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Working hard but not getting results? Here’s why and 10 things you can do

*Peer reviewed and co-authored by Neda Khalili, National Academy of Sports Mediciine certified trainer

“I’m working out every day. I’m eating healthy. But I am not seeing results!”

This is a common challenge when we have a goal that involves some aspect of fitness – whether this is losing weight, getting stronger, achieving a goal like running a marathon. It’s exciting at the beginning, and a lot of work. 

And then the results are in. And…you are the same weight. Or even gained a few pounds. 

There are seventy-eight million results on the internet for “Why am I working out and gaining weight.” 

Here are 5 reasons why you are not seeing results, and 10 things you can do to achieve your goals. 

1. You expect instant gratification 

Instant gratification takes too long.

Carrie Fisher

 Fitness is not a linear process and you aren’t going to see immediate results—no matter how much work you put in. If you didn’t gain 30 pounds overnight, you can’t expect to lose it that quickly either. Our bodies are incredible machines and when you introduce them to something new, such as exercise or dietary changes,  it can take weeks and even months for your body to respond.

Another common issue is the lack of a specific goal. Something squishy like losing 10 pounds or getting in shape is not going to motivate you. You have to ignite your why to get what you want, and I talk about how to do that in the linked post and podcast.

2. You have no idea how much you are eating or drinking

two women holding glass of champagnes
Photo by Zan

It’s always back to diet, diet, diet when it comes to making noticeable changes. And if you don’t have any idea on how much you are eating, that’s like spending money without knowing your budget or its limit. All those transactions can add up quickly. 

The main reason is that we sabotage with excess portion sizes. See my article here on the portion size saboteur. A cup of cereal or ½ cup of oatmeal is a lot less than you think. A chicken salad you order at lunch can have as much as 8-12 ounces of meat, when a portion size is 3-4.  And estimating calories consumed per day still remains the best way to manage weight. Watch Jillian Michaels explain why in this video:

3. Your fad diet is making you go crazy when you finally give in to cravings 

I am a fad diet veteran (see my comparison of fad diets at the link) and have gotten sucked back into the vortex. The definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. And finally, I realized that those diets are all the same – they restrict calories and food groups in a rigid way and force you to find ways to “cheat”. 

The cheat meal black hole is something I just wrote about. You stay “good” from Monday-Friday, and then it’s off to the races Friday night to Sunday. A glass of wine becomes 3, you inhale a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or munch on chips and salsa while you binge watch White Lotus. None of these activities in and of themselves will ruin a good nutrition plan, but combined together and consecutive days will make those pants feel tighter come Monday and stall your results. Anything that feels like some sort of cutting yourself off cold turkey is going to backfire because it is on your mind at the first available grab. Finding what works for your body and what your body wants and craves relaxes your nervous system not to go wild. 

person holding black samsung android smartphone
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson

4. Your training consists of copying workouts from Instagram

Be mindful of “fitfluencers”and the workouts that they feature. They are being paid to play. If you want to see why, watch this Shelley Darlington video on the truth about the fitness industry (which is also in the DAOFitLife Youtube playlist lineup). Also, the workouts that they feature are only a snapshot of what they do. For example, Kayla Itsines became successful overnight on Instagram, but it took me researching until I found an interview she did where she walks for 30 minutes every day in the morning, in addition to her afternoon training. This is above and beyond what her SWEAT program recommends, which is 30 minutes of low-impact cardio only 3 times per week.

woman in black sports bra and black leggings doing exercise
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson

So what you see is only a fraction of all the work that goes into those physiques. In general, there is so much more that you may not see behind the proverbial lens as to what one’s day might look like and sometimes, the filter can fool us thinking if we just do ten air half squats that that should be enough. 

5. You are not strength training correctly 

This is one area that can become particularly dicey! People may see something on the internet or hear suggestions from friends on how to strength train and then they pick their resistance of choice and have at it. The problem is that one can seriously hurt themselves which may leave them completely sidelined or in a slower manner, yet equally inhibiting- people may feel that they are moving a particular way when in fact, they are compensating and using the wrong muscles. Form before function is paramount here in injury prevention and to get to your goals properly. I would suggest heavily researching different strength training exercises and really paying attention to all prompts, always starting at a bodyweight level. Our bodies want to take the path of least resistance used and if you have ever had an injury, you may know your body doesn’t want to move in certain directions naturally as it should. Heck, even things like sitting at your desk with one leg particularly crossed over or sleeping on a particular side of the body is going to affect your movement and compensations; it might be wise for the long run to hire a trainer for a session or two to assess your form and then practice, practice, practice in front of a mirror/video tape yourself and tune into the fine nuances of your form. Strength training can be very deceiving in its straight forward prompts/movements; however in this day and age, with tech-neck and all, those nuances in posture and alignment can make things very complicated (short term and long term) if not addressed properly. 

You can read more aboiut form and alignment in this article.

orange tabby cat sleeping on white pet bed
Photo by Aleksandar Cvetanovic

6. You are neglecting recovery 

In this world we applaud “two-a-days” and have the general attitude that more is better, it’s tempting to apply that to working out. After all, the more calories you burn, the better right?

Wrong. Results happen when you leave the gym, not while you are running, lifting, doing yoga, or cycling. Every time you train, your body creates small microtears in your muscles. Failing to allow adequate recovery, especially between strength training or high-intensity workouts, can cause injury. Overtraining can even lead to weight gain and depression. Putting your body under a constant state of stress can cause high levels of cortisol, which leads to, among other things, stress and weight gain. If you want a refresher on cortisol and how to manage it, read my post here. 

This article has a good guide on how overtraining can damage the body and different things you can do to ensure you don’t unintentionally fall into this trap. Overtraining can really cause a whole host of problems- including depression and a lack of that endorphin rush from exercise. People overtrain and they chase their endorphin rush because they want to feel better but their bodies can’t recover and are just too tired until they get hurt or finally sit still! Movement feels amazing but let your body recover so it always feels excited and ready to go. 

Recovery also includes sleep, which most people don’t get enough of. It’s often tempting to give up an extra hour of sleep to make time to go to the gym, but if that means getting 6 hours or less, you should reconsider. 

What you can do when you plateau or fail to make progress

It’s not all abysmal. You can turn anything around, starting today, by making small adjustments to daily habits. What follows below is not a 10-day detox or crazy exercise regime, but simply tweaks you can make in your daily (busy) routine.

woman holding cocktail glass
Lay off the wine does not mean lay into the cosmos! Cocktails can pack on the calories and sugar. Photo by Jacalyn Beales

1 . Lay off the wine

In my post on drinking alcohol and losing weight, it explains why this is like saying you can put a tiger and a rabbit in a cage together and they might just get along. Consistent alcohol consumption increases the likelihood of obesity by up to 70 percent

Filling up on a glass or two of wine to unwind after a workday may seem harmless, but could be packing in up to 3-400 extra calories a day, especially when you consider the fast and loose definitions many people have of “glass.” Not to mention, drinking triggers appetite, even after you’ve had food (hence the late night need for pizza or UberEats). 

Thinking in terms of alcohol as part of the “20,” and limiting intake to 1-3 drinks a week, is what you need to stop plateauing and start seeing results. 

brown and white chocolate bars
l will never, ever, give up chocolate. Photo by Jacalyn Beales

2. Don’t eat food you hate or cut out the food you love

The same advice I gave in my cheat meal post and my 80/20 article still stands – you are more likely to be satisfied if you build in 20 percent of an allowance for pure “pleasure” food, including refined sugar and carbohydrates, part of your regular diet, and not representing a deviation from an otherwise “clean” diet. 

You don’t have to eat dry chicken breasts and drink skim lattes to lose weight or stay slim. In fact, there is research to the contrary – women who eat more whole fat dairy foods are LESS likely to be overweight than women who consume whole fat dairy products Also, chicken thighs and chicken legs only have about FIVE more calories than the breast. And they are a lot more yummy, so you will likely be more satisfied. 

The same principle applies to another common substitution I see which is peanut butter powder instead of nut butter. I would much rather have some creamy nut butter than sawdust. In fact, nut butter is one of the healthiest foods for weight loss – in addition to healthy fats, they contain fiber and protein. 

shallow focus photography of almonds in white ceramic bowl
Know and get familiar portions, like what is in an ounce of nuts. Photo by Jacalyn Beales

3. Use tracking and portion measurements as training wheels to be better in tune with your hunger scale

In my post about metrics versus intuitive eating, I talked about the balance between knowing your needs from a nutrition and macro profile standpoint versus eating intuitively and honoring your hunger. One way to ease this transition is to get your arms around your approximate calorie and macro needs, and then start meal planning and tracking in accordance with those goals. 

The main point is that we often underestimate the amount that we are eating, by as much as a staggering 40 percent. Therefore making sure you have the right amount by tracking your food intake can be a stepping stone to intuitively knowing the right amount to keep you satiated and eating at regular intervals to keep your blood sugar stable. 

If you balk at weighing and measuring, I would suggest buying a portion control plate and using hand measurements (as pictured below) for proteins, fats, starchy carb

From Iowa Department of Public Health Website

4. Don’t do a workout you hate – and don’t work out if you hate it 

In my NEAT post we learned that you don’t have to do “formal workouts” to get and stay fit. In fact it’s entirely possible to lose a significant amount of weight without exercise, and it’s also entirely possible to gain a significant amount of weight while working out twice a day. It’s always been a CICO equation 

Also, don’t buy a Peloton if biking is not your thing. Don’t do yoga if you hate it. There are plenty of ways you can stretch without doing yoga. The worst thing you can do to yourself is make working out seem like some kind of torture. Also, there’s a lot oif noise about needing to constantly “mix up” your workout. This places a lot of unnecessary stress and takes up real estate in your brain for no discernable benefit. In my experience, too much of a variety in workouts can have a counterproductive effect.

5. Stop eating fake sugar

My post about the fantastic promise of zero sugar says a lot about this topic. The bottom line is you will totally mess up the signals your body gives you with respect to satiety and desensitize your palate if you go down this path. I have been down it many times and back, so I can tell you with certainty that’s a surefire way to constant sugar cravings and gut issues. 

orange sliced papaya
Papayas are a greet source of vitamin C nad collagen. Fruit = beauty. Photo by Charles Deluvio

6. Make fruit your friend

I plan on doing a whole post about fruit because it doesn’t get enough attention. Fruit is the perfect way to get a good source of carbohydrates and fiber, not to mention, vitamin A, B C, K and important minerals like potassium, folate, magnesium, and zinc (see here for a comprehensive chart)

Not to mention, fruits are nature’s “candy”. They are the perfect way to satisfy sugar cravings without having to reach for added sugar products. In fact, if you are making an effort to reduce your added sugar intake, you should start by eating more fruit.  A common mistake I see is a total elimination of fruit because it has “sugar.” But the sugar in fruit isn’t counted towards the daily recommended sugar intake of 25g or less. That’s because it is processed by the body in a different way and balanced by fiber to slow down the release in your bloodstream.

Not to mention, fruit is HYDRATING. See my next point about water. 

Water
Photo by quokkabottles

7. Hit your water goal by lunchtime 

Hear me out. We all know we need to drink water. We all know the magic 64 ounce number (which isn’t actually true for everybody). The more you can front load your water intake, the less likely you will have to get up in the middle of the night and get distracted by all of the day’s events and not drink enough.  Only being 5 percent dehydrated can lead to a 20 percent decrease in energy!

Here’s my approach – I consume at least 16-20 ounces of water BEFORE any coffee. Then I usually consume another 16-20 ounces during my workout and afterwards, I have about 16-20 ounces. That makes me most of the way there. About an hour before lunch, I consume about 20 ounces. So assuming I consume 20 ounces of water each time, I have about 80 ounces tucked in. As a benchmark, it is generally recommended to drink half of your weight in pounds in ounces of water – so a female who is 140 pounds should aim for 70 ounces.  If it means getting a cool water bottle or cool spring waters that you enjoy from the grocery store, by all means- go for it! Even slight dehydration causes a whole set of problems that can derail your day. 

orange carrot on white surface
Carrots are crunchy, low in calories, and go great with salsa, guac, or hummus dip. Photo by Jeremy Zero

8. Eat crunchy food

It’s a proven fact that crunch increases satiety. II’s literally called the “crunch” effect coined by Scientists at Colorado State University.  If your food it too loud to hear the TV, you are doing it right. The connection is between the digestive process in the mouth and the gut. Crunching forces you to slow down and chew purposefully, which aids digestion and better attunes you to fullness.

  • Adding celery and cucumber  to your salads or sandwiches – these foods have cellulose, which is natural plant-based fiber. I add both to my salads. A great way to incorporate cucumbers in your sandwiches is a turkey-cheese-cucumber combo. That way you have protein, fiber, healthy fat AND carbs. I incorporate celery for tuna sandwiches with my famous DIY tuna salad recipe, which is also available on my recipe site
  • Eating raw carrots with your snack, or an apple with your nut butter, are great ways to increase your crunch factor without having to rely on refined carbs from sugary cereals. 
  • Don’t get depressed though – not all cereal is bad! I Aim for a high-fiber brand like Nature’s Path Multibran Flakes, which happens to be extremely crunchy, to the point that if I’m eating it while I am on a call I have to turn on the captions. (just don’t forget to mute)
white analog clock at 10 00
Photo by Sean Robbins

9. Stop snoozing your alarm

That’s so dorm room. Sleep is one of the secret ingredients in achieving any weight loss goal. When you are low on sleep, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that makes you store weight.

Research published in the medical Journal of Pyschoneuroendocrinology proved that sleep deprivation affects the balance of those two hormones. So, you crave junk food due to your endocannabinoid system — which is supposed to keep our body in homeostasis, or equilibrium.

Snoozed sleep isn’t real sleep. So if you don’t think you will actually get up for the half hour after your alarm goes off, just sleep instead. What helps me is having coffee brew automatically then so I can smell it a la Folgers commercials. I thought those were a thing of the 90s, but recently they were revived for our current work environment:

woman in white collared shirt looking at the city during night time
Photo by Jeffery Erhunse

10. Stop chasing what you don’t have and start appreciating what you do

In my DAO of not giving a F*ck and law of attraction posts, I talk about the perils of chasing happiness. The secret to getting everything you want is acting like you already have it. What does that mean? Act with the same confidence you would have as a healthy, energetic, lean version of yourself. The person who puts their health first. The person who takes the stairs. The person who keeps their body moving. Action begets more action, and feelings are often baseless lies

More:

8 reasons you are not seeing results from working out (Polar Magazine).

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