Exercising But Not Losing Weight? Here Are 5 Reasons Why

exercising but not losing weight

If you exercise yet struggle to lose weight, you are most likely frustrated and wondering what else you can do to make progress. As a personal trainer and professional in the exercise science and nutrition realm, I’m here to discuss what you are (or aren’t) doing that is stopping you from losing weight and how to fix it. 

Key Takeaways

  • If you are not losing weight despite exercising, you are not in a calorie deficit. To create one, you must reduce your calorie intake, increase your activity level, or both.
  • Eating healthy does not guarantee weight loss; you must track your calorie and macronutrient intake to ensure you do not overeat.
  • Aim to exercise at least four days a week and get 10,000 steps daily (non-exercise activity). Too often, people overestimate the significance of calories burned from a workout and under-prioritize non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).

If you need help staying motivated and progressing your workouts during your weight-loss journey, let Fitbod help. On average, a new Fitbod user who consistently trains 3 times a week for about 45 minutes will see a 34% strength increase after 3 months. Try Fitbod for free.

Weight Loss Overview

According to the Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome, the most critical factor in weight loss is a negative energy balance (calorie deficit). 

They stated that: 

According to a meta-analysis of several diet programs, calorie restriction (calorie deficit) was the primary driver of weight loss.

A calorie deficit occurs when fewer calories are consumed than the body needs to maintain weight. As a result, the body is forced to use its resources (fat and/or muscle) for fuel.

You can create a deficit by eating less food, increasing your activity level, or both. However, you must be strategic with these changes to avoid creating too large a deficit.

My general recommendation is to focus on losing weight slowly by losing 0.5-1% of your current body mass weekly. For example, if you weigh 230 lbs, aim for a 1.15 to 2.3 lb loss.

Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for Free.

Exercising & Weight Loss

exercising and weight loss

Research found that diet and exercise are the most significant combination for long-term weight loss. 

However, groups that just ate in a calorie deficit but did not exercise also lost a substantial amount of weight, further reinforcing the importance of diet for weight loss and demonstrating that while exercising is helpful, it is not essential.

When losing weight, you should view your workouts as an activity to aid in weight loss rather than the sole means to lose weight. 

Your workouts should focus on building and preserving muscle because the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn daily (even while at rest).

Training to burn as many calories as possible (e.g., cardio and high-intensity interval training) and training to preserve muscle (e.g., strength training) look very different, so prioritize the right one.

Related Article: Can I Lose Weight By Only Lifting Weights?

5 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight With Exercise (& how to fix it)

Here are five reasons why exercising isn’t leading to weight loss:

1. You Aren’t In A Calorie Deficit

As described above, weight loss occurs when you take in fewer calories than your body needs to sustain its normal state and activity levels. If you’re not in a deficit, your body will not burn fat for fuel and will not lose weight even though you’re exercising.

How To Fix It: Eat Less and Move More

  • Calculate your calorie target. Determine your maintenance level of calories (use this calculator). Decrease your estimated maintenance intake by 5-10% and track your rate of loss. If you lose 0.5-1% of your bodyweight weekly, continue with this calorie target. 

If you are not losing weight, decrease your intake by an additional 5-10% or increase your NEAT.

  • Increase your NEAT. Aim to get 8-10k steps daily from non-exercise activities (e.g., taking the dog for a walk, moving more daily).

2. You Aren’t Tracking Your Calories

People often think that if they eat healthy and exercise, they will automatically lose weight. However, you can eat plenty of healthy foods and exercise and still consume too many calories to lose weight.

If you are not tracking your calorie intake, you can easily overeat without knowing it. Or perhaps you are tracking your calories, but you’re not tracking accurately. 

If you don’t measure your portion sizes, ignore calories from drinks and alcohol, or forget to track your cooking oil, you consume more calories than you think.

How To Fix It: Log Your Daily Food and Drink Intake

Track your calories and macros (protein, fat, carbohydrates) daily, including weekends and dinners, to gauge how many calories you eat compared to your goal. 

Use a food scale to ensure that your portions are accurate, especially for fats such as oil, peanut butter, nuts, and cheese.

3. You Aren’t Exercising Enough

Exercise can help you increase your energy expenditure and preserve lean muscle mass, allowing you to burn more calories and aid in weight loss.

To be clear, if you struggle to lose weight, the bulk of the issue comes from your diet because you can’t out-exercise a bad diet; however, if you only exercise 1-3 days a week, you would benefit from increasing your exercise frequency.

How To Fix It: Workout 4-5 Days a Week 

Exercising 4-5 days a week can help you burn more calories, maintain lean muscle mass while dieting, and motivate you to make better food choices.

People tend to eat better on days when they workout because they don’t want their hard work to “go to waste”, so training more frequently may help you stick to your calorie target more consistently.

Ultimately, the more consistent you can be with your plan, the faster you’ll see results.

Related Article: What Is The Best Split For Fat Loss?

4. Need to Sleep More

need to sleep more

Sleep is critical for regulating hunger hormones, promoting recovery, and improving brain function. 

Therefore, insufficient sleep can increase cravings, negatively impact your workouts, decrease your NEAT, and increase stress levels. All of which makes it difficult to lose weight.

The Obesity Society, a published peer-reviewed research journal, found that individuals who slept less than 7 hours a day OR more than 9 hours a day had a higher morbidity rate (overweight and obesity), especially for women.

Based on this research, you should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

How To Fix It: Improve Sleeping Habits

  • Create a nighttime routine. If you struggle to get into sleep mode, start by creating a consistent routine leading up to your bedtime. Creating a routine is often one of the most challenging hurdles for people with irregular sleep schedules.

Aim to wind down 60-90 minutes before you hit the pillow by limiting screen time (phone, iPad, computer, TV), decreasing the intensity of your home lighting (yellow instead of bright white), and creating a cool, dark environment in your bedroom. 

  • Don’t nap after lunchtime. Napping can be a great way to catch up on sleep and encourage recovery; however, napping later in the afternoon may impact your sleep at night. 

Avoid napping within 8-10 hours of your planned bedtime to see if your sleep quality improves.

5. You Have Other Health Issues

If you struggle to lose weight despite following this list, you may need to consult your doctor to determine if other medical issues are making it more difficult.

How To Fix It: Consult Your Doctor

It is always wise to see your doctor annually (if not twice per year) for a complete check-up. Consult your doctor and discuss any concerns regarding your test results.

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.