woman on treadmill

The human body is a tricky machine, and understanding what makes it tick — and how to control it — is a lifetime process. Many of us eat healthily and stay active with the goal of looking and feeling amazing, and yet we seem to fall short. Do you have your eyes set on better body composition? If you’re looking to lose fat and gain lean muscle but can’t seem to figure it out, there could be a number of reasons why you’re not leaning out.

12 Possible Reasons Why You’re Not Leaning Out

1. You’re Dehydrated

As many as 75% of us might be walking around chronically dehydrated, according to research, and it can have countless negative effects on our health. When you don’t drink enough water, your body can’t burn fat as easily, your metabolism gets sluggish, and you’ll feel the need to eat more.

2. You’re Sleep Deprived

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 33% of us don’t sleep enough, and you likely already know the consequences of a lack of sleep are detrimental to our health. For instance, one study found even a lack of just 30 minutes of sleep can increase your risk of not only obesity but diabetes. Plus, it raises your cortisol levels (the stress hormone), leading to some serious cravings. If leaning out is a priority, you might need to get more beauty rest.

3. You’re Not Exercising Enough

Even if you eat relatively healthy, a body constantly at rest can’t burn extra calories. Leaning out further will be difficult, if possible at all. Humans are widely sedentary. Some studies say we spend nine hours sitting every day! You already know sitting is bad for you, but did you also know it could be the reason you’re not leaning out?

sitting too much

4. You’re Exercising Too Much

On the other hand, weight gain, or the inability to lose body fat, can be a sign of overtraining. This is because overtraining can tell your body it needs to start burning muscle for energy and store more fat — obviously the opposite of what we want to happen.

5. You’re Eating Too Much

A lot of research agrees: weight loss, gain, or maintenance simply comes down to calories in and calories out. If you’re consuming too many calories and not burning enough, you will put on weight and keep it on.

6. You’re Not Eating Enough

Conversely, and very strangely, not eating enough can also make it difficult to lean out. Many people don’t realize you need calories to burn calories. When you deprive yourself too much, your body goes into starvation mode, your metabolism gets confused, and you can no longer burn calories.

7. Your Macronutrients Are Out of Whack

While it’s true weight loss and gain overwhelmingly come down to calorie consumption, it’s not 100% about that. The type of food you’re consuming also matters. Food is made of one or more of these three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. If you’re eating way more carbs than your activity level demands (even if they’re healthy carbs), you might find it tricky to lean out. Not consuming enough protein can also make it difficult to lean out. This is why many people find it useful to count macros.

eating too many carbs

8. You’re Too Stressed Out

Experts say chronic stress overload can not only make it difficult to lean out, but it can also add pounds to your frame. It comes down to your body thinking that because you were in a stressful state, you used extra calories to manage that stress, even though you really didn’t. Plus, there’s a rise in cortisol, the stress hormone we mentioned earlier, which once again explains those cravings for unhealthy food.

9. You Don’t Stick to Any Plan Long Enough

If you quit every two weeks and start a new fat loss plan because it appears nothing ever works, you’re going to be caught in this cycle forever. While you can sometimes see results within a couple weeks, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Being healthy is something you have to do every single day. There is no overnight cure.

10. You Rely on Diet Fads and Magic Fixes

Fit teas. Waist trainers. Detoxes. Low-calorie drinks. Fads, fads, fads, fads. The only reason these things lead to weight loss is that they’re almost always accompanied by a strict calorie cut — and as you know now, too much of a calorie deficit can backfire. These things aren’t the answer to leaning out.

girl drinking soda

11. You Have a Medical Condition Making it Difficult to Shed Pounds

You could put in all the effort in the world, and if your body is deciding to work against you, you won’t win until you address what’s at the root of the problem. For instance, hypothyroidism can lead to weight gain, according to the Mayo Clinic.

12. You’re Doing Too Much Cardio and Not Enough Strength Training

You know what the leanest people at the gym are doing? Lifting weights. So many women are scared to lift weights because they think it’ll make them “big.” Plus, it’s worrisome knowing that since muscle weighs more than fat, losing fat and gaining muscle could make the number on the scale go up.

The truth is, though, that doesn’t matter. It comes down to your health and how you feel. And the fact is this: muscle burns more calories than fat. Want to store less body fat? You need more muscle. You know how you get more muscle? Lifting weights.

Above all else, as you figure out what’s stopping you from leaning out, ask yourself this: Why do I want to lose weight? Is it to impress someone else or fit society’s (incredibly unreasonable and unattainable) standards of beauty? Pause and rethink! Something’s not right here. You have to do this for you, and for the right reasons. Do you want to shed fat to feel better? Have more energy? Keep up with your children? Improve your health? Those are all excellent reasons. Be healthy and happy!