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It can be so frustrating when you’re putting time and energy into tracking macros to help with a weight loss goal, but the darn scales just won’t budge! As annoying as it is, there is always a reason why your efforts aren’t paying off.
The most common reasons why you aren’t losing weight counting macros are that you haven’t tracked consistently, accurately, or long enough, or you haven’t adjusted your macros over time as needed. Alternatively, you could be losing weight while tracking macros and simply aren’t measuring your progress effectively.
I’ve dealt with this issue myself, and also with many of my clients. I’ll cover each of these reasons in detail so that you’ll know exactly what to do to get the results you want for all the effort you’re putting in.
Reason #1: You Haven’t Tracked Long Enough
If you’ve recently gotten into tracking macros, it might be that you just need a little bit more patience. Most individuals need at least 2-4 weeks of consistent tracking and hitting their macro targets to see results. For women especially, I recommend waiting for a full menstrual cycle due to hormonal impacts on weight.
You may think that you’re not losing weight while tracking macros but if you haven’t given it enough time, then you may not have made enough progress yet for it to become noticeable.
I recommend sticking with it for 4 weeks; after that, you can determine whether you’re losing weight or if there’s another reason why you’re not losing weight.
The solution: Make sure you have at least 2-4 weeks of consistent tracking AND hitting your macro targets before you decide that tracking macros isn’t helping you lose weight.
- I’ve reviewed every macro tracker on the market. Find out why I think Macrofactor is the best one.
Reason #2: You’re Not Tracking Consistently
When you first start tracking your macros, you might be very diligent, and you track every meal, every day…for the first 1-3 weeks. Then, as time passes and the initial excitement fades, you might start missing meals or even entire days.
Registered Dietitian Mary Sabat says one of her best pieces of advice for those new to tracking is to be consistent. “Track your macronutrients consistently and realize that this is a learning experience”.
So as you can see, not only do you need to track long enough, you also need to track consistently to ensure that you’re actually achieving a calorie deficit for weight loss.
If you’re only hitting your macro targets 4 days of the week, then you will not lose weight.
Nutrition tracking apps can make it easier to stay consistent when they have rewards for consistent tracking, like the badges that you can earn in LoseIt, or the “streak” feature in Cronometer that lets you know how many days in a row you’ve logged, including the number of different foods.
The solution: Find ways to keep yourself motivated to track your macros for all meals and snacks, every day. This might mean setting aside a designated time each day to record your food or getting an app with rewards for consistent tracking.
- Related Article: How To Track Alcohol Macros: The Do’s And Don’ts
Reason #3: You’re Tracking But You Don’t Have Targets
Some people mistakenly believe that simply by tracking their intake and recording it in a nutrition app they will lose weight without actually trying to do anything to manage their intake.
Tracking by itself does not guarantee weight loss if your actual intake is still at or above maintenance calories (the number of calories you need to maintain weight).
That said, some people do find that tracking alone results in weight loss, simply because the act of having to record everything causes them to make more careful choices.
If this is the case, you can see that the act of tracking caused behavior change, and it was the behavior change that resulted in weight loss, not the tracking by itself.
But simply tracking what you were already eating while maintaining (or gaining) weight will not result in weight loss, at least not at first.
Starting to track can progress to weight loss if you use the information gathered to figure out how many calories you need to maintain your weight and then set a target that is 10-20% lower to create a calorie deficit for weight loss.
Having this data will also show you your current macronutrient breakdown, and you can see how much of each nutrient (carbs, fat, and protein) you’re consuming. Generally, people find out that they are not eating enough protein, and are eating too much fat and sometimes too many carbs as well.
My recommendation is to work towards an intake that provides 30% of calories from protein, 40% from carbohydrates, and 30% from fat.
The solution: Use your actual tracking data for maintaining your weight, or check out an online calculator to come up with your estimated maintenance calories, and set a target calorie target that is 10-20% lower to give you a calorie deficit for weight loss.
Once you can hit your calorie target consistently, focus on setting appropriate macro targets.
Reason #4: Your Macros Are Too High
If you’ve been tracking your macros consistently and hitting your targets for at least 2-4 weeks and your weight isn’t changing, it could be that your targets are too high. This is most common when you use an online calculator to estimate your calorie intake.
An online calorie calculator will estimate the number of calories you need to lose weight and then suggest a macronutrient split that adds up to its recommended calorie target. If the calorie estimation was inaccurate then your macronutrient targets will also be too high.
Or perhaps your calorie and macro targets were working initially but they aren’t anymore because your activity was lower or you’ve lost weight.
It’s possible that your activity level was lower for a few weeks compared to normal, maybe you got sick or injured, or you were busy at work or school, and didn’t get as many steps or workouts as usual.
Or you’ve been successfully losing weight for a while but now your smaller body needs fewer calories than before just to maintain weight, and you’ll have to decrease your intake further to continue losing weight.
Regardless of the reasons, you’ll either need to increase your activity or decrease your intake to achieve a calorie deficit to continue losing weight.
The solution: Set your calorie target 10% lower and re-calculate your macros. Keep protein intake the same, and reduce carbs and/or fats based on personal preference. Try this new lower intake for 2-4 weeks and assess progress.
Keep in mind that we don’t recommend dieting for months and months on end. Your physical and mental health will benefit from periodic “diet breaks” where you take some time to increase your calorie intake back up while maintaining your weight, before pursuing weight loss again. I suggest a maximum of 16-20 weeks (4-5 months) of dieting.
Reason #5: You’re Adding Back Exercise Calories To Your Targets
When you come up with your target calories and macronutrients to help you lose weight, these targets should already take into account your baseline level of activity. If you add calories burned from exercise on top of your target, you will no longer have a calorie deficit to help you lose weight.
You might not have even realized that this was happening; some nutrition apps just automatically sync with activity trackers and you might not have noticed that it was adjusting your calorie target for the day.
In some cases, you will be able to turn this feature off so that calories don’t get added back for exercise. If you don’t have the option to exclude calories from exercise, you’ll have to keep your calorie and macro targets clear in your mind and hit those numbers regardless of what the app says.
If you’re looking for a nutrition-tracking app that doesn’t add calories burned back to your intake then I recommend switching to MacroFactor (click to read my full review).
The solution: Turn off any features that add calories burned from daily activity and/or exercise. If this is not possible, stick to the original targets and don’t try to hit the higher adjusted targets in the app or switch tracking apps.
Reason #6: You’re Using Inaccurate Entries In The Database
Some nutrition tracking apps have both verified and unverified entries in their food databases. Unverified entries can have inaccurate data about the calorie and/or macronutrient content of a food. If you’re logging these unverified and they’re inaccurate then you could end up overeating even when the app shows that you hit your targets.
When you are looking for entries in the food database, look for verified entries (they will often have a green checkmark or another symbol to indicate that they are verified). These entries come from a database that has been verified to contain accurate nutritional information.
Also, if you have the nutrition label from the food you’re logging, make sure it matches the information that comes up in the app when you scan the label or search for the food name.
Over time, you will start to get a sense of how many calories and macros are in a serving of the foods that you eat on a regular basis, which will help you recognize when an entry seems “off.”
Check the entry against other similar food items in the database and you’ll be able to see if one entry seems inaccurate compared to the others.
The solution: Use verified entries whenever possible, check to make sure that the entry matches the food label (if applicable), and look at a handful of different entries for the same food item to get a sense of the appropriate macros and calorie content for that item.
Reason #7: You’re Not Logging Everything
You can be patient and consistent, but if you’re not logging absolutely EVERYTHING you’re consuming, you may think that you have a calorie deficit when you don’t. Condiments like sauces, salad dressings, salsa, and ketchup do have calories, and they add up. The same goes for bites, licks, and tastes throughout the day.
Greg Knuckles, one of the creators of MacroFactor, recommends you “try to weigh or measure most things that are convenient to weigh or measure” but he also believes that there you shouldn’t strive for perfection, stating that “people who get too hung up on tracking with perfect precision often end up burning out, or becoming extremely neurotic”.
If you’re not making progress then it’s worth taking the time to track everything you eat to see how much you’re actually consuming, with the goal of being more mindful of your consumption.
The solution: Log everything you ingest, including all foods, drinks and supplements.
Once you’ve figured out what you were overlooking or forgetting to track, you can make the necessary changes and get back on track without obsessing over every little thing.
Reason #8: You’re Not Measuring Or Weighing Your Food Accurately
Even if you record absolutely everything you eat and drink and you only use verified entries in the database, it won’t be accurate if you’re not weighing or measuring your food properly.
When asked about what first-time dieters get wrong about macro tracking, Registered Dietitian Brianna Grande agreed that logging portions incorrectly is common. She explained: “If you are unsure whether you ate 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or 3, you are not accurately counting your macros”.
Using a digital food scale is the most accurate way to track your intake, so I recommend weighing out your food rather than using volume-based measurements (i.e cups, tbsp, tsp) or “eyeballing” a portion.
It’s also important to ensure that you match “raw” vs. “cooked” options for meat, and “dry” vs. “cooked” options for pasta or rice. When you cook meat, water is released, meaning that a cooked serving size will weigh less than a raw serving size. A 4-oz serving of raw chicken is often only a 3-oz serving once it’s cooked.
Pasta and grains are the opposite – a cooked serving will absorb water, so 45 grams of dry rice can weigh 100 grams or more when it is cooked.
The solution: Weigh your food rather than using volume-based measuring cups or spoons, and make sure that you match types of entries: if you weigh your chicken raw, find an entry for raw chicken; if you weigh your chicken cooked, find an entry for cooked chicken.
Reason #9: You’re Inconsistent With Weigh-Ins
Just as it’s important to be consistent with tracking the inputs (everything you eat and drink), you also need to be consistent with tracking your outputs when you are weighing yourself. This means weighing yourself at the same time, in the same conditions, on the same scales. Ideally, you would do this every day.
Perhaps you think you aren’t losing weight because the scale is fluctuating up and down, but you actually are losing weight over time.
It’s very normal for body weight to fluctuate from day to day and even within the day. These fluctuations are a result of many different factors, including:
- Hydration: if you’re dehydrated you’ll have less water weight – you might be happy about a lower number on the scales, but it’s not true body fat that was lost
- Sodium intake: if you’ve recently eaten a lot of sodium, you can be retaining more water than normal – you might be upset about a higher number on the scales, but it’s only water weight and not a sign that you’re gaining or not losing weight
- Undigested food: if you’ve recently eaten a large meal and you haven’t gone to the bathroom, the weight of that food will show up on the scales
- Hormonal fluctuations: especially for women, different hormone levels during different times of the month can cause water retention, which will show up on the scales
- Clothing: different articles of clothing have different weights – even wrapping yourself in a towel can make a difference if it’s a different towel, or if the towel is wet and has a lot of water weight of its own!
You can see that if you weigh yourself first thing in the morning before you eat anything, you’re likely to have a different weight than if you waited until after you’d eaten your meals for the day. Same thing if you sometimes weigh yourself wearing a sweater and jeans compared to shorts and a t-shirt.
So, my advice is to weigh yourself at the same time first thing in the morning, ideally after a bowel movement (if you usually have one in the morning) before eating or drinking anything, and naked so you don’t have to worry about different clothing.
Even with these exact conditions, you still won’t have complete control over things like sodium intake or hormones, so that’s why it’s even better to weigh daily and then calculate an average weight for the week. Using an average will smooth out any unusually high or low weigh-ins.
To find your average weight for the week add all of your weigh-ins together and then divide by the number of weigh-ins.
The solution: Weigh yourself daily at the same time, in the same conditions, and calculate a weekly average weight to compare from week to week to see if you are making progress.
Reason #10: Your Only Measure Of Progress Is The Scale
Finally, it’s important to realize that the scale is a measure of progress that only monitors changes to your body weight, so if the scale is your only way of evaluating progress then you may not notice that you’re actually losing fat.
You could be losing body fat and gaining lean muscle mass at the same time, meaning that your body composition is improving, but the scale is staying the same.
To monitor progress more effectively, add the following measurements of progress:
- Progress photos: take photos of yourself in the same outfit, with the same poses, in the same location, every 2-4 weeks.
- Measurements: take circumference measurements using a soft cloth measuring tape at the same places, every 2-4 weeks (minimum of chest, waist, and hips, but also consider neck, shoulders, arms, thighs, and calves).
- Body fat measurements: use a “smart scale” to estimate your body fat percentage (less accurate) or splurge on a DEXA scan (extremely accurate).
- Physical performance: keep track of your workouts to see if you are lifting more weights, and/or running faster, or otherwise performing better.
- Subjective measures: pay attention to your mood, energy levels, and sleep quality.
The solution: Incorporate additional metrics beyond body weight considering progress. Take regular photos and measurements, and consider qualitative indicators as well.
Other Weight Loss Articles
- Can You Lose Fat Eating Maintenance Calories?
- Eating Below TDEE And Not Losing Weight: 8 Reasons Why
- 1000 Calorie Deficit: Is It Healthy & How Much Can You Lose?
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.