or they exercise and make it a blanket statement.  It is very important to go much deeper than this and evaluate your habits and see what you are doing.  

  • How many calories are you taking in on a daily basis?
  • What is the timing of your meals?
  • What are your patterns?
  • What are your food choices?
  • How active are you?
  • How much moderate exercise are you doing?
  • How much intense exercise are you doing?

My point is you have to evaluate in depth what you are doing.  You have to take a step back and either yourself or a fitness professional to disect your current habits and look for holes.  The most important thing to remember is there is always a reason why you are not losing weight.  If you are not able to determine that then have a friend or fitness professional look at your habits and look for the limiting factor that is preventing the weight loss from happening.

Losing weight is difficult for so many people because they don't understand how their body works, and what it takes to make your body start feeding off of the fat you are trying so hard to lose.

The absolute last thing that you want to do if you are trying to lose weight is starve yourself.

And most people think that is exactly what they should be doing. Starving themselves. And that is so wrong. It does not work, and we were made to like food, so starving yourself is not any fun. No wonder it doesn't work that well.

The real fact though is that in order to start burning those extra calories you are storing (fat) you have to start feeding your body in a way that will make it believe you are not starving it.

To start off, skipping breakfast in the morning is a big no-no.

If you skip your breakfasts, you will never lose weight. Why? Because you are starving your body and your body will eat all of the muscle first before it ever starts to eat away your fat....if it believes it is starving.

This is a hard concept for a lot of people to grasp, but it's true.

By being consistant in your eating habits, and eating the right food, over the period of 30 days or so you can condition your body to start burning away all that fat.

But don't think you can burn all those extra pounds away without exercise.

You are going to have to combine exercise, diet, sleep and discipline in order to reach your weight loss goals.

So get the help you need from an experienced trainer who will set you up in a program designed just for you.
Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
There are many reasons why it is hard to lose weight. Change is hard. It takes concentration and sustained effort. When you start a weight loss program you have to not only eat differently but you also have to change how you shop, cook, eat out and even how you move. Making these adjustments takes time and energy. Most of all it takes desire. Without the desire to change, weight loss will be hard to achieve.
Too many people set themselves up for failure when trying to lose weight because they're working against their deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). "Much of the current thinking about diet and exercise isn't really consistent with how our bodies really work," says Robert Portman, PhD.

Certain modern lifestyle habits, like lack of sleep (less than eight hours per night), disrupt our genetically programmed metabolic pathways, elevating cortisol and creating inefficient nutrient processing. Crash dieting is another significant disruption to our built-in circuitry, which is why weight regain is such a common consequence of restrictive, short-term diets.
Dominique Adair

As evidenced by the current epidemic, weight loss is not easy, in fact it can be outright difficult, and scientists who study it will all testify to how complex it is.  From nature versus nurture discussions to conversations about different models of behavior change, one thing we all agree on is that it is complicated and can be difficult.  Despite this complexity, I think we can simplify (in some ways) the response -- Eat more fruits and vegetables, eat less processed foods and remain coherent about portions.  Move a little more, eat well, and possibly a little less, and you may have found the simple (though not necessarily easy) answer to a very complicated question.

I can relate personally to this question and discovered my answer to be my approach. What finally made the difference for me was to work towards my health from the inside out. For so many years I tried to lose weight based on my outer appearance. By addressing the weight on the inside that was holding me back, the physical results followed. Keep things simple.  It's not easy but really it can be simple. Take it one step at a time making small gradual changes that are sustainable.  You know what to do, the question is what is holding you back?  When you have your answer, write it down on a piece of paper as a limiting belief.  Release it so it can no longer hold you back and you are on your way.
In my 20 years in the fitness industry one answer has always proven correct and that is over a longer period of time if we are having trouble losing weight we are simply eating too much. Over a short period of time (less than a week) it can be a number of reasons but as the time goes on if weight loss isn't happening the calories are simply too high. Any answer other than that would be misleading. Always check your food if the weight will not come off and you can figure out the problem. There must be a caloric deficit to lose weight. That means your body must take in less than it needs to lose body fat.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

You wouldn't expect to be able to end a drug addiction overnight -- it takes a total lifestyle change. The same is true for people trying to lose weight and get fit, says personal trainer and Dr. Oz Show guest Drew Manning. In this video, he explains his journey from fit to fat to fit again and invites you to join him.

Pam Grout
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

The main problem with your past efforts to lose weight is you've been looking in the wrong place. You've been searching for answers outside yourself. You've turned to Richard Simmons, Denise Austin, and doctors in white lab coats. You've conned yourself into believing that somehow they knew more than you, that they had more wisdom than your very own body.

Through proper breathing, you learn to tune into your body. Breathing builds a bridge between your mind and your body. The two must become one. Most dieters wage all-out war on their bodies, despising them because they refuse to stay in line. Consequently, there's no harmony, no union - just this angry, never-ending tug-of-war. We blame our bodies for everything. We look in the mirror and feel sick, desperately wanting to trade them in for a different model. Consequently, we become cut off from our bodies. It's us against them. No wonder we can't lose weight. Maybe it's time to call a truce. Maybe it's time to do something radical, something like giving your body a little credit. Maybe, instead of constantly fighting it, you should actually sit down and invite it in for coffee.

Jumpstart Your Metabolism: How To Lose Weight By Changing The Way You Breathe

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Jumpstart Your Metabolism: How To Lose Weight By Changing The Way You Breathe

If you've tried every conceivable combination of diet and exercise and still can't shed those extra pounds, then perhaps you haven't discovered the hidden key to weight loss -- proper breathing. By...
Abby Ellin
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Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York–Presbyterian Hospital and president of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, believes that obesity is controlled by a “powerful biological system of hormones, proteins, neurotransmitters and genes that regulate fat storage and body weight and tell the brain when, what and how much to eat . . . Once people gain weight, then these biological mechanisms, which we’re beginning to understand, develop to prevent people from losing weight. It’s not someone fighting willpower. The body resists weight loss.”  
Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and Can't) Help

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Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and Can't) Help

We've been inundated lately with books and articles about childhood obesity. Most offer cultural critique or nutrition and exercise advice — in tones that are alternately appalled and patronizing. Few address the psychological, medical, cultural and developmental complexities affecting overweight kids. The truth is, many parents already know that Whoppers are fattening. What they don't know is how to effectively help an often discouraged, often reluctant kid on what will be a difficult, life-long journey. Abby Ellin, a journalist and former fat-camper whose parents' attempts to "save her" from fatness proved counterproductive, has had a lifelong interest in figuring out how they might have done it better, and an abiding compassion for overweight kids. In Teenage Waistland she shares the story of her own adolescent struggle with food and weight, and journeys with hope, skepticism, and humor through the landscape of today's diet culture. She visits camps and community programs, and talks to experts, kids and their parents, seeking to answer these questions: What can parents say that kids will hear? Why don't kids exercise more and eat less when they're dying to be thinner? What treatment methods actually work? Willpower, or surrender? Shame, or inspiration? Teenage Waistland is ultimately clarifying and provocative for anyone who's ever wrestled with weight issues. One size does not fit all when it comes to weight loss, and the better we understand that, the more likely we are to be able to help our kids.

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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.