People may find it difficult to lose excess weight for many reasons, including lifestyle and mental factors. Other reasons may be hormonal factors such as menopause or changes in body composition as a person ages.

There is no “one size fits all” solution for weight loss. Regular physical activity and following a healthy, balanced diet almost always play a role. However, managing medical and mental health conditions can also affect a person’s weight.

This article examines the reasons it may be difficult for someone to lose weight. It also discusses the research on managing weight at different ages and possible barriers to weight loss. Finally, it provides weight-loss tips and answers some frequently asked questions.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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People may find it difficult to lose or maintain a moderate weight for various reasons. Some of these include:

  • being unable to exercise
  • experiencing a lack of motivation
  • having desk-based jobs or a sedentary lifestyle
  • consuming high levels of alcohol
  • having difficulty sleeping
  • experiencing high levels of stress
  • experiencing menopause
  • experiencing emotional eating or depression
  • having a lack of nutrition knowledge

Read more about losing weight.

Research from 2018 shows that throughout adulthood, there is a natural increase in body fat up to the eighth decade of life, after which it decreases. The body typically redistributes fat to the middle area, increasing waist size. There is also generally a gradual loss of muscle mass.

It is important to manage these natural changes, as older adults with obesity are at a higher risk of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes and experiencing falls and reduced quality of life. Research from 2017 indicates that weight loss and improved fitness in older adults can improve overall function and health.

A 2019 review of older adults’ experiences of weight management found that the following barriers to losing weight were apparent:

  • lack of willpower
  • issues with health and mobility
  • retirement
  • limited guidance from health professionals
  • less concern about weight than when they were younger
  • financial issues
  • social life, including more opportunities to eat out

However, the researchers note that due to the study population, the findings do not reflect the views of nonwhite ethnic groups in which attitudes toward weight and aging may differ.

Losing weight after 30

Body composition changes as we age, and our weight gradually increases from a young age to about 75 years old. There is an increase in overall adiposity and fat, as well as a decrease in lean muscle mass.

After age 30, people may have more responsibilities and work commitments that can prevent them from being physically active. They may also rely more on processed foods if they are busy or stressed. These factors can make it more challenging to maintain a moderate weight.

Losing weight after 40

While aging comes with increased body fat and sometimes weight, there are additional reasons that people who were assigned female at birth may find it difficult to lose weight after the age of 40.

One reason is that the menopausal transition most often begins between the ages of 45–55.

A 2021 review notes that over 43% of menopausal women have obesity, and the reasons are multifactorial. It explains that during menopause, there is an increase in fat mass and a decrease in lean muscle mass. Additionally, medications doctors prescribe to manage the hormonal and physical changes of menopause, such as hormone replacement and antidepressants, have been shown to promote weight gain.

According to the review, 20% of females gain at least 10 pounds during menopause. This may be due to hormonal changes but appears to be also related to increasing age and decreasing energy expenditure.

Learn more about menopause.

Losing weight after 60

Losing weight after age 60 may be more challenging if someone is less physically active. For example, a person may have retired from work or have health conditions that limit their activity or ability to exercise.

In addition, older adults generally have lower calorie needs but similar or even increased nutrient needs compared to younger adults. Therefore, they may need to adjust their eating habits to manage their weight as they age.

Energy deficit is the key component for weight loss. An energy deficit is when someone burns more calories than they are consuming.

A 2021 review explains that the “calories-in, calories-out” model for weight loss has focused on eating less and moving more. However, the review advises that energy intake and expenditure are dynamic metabolic processes, and the body may make adaptations that resist weight loss.

Additionally, a review from 2018 notes that conventional low calorie diets recommend a calorie deficit of 500–750 calories a day by limiting calories to 1,200–1,500 daily for females and 1,500–1,800 for people assigned male at birth.

Various weight-loss diets may limit fats or carbohydrates or use meal replacements. However, while some sources say that the macronutrient content of a diet is important, the review states that longer-term studies have yet to verify this.

The review concludes that while there is no single strategy for weight loss, the most effective eating plan is one that someone can maintain in the long term to avoid regaining the weight they may lose. It is also important that an eating plan is nutritionally adequate, safe, and affordable.

An individual can speak with a healthcare professional or dietitian for more information on healthy and balanced eating plans.

Read about weight loss meal plans.

Experts advise that people may initially lose more weight when they start a weight loss plan, but as their body adjusts, people frequently experience a weight loss plateau. This is a time when a person’s weight loss may seem to become stagnant.

This may be due to the body having a set point that it levels out to and metabolic reactions that lead to decreased energy expenditure and increased hunger. A weight loss plateau can also be an important recovery period for a person’s body.

It can be a time when the body is readjusting hormone levels or its metabolic rate. It can also mean the body needs time to increase or regain any lost lean muscle mass.

An individual can work with a healthcare professional to find the most effective way of overcoming a weight loss plateau.

Read more about weight loss plateaus.

According to a 2021 review, the following strategies may help an individual lose weight:

If a person feels they need support with losing weight, they can seek advice from a healthcare professional or a dietitian.

Additionally, becoming more active in daily life and including regular exercise may help. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity physical activity.

Learn more about ways to lose weight.

Daniel Bubnis, MS, NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS, reviewed the following common questions about weight loss:

Why is losing weight so hard mentally?

There are many reasons why weight loss can affect a person mentally. One reason is that they may be expecting too much too quickly. When those results do not happen, it makes them feel discouraged. Symptoms such as fatigue or sleeplessness can also make weight loss more difficult. In addition, high stress levels can influence a person’s mental and physical health and affect weight loss.

Why is it taking so long to lose weight?

Everyone is different. For some people, weight loss may take longer due to medical conditions, overall health, and mental health. If an individual has concerns about their weight loss, they can speak with a healthcare professional for guidance.

Weight loss may become more difficult as someone ages or during menopause. Many factors influence weight loss, including sleep, stress, and physical or mental health.

The most effective eating plan is one that someone can maintain and is nutritionally adequate. Eating a diet rich in vegetables and lean protein and avoiding late-night eating are strategies a person can try.

It is important for people to combine a healthy eating plan and regular physical activity for weight loss. An individual can seek support from a healthcare professional if they find it difficult to lose weight.