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Why You Can’t Lose Weight

Ditching pounds can be a challenge, but some practical strategies can help you succeed.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Recently, WebMD published a piece with the eye-catching title “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?” And indeed, a number of the reasons listed were pretty interesting. In case you missed it, here’s the executive summary:

  1. Low resting metabolic rate combined with high metabolic efficiency. What this basically means is you “burn” fuel (calories) at a lower rate while resting, and are efficient at using calories while exercising (meaning it “costs” you fewer calories to run on a treadmill than your neighbor). According to Victoria Catenacci, MD, a University of Colorado researcher, this can account for up to 22 pounds of weight gain!
  2. You are female. Because women have less muscle than men, they burn fewer calories (remember you burn calories in your muscle cells, not in your fat cells-one of the many reasons to train with weights.)
  3. You experience hunger, satisfaction, and stress differently than others. Some people are more sensitive to stressors, while others are temperamentally calm “low-blood pressure types.” Stress is a big trigger for cravings. Your brain chemistry plays an important part in how you experience stress and appetite, and weight loss can be particularly difficult if you’re someone who struggles with appetite and stress-one reason stress management is an important part of an effective weight-loss program.
  4. You don’t like to exercise. This could be considered a big, eye-rolling “duh,” but some people seem to be genetically adapted to more activity than others. Mice that are bred for wheel running take to it like surfers take to Malibu. Others prefer the mouse equivalent of sun bathing, preferably with a martini in one hand and a box of bonbons in the other.
  5. Your mother ate a high-fat diet while pregnant. Emerging (and disturbing) research has been showing that what both your mother-and even your grandmother-ate may have an effect on you and your body weight. Not much you can do about it, but it’s good to know.
  6. What you ate as a toddler affects how easily you gain as an adult. This is one reason why people like me are so adamant about teaching parents how important it is to shape tastes and habits early while you still have some control over things.

Now, all this is fine and dandy, but I fear that a lot of people reading the WebMD piece might be prompted to say, “See, there’s not much
I can do about it! Let’s go to McDonald’s!”

The fact is that there are a ton of reasons why it’s harder for some people to lose weight than others. I say, who cares? The cards you’re dealt are the cards you’re dealt, but that’s just the beginning of the game. It’s how you play those cards that will determine the result. Just ask any player on the World Poker Tour.

If you’re one of the thousands-perhaps hundreds of thousands-of people for whom weight loss is difficult, I’d like to offer you a list of things you can actually do something about.

  1. Eat fewer calories. Cutting portions by one-quarter to one-third is a great place to begin.
  2. Don’t believe the calorie counters on exercise machines. You burn about 300 calories in a half hour of moderate to hard exercise, no matter what the treadmill says. And most people overestimate the number of calories they burn during exercise. There’s an old saying about exercise and weight loss: “you can’t outtrain a bad diet.” You’ve got to work on your diet-exercise by itself won’t reduce weight.
  3. Cut down on carbs and sugar. You may be one of those people who experience hunger and appetite more acutely than most, but don’t make matters worse by eating foods that produce their own cravings for more.
  4. Exercise harder-and smarter. Walking 30 minutes a day is an amazing strategy for extending life, but it won’t cause you to lose weight. Sorry. Start doing interval training and watch what happens. Interval training simply means mixing periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of what’s called active rest. So instead of walking at the same old pace for a half hour, try this: walk for a few minutes, then run for 30 seconds, then slow back down to a brisk walk. Repeat up to 10 times per workout. It’ll put your fat-burning apparatus into overdrive.
  5. Build muscle with weights. Women, listen up: you won’t look like the cover of a muscle magazine just because you’re pumping some iron. But you will build some calorie-burning muscle that will help raise your metabolism, not to mention make you look better in a bathing suit. And finally, if nothing works …
  6. Try focusing on health rather than just the scale. Studies show that you can be “fat and fit,” and fit people who are overweight can live just as long and successfully as thin people who aren’t fit. Just ask Steven Blair, PhD, research director at the Cooper Institute of Aerobics. Blair runs for miles every week and is in the best shape of his life. But by his own admission, he happens to be fat.
    He’s also healthy as a horse.

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