Why Is It So Hard to Lose Weight? Understand the Challenges

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Lauren Panoff

Published 05/13/2024

Losing weight is tricky.

We all face unique weight management obstacles, whether they stem from our own histories and mental health struggles, or look more like external pressures standing in the way. 

If you’re asking yourself, “Why is it so hard for me to lose weight?” you’re not alone. Many things can make the journey challenging, and weight loss can feel like an interminable struggle for many. 

We’re covering nine common weight loss obstacles and what you can do to push past them.

Why is it hard to lose weight? Great question — it’s also a very common one.

As motivated as we may be in the beginning of a weight loss journey, it’s normal to have “off” days or come up on a weight loss plateau.

Rather than blaming yourself, it’s important to acknowledge common obstacles to weight loss so you can tackle them head-on. We’ve listed some below. 

1. Stress and Emotional Eating

Ever had a stressful day or a triggering conversation only to come home and dive into a bag of potato chips on the couch? Us, too. This is a classic case of emotional eating. 

Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that can increase appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods. Anything rich in refined carbs that provides quick, sugary energy tends to fit the bill. 

Emotional eating is the act of using food as a coping mechanism. With so much of our cultural habits intertwined with food (birthdays, retirements, and even funerals), it’s no wonder we’re drawn to eating to satisfy emotional needs. And emotional eating isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the act itself is pretty normal.

If it’s a regular occurrence, though, emotional eating can lead to a mindless overconsumption of foods that can sabotage weight loss efforts. Stress and anxiety are also associated with a higher likelihood of weight regain, so all of these function together and get in the way of your weight loss goals. 

What to do about it: It can be helpful to have an arsenal of non-food stress management practices available when you need an outlet. Go on a nature walk, call a friend, listen to a podcast, or do something creative that doesn’t contribute to calorie intake. 

2. Inadequate Sleep

Not getting enough sleep leaves us cranky and fatigued. It also disrupts the balance of hormones in charge of regulating appetite, like leptin and ghrelin. 

When these are out of whack, you may experience cravings for less healthy foods. Sleep deprivation can also impair decision-making and self-control, making it harder to resist tempting snacks and stick to your nutrition plan. 

Not to mention, when you’re not rested, one of the last things you want to do is go to the gym. 

What to do about it: Experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If this sounds like a stretch for you, make sure you’re following a consistent sleep schedule, creating a sleep-promoting environment in your bedroom, and avoiding potentially-disruptive things like big meals, a vigorous workout, caffeine, and the blue light emitted from your phone screen close to bedtime. 

3. Hormonal Imbalances

Your hormones are always at work supporting your health behind the scenes. 

When you’re dealing with something that can disrupt hormonal balance, like a thyroid disorder or insulin resistance, this can make it harder to reduce your body weight.

For example, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can lead to a sluggish metabolism, causing your body to burn fewer calories when at rest. Insulin resistance can disrupt your blood sugar levels, encouraging your body to store more fat. 

What to do about it: If you’re aware that you have a condition that causes hormonal imbalances, it’s important to prioritize getting this under control with the help of your healthcare provider. If you’re seeing symptoms that you think might be a result of hormonal imbalances, it’s also a good idea to reach out to your provider. 

4. Poor Nutritional Quality

Good nutrition is a foundation of health and can be critical to help you lose weight.  So why is dieting so hard? Well, because fad diets and sugary snacks weren’t designed to support overall health or sustainable weight loss. 

Imagine filling up your car with ¼-tank of gas and then trying to drive 100 miles. It just wouldn’t happen. Think about nourishing your body the same way, with high-quality, long-term fuel.

Ultra-processed foods that are high in calories, added sugars, and unhealthy fats are more likely to promote extra pounds and make weight loss harder. 

These types of foods are also low in beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are important for your overall health and metabolism.

Eating these kinds of ultra-processed foods can leave you dissatisfied and throw your blood sugar off, all of which can have you craving more food to meet your nutrition needs. 

Weight loss can also promote increased appetite as your body adjusts, making it even more important to prioritize healthy, lower-calorie foods. 

What to do about it: Ditch the diet mentality, as it serves no one (restriction can often cause people to eat even more of what they were trying to avoid in the first place). Instead, prioritize minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and other lean proteins. Swap out sugary beverages for plenty of water to stay hydrated and help curb your appetite. 

5. Mental Health

If you’ve ever wondered, “why is losing weight so mentally hard?” it could be because you’re also carrying your own mental health burdens.

The state of your mental health plays an enormous role in your ability to make healthy diet and lifestyle changes, and stick to them. 

Depression, anxiety, or chronic stress can make you more likely to start emotional eating and overeating habits that make it harder to lose weight.

Plus, when you’re not feeling 100%, this can zap your motivation, making it more difficult to be physically active and choose healthy foods. 

What to do about it: If you’re experiencing mental health challenges that are interfering with your quality of life and ability to make healthy choices, consider resources like therapy and social support. Getting your mind in the right place is key for being able to pursue other health goals. 

6. Underlying Medical Conditions

Existing health challenges can make it difficult to lose weight. For example, a condition like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can promote hormonal imbalances that affect metabolism and contribute to weight gain. 

A slower metabolic rate means you’re burning fewer calories than you would otherwise, which works against weight loss goals. 

If you’re using medications to manage an existing health condition, it’s important to be aware of potential side effects — including how they may increase appetite or slow metabolism and further complicate weight loss efforts. 

What to do about it: Get underlying medical conditions properly diagnosed and managed — for your overall health and to support your weight loss journey. Schedule regular wellness exams and speak with your healthcare provider for medical advice if you have specific health concerns. 

7. Exercise is a Big Commitment

Nothing can substitute for exercise when you’re pursuing a weight loss goal. That doesn’t mean it’s easy though, as the amount and consistency of physical activity required for weight loss can feel substantial (experts recommend three to five hours per week).

And, we’re human.

The commitment of exercise can be challenging for countless reasons, whether it’s time constraints, lack of motivation, physical limitations, or the hurdle of not really knowing what to do at the gym. Completing a daily workout isn’t a seamless process for anyone. 

What to do about it: Think about what exercise commitments are realistic for you and remember that you can always make adaptations. Prioritize workouts by carving out regular space in your schedule. Find movements you enjoy, rotate a variety of activities from walking to bootcamps, and try to make some of your workouts social events, as this can help with motivation. 

8. Social and Environmental Pressures

The influence of our peers, the media, and the surrounding food landscape can all undermine weight loss efforts in various ways.

Unhealthy food options are seemingly everywhere, making it all too easy to grab convenience items that tend to be high in calories and low in nutrition. Furthermore, many people live in areas where healthy food is expensive or hard to find — or endure obesogenic environments that don’t support healthy lifestyles. 

Scrolling your social media makes it easy to fall into a comparison trap that can impair your relationship with food. And being around certain friend groups or social situations can make sticking to your nutrition plan more challenging.

What to do about it: Remember that your weight loss journey is you versus you — not anyone else. If you’re aware of certain external factors (or people) that trigger you to overeat or make healthy eating hard, consider ways to avoid them or minimize their power in your life.

9. Personal Needs Vary

We’re all unique and this also applies to what we need for weight loss maintenance.

Just because your friend was able to drop a certain amount of weight on one program doesn’t mean that program will work the same for you. 

Individual needs, like unique metabolic rates, dietary preferences, and physical capabilities, can impact weight loss efforts differently for each person. 

What to do about it: Find the balance of nutrition and physical activity that best suits your body and lifestyle. This can take trial and error. If you need help, consider meeting with a registered dietitian, personal trainer, or other health professional who can provide individualized guidance. 

Prescribed online

Weight loss treatment that puts you first

Weight loss is personal and it can be complex.

Successfully achieving your weight management goals requires a combination of good nutrition and hydration habits, better sleep, consistent exercise, and support. 

We were never meant to do life alone, and this includes embarking on better health journeys. 

If you’ve been struggling to lose weight and are seeking support, Hers can help. Our licensed healthcare providers are readily available to assess your needs and come up with a plan tailored to you and your goals. 

Learn more about the Hers weight loss program here.

Weight Loss Medications

When diet and lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough, many people find the addition of weight loss medications helpful.

Weight loss drugs work by either boosting metabolism, reducing absorption of dietary fats, or suppressing appetite. Some of the most popular and effective options include: 

  • Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists: Nicknamed GLP-1s, these work by mimicking the action of the hormone GLP-1, which is involved in your appetite regulation and glucose metabolism. By activating GLP-1 receptors in your brain, they can decrease appetite, promote fullness, and improve blood sugar control, supporting weight loss. Examples include semaglutide (Ozempic®) and liraglutide (Saxenda®).

  • Topiramate: Although it was originally developed as an anti-seizure medication, topiramate is effective for supporting weight loss through appetite suppression, which it does by targeting certain brain chemicals.

  • Metformin: Metformin is an injection primarily used to manage type 2 diabetes, but its ability to reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar can also support weight loss goals.

  • Contrave®: This is a combination of two medications that support weight loss by targeting your brain's hunger centers and reward system. It contains bupropion, an antidepressant that reduces appetite, and naltrexone, a medication for alcohol and opioid dependence believed to help curb cravings and prevent overeating.

If you’re interested in exploring prescription weight loss medications through Hers, start by taking our free online assessment

Nobody said weight loss was going to be easy, but it also shouldn’t be torturous. On your hardest days, remember your reason for pursuing healthier weight management. It’s inevitable to face obstacles, and you’re not alone.

  • It’s normal to struggle. Losing weight is hard because it’s influenced by both internal and external factors. We can’t always make these go away, so it’s important to accept that said influences are real and acknowledge that not every day will be simple. 

  • It’s important to have a plan. Identify the challenges you’re facing most and come up with a plan to move past them. Sometimes all it takes is a pivot to put yourself back on the path you’re seeking. 

  • It’s a long game. As with any health journey, weight loss doesn’t show results overnight. Sustainable weight loss requires making a commitment and taking daily steps aligned with it. Small changes add up to big ones over time.

Think about which of the obstacles above resonate with you the most and see if you can come up with a few ways to address them. Need further support? Hers can help! Get in touch here.

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