SparkPeople’s Nicole Nichols: Top 5 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight

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As a personal trainer and health coach at SparkPeople.com, one of the busiest weight loss websites in the world, I've counseled thousands of people on how to lose weight safely and effectively. Weight loss can be quite tricky and time-consuming. It takes willpower, hard work, know-how and dedication. For many people, there's no worse feeling than making so many difficult changes and sacrifices—only to step on the scale and find out it was all for nothing. When you feel like you're doing all the right things but not losing weight, what gives? Instead of pulling your hair out, read my list of the top five reasons you're not losing weight—and take a good, honest look at yourself. With these tips, you'll be losing again in no time.

5 You're Lazy

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No, I'm not saying people who are overweight are inherently lazy. But the most common "lazy" behavior of struggling dieters is a failure to measure and track what they eat. Many studies have shown that people tend to grossly underestimate how many calories they eat, and overestimate how "healthy" their diets actually are, too. While you may think you're making sweeping changes to your diet or that your portion sizes line up with what a nutrition facts label tells you a single serving really is, chances are greater that your eyeballing skills probably aren't so trust worthy.

The fix: Measure, write down and track everything you eat like it's your job. Get out your measuring cups and spoons, invest in an inexpensive kitchen scale and use a food tracking website or app like SparkPeople. Yes, it will be time consuming and kind of annoying at first, but it does get easier and you will learn to trust your own eyes to do the job soon enough.

4 You're a Cheater

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There are a lot of diet plans and diet "gurus" that advocate a regular cheat meal or cheat day or cheat week, meaning that you eat "on plan" for a certain number of meals or days, then can eat anything on your "this makes you fat" list with reckless abandon—as long as it's only one hour/meal/day/etc., as if that magical length of time means those calories don't really make a difference. Even if you're following your own diet plan, perhaps you notice that you can only stick to a diet for so long before you mess up or give in and "cheat" on your diet. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this kind of cheating can completely undo the progress you made in the many days before—essentially setting you right back to where you started. For any diet to work, you have to be really consistent. It is VERY hard to eat fewer calories to create the caloric deficit for weight loss, but it is extremely easy to overeat.

The fix: My best advice for any diet is to ask yourself this: Can I eat this way forever? If the diet is very restrictive, puts tons of foods on a "bad" list that you can't have (even though you love them) or is so low in calories that you can barely function, you are bound to cheat. Very few people have the willpower to stick to such painful and depriving eating plans. Be skeptical of anything that lets you "cheat" as part of the rules, as that usually means the diet is too restrictive and you're not really learning to eat for life.

3 You're Exercising—But That's It

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It's not your fault that you believe exercise is the key to weight loss and the ultimate body. We are bombarded with marketing messages that tell us fitness is what makes you slim, attractive, buff and healthy. Just look at all the before and after photos used to market gyms, DVDs, fitness plans and gizmos. Do they ever talk about diet? Hardly. But is diet essential to getting the weight-loss and body-sculpting results you see? Yes—probably even more than the exercise! If you can change nothing about your lifestyle other than adding some exercise—and still lose weight consistently—consider yourself a genetic marvel. Some people can do it, but it is very rare. The vast majority of the rest of us need more than exercise to lose weight: We also need to change our diets to eat fewer calories.

The fix: You can't out-exercise a bad diet. It takes a ton of effort and energy to burn even just a couple hundred calories, but it doesn't take much more than a little willpower to choose not to have that 200-calorie latte. For best weight-loss results, you need both: calorie reduction from your diet and calorie burning from exercise.

2 You Think You're a Calorie-Burning Machine

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Here's the cold-hard truth: You are not burning as many calories as you think you are. It'd be awesome if that hour on the treadmill truly did burn 1,000 calories, or if your hardcore weight-lifting session was the calorie-burning equivalent of a 6-mile run, or if sweating a lot was an indication of a hard workout (sorry, but it's not). Truth is, most exercise trackers, cardio machine consoles, heart rate monitors and fitness apps are merely guessing at how many calories you burn—and doing a pretty bad job of it at that. These tools can overestimate calorie burn by 40 percent or more, and the heavier you are, the more inaccurate these read-outs will be. When you think you've burning a boatload of calories, you may eat a little more, treat yourself to that extra helping at dinner or feel the need to "fuel" your workouts with more food—but all of these actions often undo the work you just achieved in the gym.

The fix: Take these numbers with a grain of salt. Yes, keep exercising, but don't let the fact that you exercised trick you into eating back the calories you burned. Be conservative; assume that you burned maybe half of whatever the calorie-tracking tool reports, and you'll keep yourself in check.

1 Your Scale is Lying

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Here's the good news. If you truly are exercising regularly, measuring and tracking your foods, sticking to a reduced calorie diet without going off on major detours and avoiding a lot of the common problems listed above, your body is very likely in the process of losing weight—it's just that you aren't being patient enough. We expect results quickly—almost instantaneously! We weigh in daily, multiple times throughout the day, even right after a workout, expecting that we've suddenly lost fat within the last few hours. But it simply doesn't work that way. It will take diligence and time for the scale to catch up to your efforts. And often, your body composition (amount of body fat and lean muscle mass) can change significantly even if the scale doesn't.

The fix: Weigh-in no more than every other week, under consistent conditions (clothing, time of day, etc.) and look for overall trends. Sometimes even a static weight is a good thing—it means you're not sliding in the wrong direction. Remember to be patient and to look for other signs of progress: looser clothing or more muscle definition. These are signs that no matter what the scale says, you are making progress!
These are just five of the many culprits that can get in the way of your weight-loss goals. For more help, create your free account at SparkPeople.com to get a personalized calorie range, food tracker, fitness tracker and more expert-written articles like this one.

Follow Nicole on Twitter at @thecoachnicole or on Google Plus.