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Q&A: Why can’t I lose weight?

If you're having trouble getting the pounds off or keeping them off, ask yourself the following questions.


Q: Why aren't I losing weight?

A: Weight loss is one of the best changes you can make for your health and well-being. However, losing weight, and keeping it off, can be challenging and frustrating. If you're having trouble either losing weight or maintaining weight loss, ask yourself the following questions:

Have you set clear goals? Think about why you want to lose weight. Write the reasons down and place them somewhere you look frequently, such as the mirror or refrigerator door. This will help you to stay motivated and choose to act in ways that align with these goals, such as walking more or paying attention to your portion sizes.

Are you holding yourself accountable? Be a student of your own behavior and record everything that you eat and drink throughout the day. You may think that you know how many calories you're consuming, but actually tracking your intake will make you more knowledgeable and accountable. Speak with your health provider about a calorie goal for safe and steady weight loss. Use tools to log foods that work for your lifestyle — there are several free apps for smartphones that can help.

Do you have a plan? We live busy lives and often lack the time to cook healthier meals. On these days, a backup plan is helpful to avoid stopping for fast food, snacking from the vending machine, or eating beyond your calorie goals. On the weekends, head to the grocery store and then prepare and portion meals and snacks for the entire week. Keep a stash of carrots or yogurt at work for unexpected late nights.

Are you asking for help? Overeating is frequently triggered by specific scenarios or situations, such as holidays, people, and places, even simply the availability of certain foods. Do you want your spouse to stop bringing those chips into the house? Do you want to enjoy Sunday dinner at your aunt's house without insulting her by eating less than expected? Ask for help. For example, bargain with your spouse. Offer to do something for him or her in exchange for not buying chips. Explain to your aunt that you love her food but are trying to lose weight, and offer to bring a healthy dish that you enjoy and fits into your eating goals. Most loved ones want to help you and are happy to assist on your journey.

Are you taking good care of yourself? Eating feels good, and many people use food as a reward or as a way to cope. Practice ways to reward yourself, as well as to cope with bad moods, that are not related to food, such as watching your favorite show, taking a bubble bath, or calling a friend.

Are you trying to do too much, too soon? For your best chance of success, small, incremental changes to eating and activity routines are recommended. Most people would see rapid results by eating grapefruit or cabbage soup only, but these fad diets are nearly impossible to maintain over time. Similarly, body "boot camp" classes are excellent fat burners, but they may pose challenges in regard to cost, time, and motivation. Small behavioral changes — decreasing portions, reducing your intake of soda and other sugary beverages, eating out less frequently, or taking the stairs and short walks on breaks — are reasonable and more sustainable long-term habits. You are your best resource in regard to knowing what you are likely to maintain over time. Most of us are not gym fanatics or expert chefs, but we can work with our strengths and within our existing routines to be healthier.

Asking yourself these questions, and providing honest answers, can help you find out where you may be struggling on your weight-loss journey. If you've tried these steps and are still having trouble, speak with a health-care provider about your weight-loss treatment options.

Michelle Lent, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology and directs the Weight Management Program at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.