Have you ever gotten stuck trying to lose weight? It’s frustrating – you’re doing everything right, you rarely cheat, you’re working out, yet the number on the scale refuses to budge. If you’ve been trying to lose weight for long, chances are you’ve been there. For many people, this is the point they struggle at before giving up and throwing in the towel because they can’t attain their ever-elusive ideal weight. Let me pose a question to you: What if weight loss isn’t about a number on the scale? What if your overall health and level of fitness actually can’t be represented by your weight?
Here’s the truth: It isn’t. Yes, how much you weigh is a piece of your health, but it isn’t the whole picture. We’ve all seen runway models who weigh nothing but are not in the least healthy in their lifestyle or methods of being that way. When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easy to equate your success or failure by whether the number on the scale keeps getting smaller. In reality, losing weight is more often a two-steps-forward-one-step-backward journey. Your weight will fluctuate, and it’s likely you might “plateau” and get stuck for a while. Don’t worry! This is normal, and here’s why:
Working out. If you do an intense workout but fail to hydrate the way you should, it’s quite possible you’ll lose a pound or two of water weight1.
Food you just ate. On average, you’ll eat 3-5 pounds each day2. Depending on how quickly your digestion works, this might sit in your stomach longer than you’d expect.
Bathroom habits. Without going into unnecessary detail, your bladder and bowel can easily account for 1-2 pounds (or even more) of weight fluctuation in a short amount of time.
Hormones. Especially in women, hormonal fluctuations can play a big role in how much water your body retains.
Water weight. Initially, you probably lost weight fairly quickly. Most of this weight was probably actually water weight. Every gram of glucose in your body holds on to around 3.5 grams of water2. As you reduce you lessen the amount of carbs you eat, you lose that extra water storage causing you to more rapidly lose weight. Average weight loss while actively dieting is 1-2 pounds per week, but it’s about twice that amount in that first week or two.
Water retention. That extra helping of carbs last night or high-sodium lunch might not have been bad for you, but the carbs and sodium both do the same thing: cause your body to retain water.
Medication. There are a whole range of medicines that cause water retention and weight gain in other ways, and some of them are quite common. Check your prescription labels to see if this might be a reason for your stall out.
Muscle gain. You’ve probably heard it before, but let me remind you: muscle is denser than fat. If part of your weight loss strategy is exercising while feeding your body high-protein foods to prevent muscle loss, chances are you’re actually building muscle too – which is a good thing! Because it’s denser, a pound of muscle takes up less room on your body than a pound of fat. It may seem like you’re losing weight slower even though you’re losing inches that would seem to indicate otherwise.
As you can see, there’s any number of reasons why your weight is fluctuating. Instead of obsessing on the scale every day (check out this story of what happened when one woman weighed herself 15 times in one day1, and what she learned from it), begin to focus on more accurate markers of your progress. Here are five real ways to measure weight loss:
- Take measurements. Get out the tape measure, and record where you’re at. Good places to measure for weight loss3 are your chest, waist, hips, thigh, and upper arm. Once a week (at the same time on the same day) re-measure and record the results. Bonus tip: taking pictures4 will, over time, also help you visibly see the changes happening in your body.
- Look at your energy levels. Think about how hard it was to walk up the stairs before you started, and how easy it is now. Chances are, because you’re eating healthier and working out you’re also probably sleeping better. Better energy levels are a sure sign you’re overall health and lifestyle is improving.
- Track your success in sticking with your goals. Keep a food diary, and record every time you go to the gym. Even record how you feel physically. Consider making your goals not about a target weight, but around easily achievable things like running for 15 minutes three times this week or cutting sugar out of your diet entirely for a month.
- Put on some clothes. Do a little before-and-after fashion show with yourself. Put on the pants that barely fit before you started losing weight, and see how they’re a little loose now. Notice how differently your clothes fit, and celebrate that!
- Think about how you feel about you. Eating right, working out, and living a healthy lifestyle is bound to have positive psychological effects. You feel better, more confident, and physically more capable. Focusing on these accomplishments keeps the real goal in perspective of being a healthy person instead of a number on a scale.
At this point, I’d like to make a radical suggestion: go get rid of your scale. It’s actually making you focus on the wrong things as you work to lose weight. Trade it in for some different metrics, and realize that you feeling good and learning how to live a healthy lifestyle is more important than getting rid of those last three pounds.