Are you following a healthy diet and exercising regularly, but still struggling to shift those excess pounds? We may just have the solution. Words: Claire Chamberlain.

If you feel like your diet is healthy and you’re doing the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week, you’re probably expecting any excess weight to simply fall away. However, a weight-loss plan doesn’t always go smoothly. Here are 11 reasons why your target weight might feel forever out of reach…

Disrupted sleep

If you’re struggling to lose weight, the solution might be as simple as ensuring you go to bed a little earlier each evening. ‘There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest lack of sleep is linked to a greater body weight in both adults and children,’ says Lily Soutter, resident nutritionist for sleep technology brand Simba. ‘In fact, evidence has shown that sleep deprivation may increase the risk of developing obesity by 89 per cent in adults and 55 per cent in children.’

There are many reasons why this is the case. For a start, sleep deprivation is thought to increase your appetite. ‘Research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology And Metabolism concludes that when sleep is restricted, your satiety hormone, leptin, decreases and your hunger hormone, ghrelin, increases,’ explains Soutter. Sleep deprivation can also affect your food choices, increasing cravings for unhealthy, high-calorie foods.

‘Research from King’s College London found that sleep-deprived people on average consume 385 calories more per day than those who slept longer,” reveals Soutter. “Sleep deprivation has also been shown to increase cravings for quick-fix foods, such as sweets, salty snacks and starchy foods, by as much as 45 per cent! These foods are often relied on for an instant boost of energy, which inevitably leads to a blood sugar crash.’

Checking your phone

Browsing your smartphone or watching TV while you eat might be making you eat more than you realise.

‘It’s easy to fall into the habit of playing with your phone while you eat, sitting in front of the TV with your dinner on your lap, or grabbing a big bag of crisps while you watch your favourite programme,’ says Dr Aria, a behaviour change psychologist, who has spent years researching weight loss maintenance at University College London. ‘Distractions like this divert your attention, so the brain is unable to accurately register the amount of food you’ve consumed. If you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating, this information is less likely to be stored in your memory bank. And with fewer memories of what you have eaten that day, when you sit down for your next meal, you’re likely to eat significantly more.’

Dr Aria’s claims are backed up by a recent study in the British Journal of Nutrition, which found that playing audio instructions encouraging overweight women to pay attention to their food at lunch, reduced later snack consumption by 30 per cent.

At mealtimes, pop your smartphone out of reach, sit at a table rather than on the sofa in front of the TV, and pay mindful attention to what you’re eating.

Eating unnecessarily

You might think you have a healthy diet… but do you really? Malminder Gill, The Reinvention Hypnotherapist and a leading Harley Street hypnotherapist, says we need to become accountable for everything we consume.

‘Many people are in denial about the amount of food they are consuming daily,’ she says. ‘Raise your awareness to find out exactly what you are eating. Once you do this, you can start to cut back on unnecessary eating.’ Every time you are about to eat something, note down what you are about to eat and how much, and if possible, take a picture, too! At the end of the day or week, you should have a comprehensive list of foods you ate. Maybe you discover you are eating more than you thought. Are you surprised?’

Gill also suggests noting how you feel each time you eat, to help you understand if there are any underlying emotions at play.

Restricting calories too much

While drastically reducing the number of calories you consume may seem like a quick route to weight loss, the opposite might be true. If you cut your calorie intake extensively, you may notice an initial drop in weight, but you might soon see your weight plateau and may even start to gain weight again. A 2010 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine demonstrated that excess calorie restriction leads to weight gain, due to the increase of cortisol it triggered, promoting fat storage. Eating too few calories can also put your body into starvation mode, thus slowing your metabolism. In fact, a 2009 study published in the journal PLOS One showed that those who restricted their calorie intake by 25 per cent experienced a reduction in metabolism.

Not getting enough sunlight

‘Soaking up the morning sunshine synchronises your internal body clock, so you are more likely to have regular sleeping times,’ explains Laura Warren, founder of Fitmuma UK.

‘This will keep your metabolism running more efficiently, which will help you maintain a better weight. Also, sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, which is needed for fat burning. So if you aren’t getting anywhere with your weight-loss efforts, try getting 15 to 30 minutes of daylight each day!’

Feeling stressed

Chronic stress and weight gain often go hand in hand. ‘Modern life comes with a whole host of stresses, from managing a home/work balance to keeping the money coming in and running a family home,’ says personal trainer and nutritionist Farah Fonseca, who is also two-times winner of England’s Strongest Woman. ‘We should all experience natural surges and dips of our stress hormones – the most commonly talked about being cortisol and adrenaline. They should naturally be at their highest in the morning and take a steady decline throughout the evening – this dip is what helps us fall asleep.

However, the pressures of our busy lifestyles can throw this out of its natural pattern. When our cortisol levels are too high for a prolonged period of time, it creates an imbalance with not only our blood sugar, but also other circulating hormones, causing an excess of fat storage. Try to take steps to minimise stress levels, which will be good for both your physical and mental health in the long-term.’

Dehydration and weight gain 

Did you know people often mistake thirst for hunger? So, if you’re feeling peckish, try drinking a glass of water first. If you’re still feeling hungry in 20 minutes’ time, of course, choose a healthy snack. But by ensuring you’re well hydrated first, you won’t be eating food your body doesn’t really need. Laura Warren agrees. ‘Studies over time have shown that the those who drink a glass of water before each meal are more likely to lose weight,’ she says.

Not eating enough fat

Think fat should be avoided? Think again. While saturated and trans fats are bad for both your waistline and heart health, unsaturated fats are a must for optimal weight loss.

‘Healthy sources of fat, like nuts, olive oil and avocados, will help you feel fuller and regulate blood sugar levels, so cravings are reduced,’ explains Rick Hay, The Superfoodist and author of The Anti-Ageing Food & Fitness Plan (£10.99, Clink Street Publishing). ‘When blood sugar is more stable, and insulin highs and crashes are reduced, your body will store less fat and will more efficiently use the fat it has stored.’

What’s more, some healthy fats will help you burn more fat. “If you consume olive oil, for example, you will have higher levels of the hormone adiponectin, which helps to break down fats in the body,” says Hay.

Consuming too many diet drinks

‘One of many reasons why people have difficulty losing weight is drinking diet soda,’ reveals Katherine Bellchambers, a medical herbalist and director of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists .‘The synthetic sweeteners send messages to the brain that sugar has been consumed. This can lead to a disconnect, where the body expects the calories and then craves them, so you inadvertently end up eating things you otherwise wouldn’t. A 2014 study published in the journal Nature also showed that artificial sweeteners might lead to insulin resistance, which ultimately leads to weight gain.’

Medical issues

Of course, there is always the chance your inability to maintain a healthy weight could be down to a medical issue.

There are a number of conditions, including an underactive thyroid, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and depression, which can all lead to weight gain. If you suspect your weight gain could be due to a medical issue, it’s important to consult your GP.