Infographic: Overweight? 6 Reasons You Can’t Lose Weight & What to Do About It

Americans: We’re overweight and more obese than ever. But at the same time, you can’t click a web page or pick up a magazine without seeing diet tips and weight-loss advice. So what’s going on?

We met with two expert dietitians — Shana Strange and Elizabeth Newton — to break it down: Why we’re overweight and what we can do about it.

All Calories Aren’t Equal

You know how processed foods have chemical ingredients no one can pronounce?

Your body doesn’t recognize those ingredients, either. And when your body doesn’t recognize or know what to do with something you eat, your cells stash those things away – in your fat cells.

“For example, white bread – so refined it’s broken down quickly – makes you hungry faster,” Strange explains.

Newton notes, too, that “processed foods are highly palatable but are often not satisfying, so it is easy to overeat processed foods.” Also, these types of foods contain “artificial chemicals and preservatives that do not support our health and may even be harmful.”

So that’s why, having nothing to do with the calories involved, you could be adding, and keeping, extra pounds.

Not to mention that processed foods get their long shelf lives – and their addictive flavor! – from sugar, salt, and trans fats.

And you can definitely recognize those culprits.

Instead, Strange and Newton suggest choosing high-fiber foods, lean proteins, vegetables and whole grains, which:

  • Help with digestion
  • Take longer to break down, so you’re fuller for longer
  • Have vitamins
  • Balance blood sugar and energy levels

Added Sugar

Sugar messes with your metabolism, leading to weight gain. And it’s affiliated with inflammation and chronic diseases, both of which can interfere with a healthy, active lifestyle.

The problem? Sugar is the ultimate spy. It infiltrates everything, from prepared meats at a buffet to savory snacks.

So, just avoiding the obvious sweets in candy and cookies won’t help you keep a reign on your sugar intake.

Still, Newton cautions, “We also don’t want people to become obsessive over sugar. The key here is finding a healthy balance with food, without getting too restrictive over any one thing.”

Diets Don’t Work

If you’ve tried dieting to lose weight, and it’s not working, it’s probably not your fault. What works for someone else may not work for you. One size does not fit all.

“In weight-loss research, we’re realizing one diet doesn’t work for everyone. Studies show a diet where some people lose nothing, others lose lots,” says Strange. “We are all so different. That’s why working with a dietitian is your best bet, taking into account your individual environment, genetics, preferences, family history, etc.”

Diets can also work against us. Typically, when we restrict things too much, we crave them more and more. Being told you can’t have something can make you obsess over it and eventually binge.

Diets can make us view food as toxic, not nourishing, which can have a negative effect on the foods we eat.

Visit the UVA Nutrition Counseling Center

Get a customized plan for you: Meet with a UVA dietitian.

Life Factors That Keep Us Overweight

People often eat not from hunger, but from emotion. “Bored, stressed, tired, sad — ultimately food doesn’t help these, so you need to address the underlying emotion,” Newton says. “Make a game plan for an alternative to eating when those things come up – calling someone, reading. Taking a walk can actually stop a craving that’s not real hunger but caused by emotion.”

Also helpful: Get enough sleep, drink enough water, manage stress. Taking care of yourself as a whole person will help you stay healthy and achieve weight goals.

The Basics of Weight Loss

If you do want to lose pounds, a good, basic start includes:

  • Lowering your intake by 500 calories a day
  • Watch your portion sizes
  • Read food labels
  • Exercise
  • Tune into your body
  • Try mindful eating

infographic 6 reasons you're overweight


Infographic text: 6 Reasons You’re Overweight

The Why of Size & What to do About It

You’re faithful to a diet. You’re walking 10,000 steps a day. But you’re not losing weight.

  • You’re eating supposedly healthy foods with HIDDEN SUGAR.
  • SITTING too much and SWEATING too little.
  • You’re eating FAKE FOOD made of chemicals your body can’t process.
  • Your DIET isn’t right for your body.. and diets don’t work.
  • You’re eating TOO MUCH without knowing it.
  • Other HEALTH FACTORS are working against you.

Reason#1: Fake Food

    • Why fake or process foods can be trouble:
      • Body doesn’t recognize chemicals, so stores them in fat cells
      • Chemicals + sugar, salt, fat =processed foods
      • Even low-calorie processed foods can = more weight gain
    • What to do about it:
      • Look for high-fiber & whole grains
      • Choose healthy fats like buts, coconut, avocado
      • Eat outside the box; avoid packaging; eat real food

Reason #2: Hidden Sugar

        • Sugar is the ultimate spy. It infiltrates everything, from prepared meats at a buffet to savory snacks. So, just avoiding obvious sweets in candy and cookies won’t help you keep a reign on your sugar intake.
        • What to do about it:
          • Read the label – even “diet” foods can hide sugar
          • Try natural replacements: honey, agave, bananas
          • Eat chocolate with high cacao for more antioxidants & less sugar

Reason #3: Too Much

    • It’s easy to eat too much without even noticing it. Boredom, sadness, and stress can trigger cravings for sugars or fats that are hard to ignore.
    • What to do about it:
      • Plan your portions before you eat
      • Track what you eat with a food journal
      • Cravings? Take a walk; they’ll go away

Reason #4: Dieting

        • Diets aren’t one-size-fits-all. What works for someone else may not work for you.
        • Diet restrictions = obsessions and binge eating
        • What to do about it:
          • Use a journal to learn what makes you eat (other than hunger)
          • Make a lifestyle change you can maintain over time
          • Have a little of what you really want instead a lot of what you don’t

Reason #5: Not enough exercise

    • You’re probably tried either intense brief workouts or walking enough during the day to meet a step quota. But you need BOTH kinds of exercise to rev your metabolism and take the pounds off.
    • What to do about it:
      • Get up, stretch, walk at least once an hour for overall health
      • Get active 5x/week for 30-60 minutes that gets you sweating

Reason #6: Other health factors

    • The interworkings of your whole self affect your weight. For example: stress raises cortisol levels in your body. Continued stress over time = increased levels of cortisol = weight gain. A lack of sleep and water and dealing with medical issue can cause or make stress worse.
    • What to do about it:
      • Get enough sleep
      • Drink enough water
      • Manager your stress and health

Make a personal plan

    • The main thing you should do if you have weight loss challenges? See a dietitian.
    • Every body is unique, so the most successful plans for your health and wellness will be individualized to you.

Comments (1)

  1. obesity is a social ustice issue not just a personal responsiblity issue says:

    The ‘basics’ list speak to personal responsibility. Indeed, maintaining health is a responsibility of each person. But there are social-systemic roots that determine people’s relationships with food and with their bodies.

    Haven’t many people observed in the real world – and through scientific research – that many poor people, working class, ‘blue collar’ working families, etc are obese and overweight? There are many prejudicial slurs that about ‘fat rednecks’, ‘how did she get so fat on food stamps’, mocking Trump supporters in the crowds for their weight, etc? These are slurs and ugly, and all the more ugly because they distract from an actually important association between overweight/obesity and income/economic inequality.

    The ‘to do’ that relies only, or even mostly, on ‘personal responsibility’ will likely not successfully sustain healthy eating behaviors when great income/economic inequality persists. Fat people know that they are fat. Poor fat people know that they are poor. Working hard/not getting ahead families with cross-generational obesity know that they are fat. Many can benefit from the personal responsibility ‘to do’ list. BUT they also know that NO ONE is taking responsibility of the income/economic inequality that is a key – perhaps primary! – component of their illnesses.

    And we are not confident UVA providers are going to having anything to say or to do about that key – primary health – issue. We’ve seen the huge raises that many UVA faculty and staff essentially ‘give to themselves’ by working the system in their favor. We look at the RTD data center’s accounting and the Cavalier Daily’s accounting of salaries at UVA. And some of the jumps from year to year is thousands of dollars! NOT the nurses, or the unit coordinators, and certainly not the housekeeping, etc staff! BUT the NICE jobs, like writing this blog …. like ‘being in charge of issues’, like ‘sharing information’, like ‘going to meetings and conferences’ …. THOSE UVA workers are re-classifying themselves into HIGHER AND HIGHER PAYING salaries!

    And poor people and working class people, and ‘blue collar’ families KNOW IT. The well paid UVA chattering elites chattering about what the fat poor, the fat working class, etc should be doing to lose weight ….

    …. forget that!

    When will UVA Health System get ACTUALLY SERIOUS about population health, and work on income/economic inequality in its populations, which are primary drivers of poor health!

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