How many times have you asked yourself this question? How often has a friend complained to you that they are not losing weight despite eating clean and working out? I hear it all the time. At the gym, in my family, among my friends. It’s happened to me too. People at the gym saying “you look great, how much have you lost?” and all I could say was “nothing, the scales haven’t moved”.
And if you have read my story of becoming fit and healthy (about me), you know how I struggled through many a weight loss plateau. If you have followed my blog you also know that I am not a fan of the scales in the first place. I don’t think they’re helpful at all in terms of motivating someone to change their lifestyle. The scales more often than not do not reflect the effort put into healthy eating and moving your body. I much prefer other body measurements or wearing certain clothes to establish if my body is changing. Have you got a dream dress in your wardrobe that you wish to fit into? Is there a pair of jeans that were perfect 10 years ago, and you are keeping them because you hope to fit into them again one day? Use these items as your measuring tools for your progress. Inch by inch, they will start fitting you.
However, if you really cannot do without the scales and you would like to measure your weight, I would recommend doing so not more than once a week, always on the same day and same time. Also, give it at least a couple of months before establishing any trend by averaging out the weight loss/gain over time.
I have listed a few factors here why it is possible to NOT lose weight while exercising regularly and watching what you eat.
These factors may or may not apply to you, but the most important thing to remember is that “losing weight”, or, what I prefer, “changing body composition” (by which I mean less fat, more muscle) is a process. It’s a process. It’s a process. Change takes time.
Don’t expect to lose weight overnight. It’s a slow process if it is done in a healthy sustainable way. Most government health centers and nutrition experts recommend losing weight at no more than 0.5 to 1.0 kilo per week. If you are quite overweight and are at the beginning of changing your habits to eating healthy unprocessed food and drinking water instead of soft drinks, you may lose more than that at the beginning. This is mostly due to water loss, as you are likely reducing your sodium and carbohydrate intake. But don’t despair if you can’t see a difference on the scales. Instead, chances are that you can see change when you measure your waist, hip and arm circumference. Or keep putting on the same pair of jeans or trousers and see if they are getting any looser in certain areas.
Your body can hold onto water and as a result your weight can increase or stagnate. According to Healthline, reasons for fluid retention can be pregnancy, menstruation and fluctuating hormones, medications (pain relievers, blood pressure medications, anti-depressants, chemotherapy treatments), too much sodium from processed foods and soft drinks, flying on an airplane and standing or sitting too long.
I experienced this myself as I was stuck on weight loss plateaus for weeks and became quite frustrated. And then suddenly after my period I would lose a kilo. Your weight can fluctuate easily by a kilo from day to day, so it is important to observe progress over a longer period of time to establish a trend.
Sometimes we think we consume less calories than we actually do. Not everyone likes to keep a food journal and weigh every bite they eat. And even when we do, it is easy to forget the odd item such as the cream in our coffee or tea, or the sauce on our steak. Sometimes we simply do not know what is in a dish if we do not prepare it ourselves.
On the other hand, you may not be eating enough. Confusing, I know. Many government health centres, doctors and nutritionists recommend that inactive women consume at least 1,000 kcal a day and inactive men at least 1,200 kcal a day. But the problem is that if you eat less than what your basal metabolic rate requires, your body thinks that times are rough, that there is a famine and that it needs to conserve energy. As a result, it burns less and less calories, your metabolism slows down and as soon as you eat normal again your body puts the excess calories into “storage” for the next famine, i.e. you gain fat. And so the dreaded yo-yo effect and vicious cycle of gaining and losing weight has started.
The American Council on Exercise notes that a 60-year-old, 50 kg woman who is 142 cm tall has a basal metabolic rate of about 1,115 calories a day, which means her body will burn that many calories at rest. So if you are taller, heavier, younger or more active, the recommended minimum of 1,000 kcal a day is not enough. There are plenty of websites where you can put your size and activity level into a formula and it will calculate your basal metabolic rate for you. This is of course not a 100% accurate, but it gives you a starting point.
Muscle vs Fat Volume
You probably have heard before that muscle weighs more than fat. This statement drives me crazy, since a kilo is a kilo – one kilo of fat equals one kilo of muscle. What people mean when they say this is, that the volume of one kilo of fat is much bigger than the volume of one kilo of muscle. Which means in terms of the number on the scale that your body weight may not have changed, but that you possibly gained some muscle and lost some fat and as a result got slimmer or “toned up”. As I said before, take other body measurements than weight. Measure the circumference of waist, hips, thighs and arms instead and see if you drop centimeters there. See if those jeans are getting too big.
Replacing fat with muscle is definitely the end goal. Muscle is what burns the most calories in our bodies even at rest. Basically, the more muscle you have, the more you can eat. I can’t say it often enough – lift weights. Lift weights. Lift weights.