Exercising and not losing weight? You are doing these mistakes

by Hara Hagikalfa on June 1, 2012 · 13 comments

exercising but not losing weight

It is generally advocated combining a diet with exercise in order to maximise any weight loss results. It makes sense as exercise will help in burning extra calories, increase metabolism get you fit and toned and also return a number of health benefits. Can’t go wrong with such a combination; right?

Well I am sure that there are a few people who would disagree with this. They follow this combination but they are not really getting anywhere. If you fall in that category of exercising and not losing any weight see what are some of the most common mistakes or what you could do better.

For those who like lists, you are not losing weight because of these reasons:

1. You are not pushing hard enough

2. You are not exercising consistently

3. You are doing too much aerobic

4. You eat more calories than what you burn

5. You are following the wrong diet

6. You are losing inches but not weight

7. You are not exercising for long enough

8. You have a medical problem or condition

1. Not pushing hard enough

If you never exercised before and are in general inactive even going around the block for a walk can provide your body with a considerable challenge. However, if you keep on repeating that walk every day your body will soon get used to it and the walk will stop returning much results. This doesn’t mean that you should stop going for a walk or that the walk does not keep you healthy. But is all about what are you looking to achieve.

Do you challenge your muscles?

Exercise will need to provide a considerable challenge to your muscles for them to adapt and grow. Ask yourself if your workout actually does that? Once your muscles and body systems are adapted to any challenge given and that challenge remains the same then first is not a challenge anymore and second it will actually have the opposite result. Here are some common habits you can change.

1. Introduce variety: If you have a certain routine which you have been following since you can remember then you could be not providing any challenge to your body. So you could be going to the gym and losing your fitness instead of gaining it. Try upping the stakes a bit. Increase the weights you are using or introduce new exercises. Interval kind of training tends to provide variety and intensity so why not give it a go. You could still be working the same muscles but with a different exercise.

If you are the type to go for a run instead of the gym then try a different route or try introducing some side stepping/running, stop on the side to do a couple of squats or a couple of arm exercises. Why not have one day of doing some resistance instead of going for a run. You can do as much in your living room as in a gym. This will also improve your running and provide variety and challenge.

2. Buddy proof your workout: I am a firm supporter of having a friend or an exercise buddy as it can keep you motivated, push each other and be company. However, it is nice to have company while exercising you should think if you spend more time talking than working. A common scene in a gym is seeing 2 women on the bikes spending 30min pedalling away and chatting. That is all good but I doubt if they have even noticed what they are doing or for how long or if it is actually doing anything. I am not being patronising here as men can do exactly the same only their preferred position is usually the weight machines.

The answer is, focus on exercise and have a workout plan. Some experts advocate that a short high intensity workout may be as good as or even better than long medium intensity workouts. Go for a full on 45min workout and then have time for a coffee with your buddy to chat. Have a workout plan, in terms of what you doing, how long and in what intensity and stick to it. If you just going and asking half way shall we do this now, shall we go there or try that, your workout is probably all over the place and missing the aim all together and you are standing around half the time doing nothing.

3. Avoid the TV and leave your phone out of reach: Most big gyms tend to have a series of TVs all around. It is easy to get in the mode of just watching them and lose complete focus of the workout. Same goes for the mobile phone. Do you tend to have long breaks answering your texts or emails or having a chat with a friend? Whether at home or at the gym avoid the TV stations and leave your mobile.

2. Inconsistent exercise

Exercising inconsistently can have the same results as not providing enough challenge. Time can be quite pressured for many people and keeping to a consistent gym visit or exercise regime can be hard work. Similarly some people could be working away often, or have family commitments which stop them from keeping to a time table resulting to exercising 2 days one week not at all the next, 3 days the week after and so on. Unfortunately this inconsistency does not help in building your fitness.

Try keeping to short intensive workouts. Have a 30 min workout which you could do from your living room for the days you can’t make it to the gym. Involve your kids, friend or partner and make it fun. Make it a routine; for example I had a colleague once who would pick her son from school and when they got home he would ‘supervise’ her to do her exercises. The child treated it as a game and had some responsibility in helping mummy, they would spend time together and my colleague would do her workout.

If you are travelling away you can work out in a hotel room or some hotels often may have a gym which you could use. Why not try a long walk or a run. Basically try making exercise as part of your daily routine, same way you brush your teeth every day or wash.

3. Too much aerobic

Don’t stay on the fat burning zone and add some resistance exercise. Relying too much on aerobic exercise could have the opposite results. During long duration aerobic exercise your body will release ‘stress’ hormones, cortizol being one of them. Depending on which time of the day you workout, aerobic exercise can be a very stressful business for the body. You could minimize cortizol secretion by eating carbs. However, the downside is that eating too much carbs can be calorific and also stress hormones tend to increase fat storage, especially around the abdomen (belly).

Long or short workouts?

I am sure that you have heard that the golden rule for burning fat is long duration, medium intensity aerobic exercise. However, studies have shown that short high intensity workouts can lead to increased metabolic rate post exercise. Also resistance exercise will help in increasing muscle mass which can result in increasing your metabolic rate. Resistance exercise is not only lifting weights. There are a number of exercises which use the bodies on weight and return as good results. In addition if you try pedalling on your bike on a high level you will find that this will provide resistance.

As mentioned above try to provide variety to your workout and use a combination of resistance and aerobic. It may be that you do one day resistance one day aerobic or break your workout in 2. Either way try to avoid the long gruelling fat burning zone aerobic machines’ workouts. 

4. I can get away with a treat post workout

Now this is the most common exercise mistake. I have actually seen a lot of ‘experts’ advocate that post workout is a window of opportunity to get away with that high calorie treat you like. Well your body does need some carbohydrates post workout as it will help with balancing your hormones especially if your workout is predominately aerobic. But throwing a sugar and calorie bomb in your body is not ideal and not helpful to your body. Yes your body will be storing the sugar in the muscles more efficiently but is so much sugar it will store. Often people tend to consume more calories in general with the thought that they can get away with it as they do exercise. See also: What to eat after your workout.

Think about this way: some people advocate that in an hour of zumba exercising you could use as much as 800kcal. This is not true for everybody and not 100% measured so it is likely to be less, but for our example will take it as granted. An average portion of cheesecake contains an average of 600kcal, a KFC meal contains an average of 1000kcal and a 25g packet of crisps contains an average of 200kcal. Do the maths and you may find yourself soon gaining weight instead of losing. Especially if combined with the above 2 mistakes, inconsistency and non- challenging. See also: How many calories to lose weight

5. Diet matters

Here it goes the same as above; exercise is not the passport to uncontrolled eating. If you want to lose weight just going to the gym may not return big results. If you are consuming 3000kcal a day it is only so much your body will burn in the gym, so don’t expect miracles as at best you may be breaking even. Unless off course you are an athlete and training is your job and in that case 3000kcal may not even be enough. However, even for athletes or people into body building who do consume high calorie diets, their actual diet does matter as well. What they eat and when or for what purpose of their training are all usually well planned aspects. So if you are in that category then advice an exercise dietician/nutritionist to work a plan for you. Read also: 10 most common dieting mistakes

For best results combine your exercise with a balanced healthy diet which aims in weight loss. Diet tends to be the major aspect of weight loss rather than exercise alone. It does depend on how much weight you are aiming to lose as you may be able to lose a couple of pounds with an extra day in the gym or with just cutting down slightly on your diet.

The diet aspect is not only important if you are overeating. Do remember that you need to be consuming sufficient amount of calories to fuel the exercise. If you are in a very low calorie diet or a fad diet exercising is unlikely to be wise. In such cases you could harm your health or you could actually be getting the opposite results. In a similar note think if your diet provides you with all the necessary nutrients and hydration you need as these aspects are important for your health and also for your weight loss and exercise regime.

6. Losing inches but not weight

Muscle weighs more than fat, fact. If you just rely on the scales you may find that they are not showing any weight change but your clothes may feel more comfortable. What it could be happening is that with exercising you are actually increasing your muscle mass which but you are actually losing some fat and also are getting toned. With exercise your body can change shape, especially as you get more toned.

If your weight hasn’t changed massively but your belly is actually going down then there is not cause for concern. Weight loss is not only about pounds but also fat loss. Moreover, if you pick a very fit and muscular person and weigh them you will find that they are not as light as you may think.

7. It’s too early

How long have you been exercising for? If you expect to lose masses of weight in one or two weeks then you may be not be tuned to reality. It does take 2-4 weeks for any exercise fitness gains to come. So yes you may be going to the gym for the past 3 weeks and haven’t noticed massive results apart from the muscle aches. Patience is the answer. Think that everybody is different and any changes in weight loss and fitness will take place according to each individual.

You may find that you lost more weight on the first week and then it reached a plateau. This doesn’t mean that you have to panic and exercise till you drop. It is about giving time. If you are obese you may lose some weight initially, whether be it more water or just your body is not used to the change. However, your body will adapt to any changes and the weight loss process will slow down. Same goes with the fitness increments. If you never walked going for a walk around the block will be a big deal for your muscles but give it a couple of weeks and they are accustomed to it. Also with obesity there a number of hormonal and other changes which have taken place over time. In result there is usually a resistance of the body to lose the weight. Time combined with a correct diet and an appropriate workout plan will do it.

8. Medical or otherwise

If you are doing all the right things with diet and exercise but you are struggling to lose the weight and probably notice that you are putting on weight then it may be good to consult your doctor or a medical professional. There are a number of health conditions which could influence your weight, with thyroid and hormonal imbalances such as menopause being two examples. Apart from health conditions, it could other things such as medication, vitamin deficiencies or dehydration which could lead to excess water retention or other weight related problems.

I always do recommend that people consult an appropriate professional before taking on exercise or a weight loss diet or making any changes on these aspects. Even if it is not your doctor who you consult, a good fitness professional should do a basic physical and health testing, in the form of a questionnaire or otherwise. Do not hide information from them thinking that it will be too much hassle otherwise. Sometimes the little details which will make the big difference.

Hara Hagikalfa
About the author

Hara is a certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor. She is currently in the process of becoming a certified Physiotherapist. You can connect with her on Facebook and Google+

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Dustin Deanne October 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I’ve been an active runner for about 2 years now. I run about 2.5 miles about 4-5 times a week with an occasional 5 mile run (about once a week). I’m pretty strong and weigh about 225 pounds but with that weight comes a ton of weight around my gut and love handles. I eat pretty decent but have had some dehydration problems in the past. I think my problem is the dehydration issue but am really unsure how much water to drink. I’ve heard as high as a galon a day. True?

Hara Hagikalfa November 3, 2012 at 10:59 am

Dear Dustin Deanne, in term on how much water to drink there isn’t a standard amount for everybody. Some medical/government organisations recommend an average of 2L a day which would be about 0.5 gallon. If it is a hot weather or you have been for a run you may want to keep well hydrated through the day and your run. However, you must be careful at the same time not to drown your body in water as this can have adverse effects. Best way is to carry a small bottle of water and drink slowly though the day rather than down a litre in one go (that’s not good for the body). If you are running you may want to replace some electrolytes with food or your drink.

Now about love handles, I must say that my observation is that people who tend to mainly run tend to have love handles. I think you would benefit a lot by adding a couple of resistance exercises. You don’t have to go a gym or even lift weights; you can do exercises such as push ups, pull ups or reverse crunches, the bridge etc. Look at the ‘How to get six pack abs without equipment’ article for more ideas. You could replace one of your runs with a resistance workout or just add a couple of them at the beginning of you run. Aerobic exercise and for prolonged time can be quite stressful for the body; if combined with a carbohydrate meal afterwards it could lead to storing that little bit of fat on your tummy.

Matilda February 16, 2013 at 12:52 am

A lb. of muscle and a lb of fat weigh the same! Volume vs. density makes muscle feel heavier than fat. I like your site, but this is one annoying false and misleading claim that gets put out there that frustrates dieters trying to explain weight gain and/or lack of weight loss.

Daniel Anderson March 3, 2013 at 12:21 am

Of course a pound of fat and a pound of muscle weigh the same. A pound of feathers and a pound of lead is the same too. A pound is a pound. Muscle is more dense than fat however, so for a given size, let’s say a cubic inch, muscle will weigh more. That is why they are saying that your body can weigh the same, but look smaller. Fat is being replaced with muscle, which for the same volume, weighs more.

Arianna MaCleadly March 10, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I’m 5’1″ and weigh 115 pounds, and I really want to tone my thighs, as I have a little fat and quite a bit of muscle which makes them look fat. I also want to lose the little fat on my belly, because you can see a six pack starting. Any advice???

Alisha Stoewer May 17, 2013 at 1:55 am

I have been working out not for over 3 weeks. I have given up all pop. And even been substituting my food with healthier choices. I actually think I have gained weight. I have list zero inches and zero pounds. I have also added a multi vitamin and drink a lot of water and I added protein shakes for breakfast so I make sure I get my calories. What is wrong with me?

Melanie June 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I have been going to the gym everyday for 1 hour for 3 years mostly doing running! I have increased my time from 30 seconds to 40 minutes since the first day I went to a gym! Sometimes I use a cross trainer but I find that doesn’t help me as much as running does! ! I had lost a heap of weight until this year! I started gaining weight! Not just a little bit but a lot! It has made me hate going to the gym and made me feel like my workout is pointless ! I don’t know what I should do? Should I make it harder? I have tried that and I just get to tired so I end up stopping before I want to or stopping and starting!

Corinne June 7, 2013 at 1:06 am

I wuit smoking in january and started the gym february. I do 2 days cardio and 2 days weights. I change routine as per trainer every 4-5 weeks. I also get measured. I have gained pounds and inches what am i doing wrong? I use fitness pal for calories and i am usually right on target with calories. I am so frustrated!

Nicole July 21, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I am 43, a vegetarian and have been athletic/active my entire life. up until 4 yrs ago, i could eat whatever, whenever as long as i played competitive sports or worked out at the gym 3-6 x a week. over the last 4 yrs i have gained 50 pounds! i work out HARD with a trainer 4x a week, went gluten free, started eating animal protein and STILL NOTHING! i have not lost any weight, fat or inches! in fact, my clothes are tighter! i have gone to the doc, endocrinologist, naturopth and nothing has helped or changed. my trainer is stumped, i am worried and i would LOVE if someone had some helpful input!

Gary October 11, 2013 at 4:34 pm

One of my biggest problem areas is the outside of my chest. Kind of chest/back area, starting below my armpits. I don’t have “manboobs,” but I am just wider and fatter on the sides so if I wear a shirt that fits fine in my belly region, it can be really tight around my chest, forcing me to wear a bigger size that is just too loose everywhere. Any tips on trying to reduce fat in that region? Thanks!

Tanya November 12, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Alisha, I was wondering if and when you started noticing a difference. Of course I am assuming you stuck with what you were doing. I have been walking/zumba for the past month and I haven’t lost any weight but I have lost just a few inches, but I feel like I should have lost more. Everyone keeps telling me it takes time, so I was wondering if you have seen any more results?

KylieK711 November 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm

A couple weeks ago I started being active on a daily basis. I am 5ft 3 and 200 lbs. I now exercise every day, either doing a 30 min program workout or an hour of walk/jog on a glider. I eat pretty healthy, plenty of veggies, no pop/candy, no much bread/pasta. I know I don’t eat 1200 cal in a day, but I don’t feel hungry so I don’t eat. I don’t know what I need to do to be able to lose weight. Very frustrated.

Kimberly Biggerstaff June 3, 2016 at 12:13 am

I go to the gym every day for at least an hour sometimes longer. I do 30 minutes on the stepper and another 30 on this other machine that reminds me of the mountain climber(I don’t know the name). I have been going consistently for 2 months and I’m at a plateau. I have lost 15 pounds but the last 2 weeks I haven’t lost any I have remained the same. Do you have any suggestions on what to do to get the weight loss started again? I only have 15-20 more pounds that I want to lose.

Leave a Comment