Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

Many people who have tried to lose weight know the frustration of hitting a weight plateau. If you are logging your dietary intake and exercise and meeting your planned goals but the scale has not budged for weeks, then you have hit a plateau:

We hit this weight stall when we do not create enough of a calories deficit for weight loss. This is typically due to underestimating our true calories intake and/or overestimating our true total calories burned. To move beyond the plateau and meet your weight goal, think carefully about where the error might be lurking. Be sure to read Planning Weight & Calories for basic information about calories balance and how to set calories intake and expenditure goals.

Underestimating Calories Intake

These are common sources of error that result in underestimating our true calories intake:

  • Logging a portion size that is smaller than actual.
  • Logging the wrong food item.
  • Forgetting to log foods, drinks, and/or nibbling.
  • Logging just the "good" days.

Portion Size

To get the most out of tracking, learn how to measure your portion size of foods and drinks. For more information on how to measure, please read Measuring and Estimating Portion Size at MyNetDiary. I strongly recommend that you at least measure the most calories-dense items: fats/oils and alcoholic drinks.

Log the Correct Food Item

Learning how to search for and log the correct food item can help you improve accuracy of calories intake. MyNetDiary's database contains over 651,000 food items, including basic foods from the USDA National Nutrient Database (Standard Reference option), brand name foods from food manufacturers and restaurants, and member-entered food items (identified as "Contributed").

Learn how to search and find basic (generic) food items. You can search the USDA database to see how items are named - and then use that naming convention to search in MyNetDiary. There are many basic foods, in both raw and cooked forms. You should be able to find all USDA items in MyNetDiary. If you cannot find an item, contact us for help (post on forum, Facebook, or send an email to support@mynetdiary.com). Also, read 4 Tips for Searching & Finding Basic Food Items at MyNetDiary blog.

Toggle off “Use Contributed Foods” in Settings section to hide food items and recipes entered by other members - this will help improve accuracy. If you use diabetes tracking, contributed foods are automatically hidden from view for improved carb counting accuracy.

A big challenge is trying to find the best food item for non-chain restaurant foods. I have found that Whole Foods® supermarket recipes have solid nutrition data so I often use one of their foods for logging as a “proxy” for restaurant versions. I simply include “Whole Foods” in my food item search along with the food or recipe name. This has helped me avoid underestimating restaurant appetizers, entrees, desserts, and speciality breads.

Forgetting to Log Everything

The simplest way to remember to log everything is to log it as soon as you eat or drink it. If that is not possible, then at least jot it down on something you won’t throw away. For nibbling, I would either measure the nibble and account for it or I would just stop nibbling. I found that I was nibbling over 100 calories per batch of holiday gift brownies when I finally decided to weigh the nibbles before eating them.

Log Daily

It is human nature to want to see ourselves in a positive light. But you will get the most useful information if you track daily - both the high and low days. Tracking is meant to be a learning tool so that you can get a handle on calories and weight. The more accurate and complete the log is, then the better it will serve you to make informed decisions.

Special Note about Dining Out

Consider where extra calories might be coming from: pay extra attention to portion size, high-calorie appetizers, desserts, and beverages, and in general, frequency of dining out. Restaurant foods are usually higher in calories than homemade foods - typically due to a combination of added fats and larger portion sizes. Also, many of us drink more calories when we dine out - from pop, sweet tea, juice, and/or from alcoholic beverages. To make matters even more challenging, restaurants rarely have nutrition information available unless they are part of a large chain (e.g. fast food and fast casual chains). And even then, you will have to go online to find that information unless you happen to live in a state where calories are required by law to be posted on menu boards. Try to limit how often you dine out or order take-out food. This will help your budget as well as your waistline!

Overestimating Calories Burned

These are common sources of error that result in overestimating our true total calories burned:

  1. Using an Activity Level level that is too high and/or logging exercise already included in the activity level.
  2. Logging an exercise item with an intensity that is higher than actual.
  3. Logging too many minutes of activity.

Activity Level

MyNetDiary uses the energy equations from the Dietary Reference Intakes. Even “sedentary” Activity Level includes incidental walking up to about a mile - about 20 minutes or 2000 steps. Therefore, do not log basic activities of daily living such as grocery shopping, cooking, walking to and from your car, etc. There are tons of activities in the exercise database, many of which are not needed for MyNetDiary logging.

Also keep in mind that the Activity Level should represent what you do every single day - your baseline. So, if you work 4 days x 10 hours on your feet, then remember to average it over 7 days/week (so, instead of “active,” you might choose “light active”). If you use an iPhone, then be sure to read about Step Bonus below - it is a great feature for automatic calories calculation from steps.

If you log exercise, exercise calories, or use a fitness device for calories, then set your Activity Level to “sedentary” in Settings. This will avoid double-counting exercise calories. To learn more about calorie targets and which fields affect calories, be sure to read Planning Weight & Calories at MyNetDiary.

Exercise Intensity

If you manually log exercise items from MyNetDiary’s database, then be sure to look for the correct or closest intensity level. For instance, if you run, cycle, or walk, then look for the closest miles per hour (MPH) intensity for logging. If you use MyNetDiary’s iPhone app, then you can let MyNetDiary log the activity time and calories for you. Open Exercise log, tap the row “Log run/walk/bike with GPS tracker,” tap the activity icon (running stick figure), select activity (running, cycling, walking, etc.), and then tap “start activity.” When you are finished, tap “pause” and then “end workout.” The activity will be saved in your Exercise log.

Log Net Time of Activity

Log net minutes of moving, not total time. This is very important for stop-and-go activities and sports. If you lift weights, it is helpful if you have another person use a stopwatch and time net seconds for sets. You will be surprised to discover that your actual lift time is only minutes for your routine, even if you were in the weight room for over an hour.

More on Step Bonus

If you get most of your exercise from walking and use an iPhone, then I highly recommend using Step Bonus. Step Bonus is a feature available with Maximum membership, using MyNetDiary’s iPhone application. This feature allows you to capture extra calories burned for walking a lot more steps than what is already included in your Activity Level. Turn on Step Bonus in Settings under Apps, Devices, and Services section. Step Bonus is a great way for nurses, mail carriers, and others who are on their feet most of the day to capture extra calories burned from steps above their Activity Level. The benefit of using Step Bonus is that you are less likely to overestimate your Calorie Budget than if you try to account for extra walking by increasing the Activity Level. Step Bonus gives you those extra step calories on a day to day basis whereas a higher activity level increases the Calorie Budget every single day. You can learn more about Step Bonus here.

Measuring Body Weight

Body weight can change during the course of the day as well as from day to day. When you see a rapid and large change in your weight, think water weight. Dehydration makes your weight go down whereas water retention makes your weight go up. And simply eating and drinking normal amounts at meals and snacks causes an immediate but temporary increase in body weight. Remember that we are mostly water by weight, so the simple act of staying properly hydrated temporarily affects our body weight.

Do yourself a favor and limit the amount of "noise" when you weigh yourself:

  • Weigh yourself first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom, without any clothes on, before eating breakfast or drinking tea or coffee.
  • Check that your scale is reliable. If you weigh yourself 3 - 5 times in a row, do you get the same weight measurement? If not, then you might want to consider getting a more reliable scale.
  • If you take medication that affects blood pressure or fluid retention, then take as directed, on time. Forgetting to take your blood pressure medication usually means an increase in water weight along with increased blood pressure.
If you experience large weight changes day to day despite measuring yourself as recommended, then show your weight measurements to your doctor. This is especially important for those of you who have a medical condition (especially kidney disease and congestive heart failure) and/or take medications that affect your blood pressure.

Thyroid?

Sometimes people gain weight or are unable to lose weight despite Herculean efforts because their thyroid no longer produces enough thyroid hormone. You might want to ask your physician about this possibility, especially if you are a postmenopausal woman, chronically fatigued, experience hair loss, cold intolerance, and brittle nails, feel weak, have a puffy face, and have flaky skin. Also, if you are on thyroid medication, be sure to follow your doctor's recommendation for timely follow-ups as medication dosage might change over time, especially with large weight changes.

Other Tips

Current weight. If you have Maximum membership and follow MyNetDiary’s recommended calories, then turn on AutoPilot in Plan section. This will allow MyNetDiary to update your Daily Food Calorie Budget and Calorie Budget automatically when you enter a new Current Weight via Dashboard. Without AutoPilot feature turned on, be sure to enter your Current Weight via Plan section so that your calorie goals are updated when your Current Weight changes.

Change your workout routine. Consider including higher intensity spikes in your workout to boost energy expenditure. Because high intensity exercise means that your heart rate could spike to its maximum, please check with your healthcare provider before adding this to your routine, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition such as heart disease. Try adding a 10 minute chunk of walking before or after work. Consider adding weight resistance exercises to your routine if you haven’t already done so (great for overall fitness and functional strength and helps preserve muscle as you lose weight). Move as much as you can, as mobility permits. If you need help in this area, then please seek the expertise of a physical therapist.

Don’t give up. This is probably the most important recommendation I can offer. If you are not losing weight despite following your planned calories, then ask us for help. Also, consider getting help from a professional weight loss clinic or one-on-one sessions with a registered dietitian. Feel free to reach out to us and ask questions about this topic in the Community Forum.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE

Last Updated on May 9, 2018


Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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