Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Weight Loss & Diet Plans

Font Size

Why Can't I Lose Weight?

Feel like the weight loss odds are against you? Here's why it can be harder for some people to lose weight.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Have you ever felt like trying to lose extra pounds or keep them off is just more difficult for you than for other people? Recent research suggests you might not be imagining this. For some people, thanks to a combination of genetics and physiological differences, it really is easier to put on weight and harder to take it off.

Most of these people are women, who have a different genetic blueprint than men. Up until maybe 100 years ago, it was favorable for women to have extra fat stores and efficient metabolisms. This helped to ensure women's survival during times of famine and illness, and women's ability to nourish babies while pregnant and breastfeeding.

"We know for sure it's both genetic and environmental why some people are overweight and obese," says June Stevens, a distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The genetic differences that determine a person's tendency to gain weight are less noticeable in environments where exercise is a part of everyday life and where there is NOT an abundance of great-tasting, affordable food. Most Americans, of course, live in the opposite situation. Stevens describes it as an "obesogenic" environment: a set of circumstances that encourages people to eat and drink more calories than they expend, and thus become obese.

Here are some of the possible reasons why the weight loss odds could be stacked against you, making it feel like you just can't lose weight:

1. You have a low resting metabolic rate, and high metabolic efficiency.

If you have a lower resting metabolic rate, your body spends fewer calories maintaining your body at rest than someone your size with a higher rate. And, if your body is metabolically efficient, it burns fewer calories while in motion.

Differences in resting metabolic rates and metabolic efficiency may explain up to about 22 pounds of weight gain, says Victoria Catenacci, MD, a researcher with the University of Colorado at Denver. This could help explain differences in normal weight vs. overweight, but many researchers believe that higher levels of excess weight (clinical obesity) are probably a result of excessive food intake and/or low physical activity.

2. You are female.

There are a number of reasons why men have the weight loss edge over women.

First of all, men have more muscle mass, compared to women, and women have a higher percentage of body fat than men. Muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat tissue. So it's no surprise that men's resting metabolic rate tends to be significantly higher than women's.

Also, women often deposit extra body weight in the hips, legs, and buttocks, while men tend to store extra weight in the midsection, says Robin Duncan, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at University of California Berkeley's Department of Nutrition Science and Toxicology. Extra fat around the gut is more actively recruited during times of energy need and thus may be easier to lose than fat on the legs and hips, explains Duncan.

Today on WebMD

vegetables
Video
Woman trying clothes / dress
Assessment
 
Woman looking at reflection in mirror
Article
Hot cup of coffee
Quiz
 
woman shopping fresh produce
Video
butter curl on knife
Quiz
 
eating out healthy
Article
Smiling woman, red hair
Article
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
thumbnail_woman_tossing_spinach
Video
lunchbox
Article
 
What Girls Need To Know About Eating Disorders
Article
teen squeezing into jeans
fitfor Teens
 

Special Sections