Why can't I lose weight?

Health correspondent ( 24 July 2015 )

Are you doing all the right things and find you still can't lose weight?



Does age make you more likely to put on weight?

Growing older can be a factor when it comes to weight-loss woes. 'Most people become more sedentary as they get older,' explains Anna Denny, of the British Nutrition Foundation. 'As they become less active, they have more fat and less lean muscle, so their metabolism slows down, (primarily because fat burns off calories less efficiently than muscle).'

Taking less exercise and having a reduced muscle mass means that your energy requirements change - you don’t need to eat as much as you used to. Carry on eating the same diet as you did ten years ago, and you’ll put on weight, because you just aren’t burning off the calories you’re taking in.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. ‘We tend to expect people to become less active as they age, but they don’t have to,’ says Anna Denny. ‘We’re all different. Some people stay very active into older age.’ And the good news is that if you take regular exercise you’ll build muscle and boost your metabolic rate.

Learn more about how to boost your metabolism

How stress can affect your weight

Money worries, relationship problems, too much or too little work – all of these and more, can raise our stress levels. If you’re stressed over a long period of time, it can play havoc with your weight.

When your body feels stress it reacts by releasing a number of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which raise your blood pressure, increase your heart rate and the fuel supplies to your blood stream. These changes are designed to keep us alive when we face danger, and are known as the 'Fight or flight' response.

Cortisol works on other areas too, it turns down the systems we don’t need when we’re running from a predator – our digestive, immune and reproductive systems among them. Long periods of stress mean these hormones trigger this response – and alter how our bodies work - for far longer than is healthy.

One of our responses to cortisol is to store fat around our middles, where it’s near our major arteries, and easily available as extra energy. Stress also affects our metabolic rate, slowing it down, so we don’t burn up our fuel supplies so quickly. The result? Your body hangs onto its fat stores.

However, not everyone responds to stress by piling on lbs. Some people react by losing their appetite and shedding weight, which is not as good as it sounds, as this too can have long-term health consequences.

Sleep more to fight fat

Burning the candle at both ends? If you haven’t been getting enough sleep, it could be one reason why you’re struggling to lose weight. Research by, Dr Shahrad Taheri of the University of Birmingham, has found that people who sleep for less than eight hours a night have a greater risk of being overweight.

It seems that hormonal changes, brought on by lack of sleep may be the root of the problem. When we don't get enough sleep, our bodies produce a hormone called ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and create less of a hormone called Leptin, which suppresses appetite. The result could well be that when we're sleep-deprived we feel hungrier, and are more likely to raid the kitchen cupboards.

Don't skip meals

If your scales are refusing to show the weight-loss you’ve been hoping for, it could be that your diet is too extreme. ‘Skipping meals in a bid to shed pounds is a no-win situation,’ explains Dr Beckie Lang, of the Association for the Study of Obesity.

‘The body just makes use of its glycogen stores (smaller stores of carbohydrates) for such eventualities. As soon as you resume normal eating, these stores are replenished. The fat you are trying to burn off stays put, as it isn’t used. Instead glycogen and water are lost, hence the possible drop on the scales. This can continue for a few days – which is why short term, very low calorie fad diets don’t work.’

Avoid this problem by altering your eating habits sensibly, taking smaller portions of your favourite foods and bulking up on fruits and vegetables instead. A steady, slow, weight loss of about 1kg per week is a tactic that’s more likely to be successful in the long run.

How your medication could be affecting your weight

It may not seem fair, but your prescription drugs may be making it more difficult for you to lose weight. If you have diabetes, for instance, and take one of the sulphonylurea group of drugs, you may find that you put on weight. Taking Metformin, however, (one of the biguanides group of drugs), and a commonly used diabetes medication, may help with weight loss, or at least help you stop gaining any more.

Steroids are prescribed for a range of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, severe asthma and cancer. One side affect of taking steroids is that you may feel hungrier than normal, and so eat more than usual, and put on weight. ‘The effect is dose-related,’ says Dr Catti Moss of the Royal College of General Practitioners. ‘Your doctor will try to get your dose down as low as possible. If you’re taking under 7.5mg, you shouldn’t be getting significant weight problems.’

Anti-depressants may also make you put on weight, depending on which you take. ‘There are a number of anti-depressants that can make it more difficult to lose weight,’ says Dr Moss. ‘But no pill will make you put on weight unless you eat more. The weight gain is usually appetite and activity related. If you manage to eat the same amount and do the same amount of exercise, you’ll probably weigh the same.’

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.