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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Weight Management arrow Why Am I Not Losing Weight in a Calorie Deficit?

Why Am I Not Losing Weight in a Calorie Deficit?

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 20, 2023
5 min read 1807 Views 0 Comments
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Answering if it is possible to not lose weight in a calorie deficit

why am I not losing weight in a calorie deficit

After trawling through pages of information on all the diets out there, you finally decided on a calorie deficit. It promised to get you results and was even backed up by science and medical research. 

So why don’t you see the results you deserve? How come you don’t seem to have lost that much weight?

There could be a number of leading factors as to why calorie deficit isn’t getting you the results you had dreamed of. 

In this article, we will unpick what the contributing factors may be and look at the health benefits of calorie deficit.

Why Am I Not Losing Weight in a Calorie Deficit? 5 Common Reasons

#1 You are not sleeping enough

If you are trying to lose weight, the amount of sleep you are getting could be a contributing factor to why you don’t see the pounds drop off. When your body is deprived of sleep, it releases cortisol which in turn sends a message to your body to store fat.

This means that even if you are reducing your calorie intake, you won’t start losing weight until you are getting enough sleep. Aim for 7–9 hours of sleep a night. 

#2 Increased stress levels

Stress levels play a huge factor in your weight loss journey, as well as causing other health problems too. 

Our lives are very busy, and we can often find ourselves stressed. Causes of stress could be a work-related strain, relationships, or matters outside of the home. We all have felt stressed at some point in our lives.

Stress releases a hormone called cortisol, aka the “stress hormone.” This is one of the body’s steroid hormones and, once triggered, can cause a Cushing syndrome, which can result in rapid weight gain, specifically the face, chest, and abdomen.

Increasing your physical activity is one of the ways to help you gain a bit of control over this hormone, as it is a great way to relieve some of that stress you may be experiencing. It is enough to run one mile a day to keep stress reduced.

#3 Weight loss plateau

When you start to reduce the number of calories you consume, your weight will start to drop fast. This happens because the initial weight loss is usually water loss, as your body loses its water retention. This means you have been losing water loss, not fat loss.

If you have reached the stage of weight loss plateau, you need to make a few adjustments to see any further weight loss. Before you start cutting more calories, try to increase your physical activity with aerobic exercises such as: walking, running, or cycling.

By increasing your physical activity, you will be reversing the weight loss plateau. You could adjust the frequency in which you are active or try some high-intensity workouts two or three times a week. 

#4 Slow metabolic rate

We now know how our metabolic rate can affect our weight loss goals. 

Metabolism is the rate at which our bodies convert food and drinks into energy. If you are unsure about this, it may be worth talking to a health professional or dietitian for further advice on how many calories your body needs before cutting more calories.

While you are busy counting calories, the rate at which your metabolism works is going to have a big impact on how much weight you are losing. People with a slow metabolism often find it harder to lose weight compared to those with a fast metabolism.

A few simple ways to speed up metabolism are:

  • Incorporate high-intensity workouts into your exercise regime. This means you continue to burn calories hours after working out.
  • Drink more water – your body needs water to help burn more calories.
  • Incorporate more protein into your diet. Your body works hard to burn protein and, in doing so, is also burning more calories.

For a deeper understanding of metabolism check this article.

#5 Muscle growth

If you have been consuming fewer calories PLUS working out but still gained weight, this could be down to muscle growth. This isn’t a bad thing and just shows that those workouts are paying off.

Working out causes fat loss and muscle gain. When balanced out, this may look like you aren’t losing any weight, making you think that you are not losing the weight while in a calorie deficit. Keep up with your workouts and see it is a positive thing. 

How Does a Calorie Deficit Work?

Simply put, a calorie deficit is when you consume fewer calories than you burn. 

By cutting calories from your diet, it makes the body use stored fat as energy which then leads to weight loss. Keeping an eye on your calorie intake will help you gain a better understanding of how much food you are consuming on a daily basis and what impact this is having on your weight.

A good balance of consuming fewer calories combined with increased physical activity through regular exercise will help you burn more calories than you normally would.

How many calories you decide to cut is up to you and your weight loss goals. This way of dieting gives you some freedom and control over your calorie intake. You can cut a small number of calories to lose some weight or cut a higher amount of calories if you have a significant amount of weight to lose.

One of the ways of cutting the higher amounts of calories is to practice intermittent fasting. We would recommend trying 16:8 intermittent fasting for beginners.

Is a Calorie Deficit Healthy?

Within reason, yes. As long as your body is receiving the nutrients it needs and you are counting calories accurately and sensibly, this should have a positive impact on a healthy lifestyle.

For the average person, a calorie deficit of 500 calories a day is a sufficient amount to promote weight loss.

As soon as you begin cutting calories, eliminate unhealthy foods from your diet and begin a regular form of exercise, you will begin to see many health benefits, the main one, hopefully, being weight loss. 

How Long Does It Take to See Results in a Calorie Deficit?

As an example, if you are in a calorie deficit of 500 calories, you can expect to see a weight loss of 1–3 pounds in the first two weeks.  

Because the initial weight loss can happen fairly quickly, it is worth remembering that this will differ from person to person depending on their body mass index (BMI) before embarking on a calorie deficit. 

A Word From Our RD

To really feel the benefits of a calorie deficit, it is important to remember it isn’t just down to the number of calories you are consuming.

We need to factor in the benefits of physical activity and so must not rely on the fact we are eating less to help us lose weight.

It is recommended that adults do 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise weekly to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Moderate intensity exercise could be walking, bike riding, or swimming. Vigorous-intensity exercise would be jogging/running or a cardio workout with added weight training.

When you are thinking about cutting calories from your diet, it is also important to think about where you are going to be cutting calories from.

You need to make sure you are getting plenty of nutrients into your diet; protein-rich foods are vital to keep in, as well as eating foods that are high in fiber. When we talk about cutting calories, we initially want to cut out fast foods, candy, and alcohol.

And remember that there are a lot of other factors at play in your weight loss journey, so give some space to think about your mental health, stress levels, and sleep pattern.


We have now gained a more detailed explanation as to why you may not appear to be losing weight while sticking to a calorie deficit. Remember that it might be just water weight gain or muscle mass, and the actual body fat percentage loss is still happening.

Increase your physical activity and only consider cutting further calories if you can see a clear pattern in your eating habits that you think might be a contributing factor to you not losing weight.


Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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