We get questions referring to weight loss quite often and one of the most frequent of those is “why am I not losing weight?” Whether you have just started a workout and you are not seeing the scale budge or you have been working out for a while and the scale has just stopped moving or started back the other direction there are a number common reasons that this may be happening.
First your body is constantly changing weight and it often has little to do with your actual fat content. Often a sudden change for the worse or staying at one weight for a long time can be caused by changes in your body’s fluid level. In less than a 24-hour period your body can easily increase or decrease by 1 to 10 pounds simply by gaining water weight. If you are an avid exerciser then your weight gain or lack of weight loss is probably due to eating an overly salty meal in the last day or so. Also, fluid gain can be caused by fluctuating hormone levels, as hormones can easily cause a very rapid and sustained water weight gain for days at a time.
Another factor that affects fluid levels in the body is changes in blood volume. Your body changes the amount of available blood volume over the course of days and weeks to keep optimum levels in relation to how much exercise you are doing. The more frequently you are exercising the more blood volume your body will maintain. This increase in blood volume will easily increase your overall weight though this increase is usually only seen by new exercisers as veterans will typically already have the available blood that they need.
Another reason that you may not be seeing results or at least not seeing the change on the scale could be related to how often you are weighing yourself. In other words you are actually losing weight but you started checking too soon after starting your routine or to often from weigh-in to weigh-in to see much if any change. So be patient with your progress, give yourself time to change before jumping back on the scale. You should only be weighing yourself once a week but ideally it should only be once every two weeks or more. You should also try to keep the weigh-ins as similar as possible in respect to time of day, day of the week, proximity to waking up, eating, working out, etc.
Also, try to focus on other things to gauge your progress besides the number on the scale. The scale shows you overall changes in weight but says nothing about where that weight is coming from. It is better to focus on changes in your physical ability such as number of push ups or crunches you can do or how fast/far you can run compared to the month or weeks before. Another physical measurement you can check is body composition, and shape. The best way to check body composition is by doing a body fat percentage test. The most accurate of these is a hydrostatic weigh test (dunk tank style) but other versions that are much cheaper can be found more easily, like simple hand held (bioelectric impedance) units, though they are less accurate. Either way a body fat percentage test is a good way to keep track of how your body is changing in regards to the amounts of fat and muscle tissue you have. After all one pound of muscle takes up about 2/3 the space that fat content does, so replacing all of your fat with muscle pound for pound would still make you a third smaller not to mention shaped completely differently.
Another way to keep track of changes in your body not related to weight is circumference measurements. This can easily be done using a tape measure and using a few key spots on your body being sure to always measure the same place each time.
We have included five of the most common measurement sites and how to find them so you can keep it exactly the same each time.
1. Chest: Place the tape measure around your ribcage making a straight line from nipple to nipple.
2. Waist: Measure around your stomach in line with your belly button.
3. Hips: Measure around your butt and hips lining up with the top part of your leg bone and hip socket.
4. Bicep: Measure around the mid part of your upper arm to be most accurate. First measure from the outside of your shoulder to the middle of your bent elbow, then cut the measurement in half to find the middle of your arm as your measurement point.
5. Thigh: Measure around the mid part of your upper leg and use the same technique as for the upper arm by measuring from the top of your leg bone/hip socket to the middle of your knee and cutting that measurement in half to find the mid point of your leg.
The next two sections are probably the most common reasons that exercisers stop seeing or never see fat loss, as the body is designed to trick you in both regards.
The first is that most people overestimate the number of calories they burn while exercising. Especially those who have never participated in organized sports as they typically don’t know how hard they can push themselves. Even those who are veteran exercisers just getting back into a routine tend to feel as though they are working harder than they really are. So, just be sure to push yourself and never be satisfied with just as well as you did the last time. Make sure that you aren’t only putting in half of the effort that you are capable of.
Also keep in mind that the type of workout that you do can also have a very big impact on the total number of calories you can burn per day. For example steady state cardio is a typical go-to workout for those trying to lose fat weight however workouts like strength training or HIIT can easily burn more calories over the course of a day because of their “after burn” effect which increases your metabolism for one to two days after your workout is done, burning calories at an elevated rate without having to do any extra work.
The most common reason that answers the question “Why am I not losing weight?” is the number of calories you are taking in per day.
This is most common particularly due to the fact that your body will be working against you to lose fat every step of the way. As you start to create a calorie deficit each day and burn off fat content your body will increase your hunger levels as well as increasing your food cravings with the specific purpose of replacing the calories you have lost. So be sure to check your snacking and meal size to be sure you are not subconsciously sneaking in any extra calories into your daily diet.
A good way around this problem is to take a week or two to do food logging to get an exact number of calories coming in. Food logging shouldn’t have to be done for more than a week or two at a time to reset your eating habits and portion sizes to get you back on track. Just keep in mind that your body will always be trying to get you to go for the high fat, high calorie foods so having things like snack foods and processed foods in your house will be almost impossible for you to stay away from.
Another issue when it comes to calorie intake, though much less common, is suppressing your metabolism by eating too few calories. When you drop your calorie intake too low you can actually trigger your body to go into a starvation mode, which drastically suppresses your metabolism. This is an automatic response from your body to try and slow the rate at which you are losing weight basically because your body thinks that it will run out of fat stores and not be able to get enough food. So be sure not to over do it when cutting your calorie content down.
If you are unsure of how many calories you should be taking in, it is a good idea to talk to a dietitian or nutritionist to get a diet built specifically for you.
The main thing you should do if you are not losing weight is don’t panic. Don’t let a momentary pause in weight change derail you from your end goal. Just keep at it and you will eventually start moving in the right direction.