Feature Archive

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 Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
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.