You started a diet and have been eating better, exercising, drinking more water, and doing all the right things since Jan. Yet, the scale isn’t moving anymore and you’re growing more frustrated by the day. And you begin to think:
“Maybe I’m not destined to be fitter, leaner, or healthier.”
“Maybe it’s my genetics, my age, or some other unknown issue with my innards.”
“I’ll Google why I can’t lose weight and possible disorders. WedMD says I have either stage 4 lymphoma or Hashimoto’s Disease.”
“Maybe I DO have to buy that product or try fasting/keto to get results.”
“....because whatever I’m doing is not working.”
If any of the above rings a bell don’t worry, you’re not alone. This happens to nearly 100% of people in the beginning stages of a fat loss diet change or fitness journey. Waiting for noticeable changes to occur can be frustrating. And questioning your strategy when there are so many options out there is completely natural.
I’m here to tell you to first, chill out, and second, how a few things may be causing the scale to stall or even increase in the early stages of your diet or training program. Let’s take a look.
Glycogen and Stored Carbohydrates in Active Individuals
It may happen through several different mechanisms, but one of the most common reasons could be related to your muscles. While gaining muscle takes longer than you’d think, when you begin strength training your body stores more glycogen (stored carbohydrates) in the now active tissue for recovery and fuel. With that extra glycogen, however, comes water. For every gram of glycogen that is stored, 3 grams of water is stored along with it.
This means that when you begin strength training you will likely begin storing more water weight, causing a slight increase in body weight. You may also experience short-term measurement increases as well. In the thigh, for instance, the muscle may appear fuller and larger with the added glycogen and water. While these differences are typically small, the larger the muscle becomes or the more advanced you are as a trainee could lead to noticeable differences.
Supplements like creatine could also lead to storing more intracellular water and retaining some water weight. In both cases, this is a good thing. It’s important to differentiate between storing more water weight and gaining weight. When most people talk about gaining weight, they’re thinking of gaining body fat. Remember, body weight does not equal body fat.
Change or lapse in diet
Another possibility could be the dietary changes that coincide with a new fitness routine or fat loss diet. If you were eating a highly processed diet or lots of simple sugars and easy to digest foods before, and you swapped in high-volume vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and unprocessed foods – you could weigh more based simply on the volume of food. Most unprocessed, healthier choices contain will take longer to digest thanks to things like fibre and complex chemical structures.
In addition to food changes, most will increase water consumption in the early stages. You’ll eliminate excess water through urine and lose some through sweating and increased respiration rates during exercise. But if you weighed yourself in a dehydrated state, your hydrated state will weigh more, all things being equal.
Time and Expectations
Okay, I lied about the glycogen being the most common reason for scale weight not moving. In reality, it’s that you haven’t given yourself enough time. You must realise that it takes time for noticeable changes to occur. Losing weight or body fat at a healthy, sustainable rate takes time. Using the 1-2% per week of body weight recommendation, losing 1 pound of body fat per week is a great success. That does mean, however, that you’ll only lose 4 pounds of fat in the first month. If you add in the potential weight increases from storing glycogen and dietary changes, you may not see the scale move at all. This can be discouraging, but it’s important to realise that losing body fat, not weight, is the ultimate goal. And losing body fat can, will, and almost always does occur without body weight changing linearly.
Something else to keep in mind is your long-term goal, which probably looks something like ageing well and maintaining independence late into life. Short-term goals can be great daily motivators, but it’s important to not let them overshadow the ultimate goal. To achieve the ultimate goal, lifestyle changes and engraining long-lasting habits will be key. Making consistent, small changes week to week and month to month will eventually compound into something great. Keeping your eye on the end game will also assist in avoiding relapses or yo-yo dieting.
Making consistent, small changes week to week and month to month will eventually compound into something great.
It may sound cliche, but your health and fitness is a marathon – not a sprint. Once you come to terms with the slow paced nature of fat loss, the next step is to remain patient. You can’t rush it or speed it up, no matter what you read online. If I could leave you with one thing it would be to find something that’s working for you and then never read, listen, or watch another thing about fat loss or fitness until your progress stalls. And by progress stalling I mean you have plateaued in body weight, body measurements, performance metrics in your training, and have genuinely stalled in all areas for more than 2-3 weeks. At that point, it’s time to reassess what you’re doing. I’ll even take it a step further and say that anything will work for you as long as its core principles are sound and you remain adherent.
I’ve come around on this point in the past year. This depends on the psyche of the individual If you obsess over weight then this may not be the right option I i still feel strongly about not weighing yourself all the time, especially not daily. Because the truth is, being that concerned about body weight can be unhealthy. And when you add in other factors that make up your health and fitness beyond scale weight, it’s clear that weight can be misleading and inaccurate in many cases. That being said, if body weight is your number one data point, let’s be sure to track it as accurately as possible. As long as you don’t become obsessive about the scale and let it affect your daily life or mood, weighing daily is a great way to paint a more accurate picture.
Once you’ve checked all of the above off the list, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with one of the most common weight loss issues — you’re not losing weight. Everything above can happen in the early stages of a weight loss phase but eventually, a regression to the mean occurs. If you have been dieting and exercising for several weeks, and you haven’t seen progress in weight, measurements, or any data points, you’re not making progress.
It could be that you’re eating more and have an increased appetite from exercise, you’re not eating as little as you thought, or maybe you’re eating better foods that have more calories than you were eating before. A good example of this would be starting a ketogenic diet or high fat protocol where the foods are very calorie dense.
If you were eating 1,500 calories from hamburgers before and switch to 1,500 calories of eggs, butter, meat, and broccoli, you’re going to stay the same weight (for the most part). Give yourself time to make progress but there comes a time when you have to take an honest look at what you’re doing and consider a course correction if need be.
So what can we do to bust this plateau?
Reassess your habits. Look back at your food and activity records. Make sure you haven't loosened the rules, letting yourself get by with larger portions or less exercise. Research suggests that off-and-on loosening of rules contributes to plateaus. Keep that eye on the sauces, drinks and cooking oils
Cut more calories. Not my favoured option but this maybe where the issues lies. You could consider further cutting your daily calories, provided this doesn't damage your metabolism. Fewer than 1,200 calories a day may not be enough to keep you from constant hunger, which increases your risk of overeating. But maybe reducing a further 10% could do the trick.
Rev up your workout. Most people should exercise 30 minutes a day, nearly every day of the week. But people trying to lose weight could exercise more often than that or increase the intensity of exercise to burn more calories. Adding exercises such as weightlifting to increase your muscle mass will help you burn more calories.
Reduce exercise. What! You just said increase your exercises? Well in some cases the body has become so adapt to exercise especially cardio that all you are doing is reducing your energy. Energy that can go into building muscle and keeping you motivated. The risk is that you burn out to the point where you revert back to bad habits just for comfort. In some cases less is more. Your body needs to recover to adapt and if we are over training then we could be creating an environment for tiredness and fat gain rather than the opposite. Reducing exercise doesn’t mean take it easy it means volume. Pack more activity into your day. Think outside the gym. Increase your general physical activity throughout the day by walking more and using your car less, or try doing more yard work or vigorous spring cleaning. Any physical activity will help you burn more calories. This is different to the above in terms of less is more and although this can sound complicated now being more active is a good thing over all.
If you're finding that this is you right now and need some further help shifting that stubborn fat then drop me a line today.