While sitting at the airport on the way to St Louis for another seminar tour, I decided to depart from my usual routine of listening to my music, head down checking emails, and unplug. You hear some interesting things when you just listen and observe people in settings like airports.
Of course, I seem to have ultra-sonic hearing to pick up on conversations about weight loss and fitness. A question disguised as a complaint that I just heard one lady ask of another is “why isn’t the scale moving?”
Everyone who attempts to lose weight will ponder this frustrating observation. In spite of your valiant efforts, you may suffer the disappointment to see no changes on the scale. Faced with this rude awakening, frustration and confusion often result, sometimes in despair.
These emotions can be destructive and ironically further sabotage your weight loss goals. Don’t let this happen. Your health and happiness are too important to let a weight scale derail your progress.
Instead, I’m going to tell you why the scale may be failing to move and what to do about it.
Here are the most common reasons why the scale isn’t moving:
1.Lack of consistency
Most people over estimate the positive effect of the 5 days a week of eating perfectly and exercising, and underestimate the negative effect of a couple bad eating days and skipping a workout or two.
Solution: Track the X’s. Get a calendar (a real one, not your phone) and put an x on the days that you ate at least 90% healthy meals below your calorie budget. If you don’t have 28-29 Xs on the calendar each month, no need to get on the scale. You simply need to get more x’s on the calendar first.
2. Too many calories
Studies show that those trying to lose weight will underestimate caloric consumption by up to 50%. That is assuming you know how many calories you need to consume. There has never been any study in humanity that shows you can lose weight without consuming less calories. This is an indisputable law.
Solution: Find out how many calories you need to lose weight, then track with a food log. The best calorie estimations are based on determining how much lean mass you have by assessing body composition. Next, use an app like “Lose It” or “My Fitness Pal” to see how well you are staying within your calorie budget. This can take a couple of weeks to get down, but you’ll find that later it will be a piece of cake.
3. You are experiencing body recomposition vs. weight loss
In some beginners starting to exercise (especially doing resistance training), they may see some increase in lean mass while at the same time losing fat mass. For example, you may gain 1.5 lbs of muscle (which will increase calorie expenditure, amongst many other benefits) and lose 1.5 lbs of fat over 4 weeks. A weight scale won’t indicate this, however.
Unfortunately, if you wrongly interpret this finding and indicate a lack of progress, you might be tempted to throw in the towel in disgust and claim that something is mysteriously wrong with you keeping you from losing weight. Please don’t do this! Instead, you might have been doing all the right things.
Solution: Get your Body Composition Tested. This can be done by a qualified fitness expert to help estimate your lean mass, which is the key determinate of your resting metabolic rate, and thus your calorie needs. Also, it will help give you an idea if you are losing fat, not just weight, which is the real goal. That’s why assessing body composition is so important.
4. You are doing the same thing over and over
Many will see some significant changes on the scale when they first embark on a fitness and nutrition program. All too often this progress comes to a screeching halt. Too many fail to realize that this is because your body no longer perceives the stimulus you are imposing on your body as a challenge. Essentially, your body adapts. You must realize that what got you here (your current progress) won’t be the same way to get you there (your ultimate goal). If you program isn’t evolving and changing, your body won’t change either.
Solution: First work harder, then work more. Unfortunately, too many just “try something different” and that’s a costly mistake. Just throwing things against the wall to see what sticks isn’t training for results, it’s just spinning your wheels. That’s the difference between training and working out.
Training involves a clear, efficient plan designed for you based on your unique needs, then systematically progressed. Working out or randomly trying different classes and routines without any clear rational besides mixing it up is not only a symptom of what I call “exercise ADD”, but it’s also a prescription for stalling progress, injuries, and frustration. Instead, focus in taking what you are doing and making it harder.
Resistance training provides the best opportunity for this. Adding more weight is the most effective way to do more work in less time, while also preserving metabolically active muscle, essential for function and burning calories. Avoid the temptation to just do more reps or more exercises. This can easily lead to over training, and makes your workouts longer. While still an effective strategy, it’s not the first thing to do.
5. Your expectations are off
Superstars undergoing cleanses and shows demonstrating extreme weight loss exercise in conditions that rarely apply to the real world, and are often unhealthy. While there are ways to lose a significant amount of weight rapidly and safely, these are rarely behind the 30 lbs a month that you see in the media and advertisement.
While I have supervised dozens of cases that resulted in this type of weight loss, the conditions need to be near ideal. And few people are able or willing to make such changes, which is fine. You can still make great progress, but that often means you need to adjust expectations. For example, many studies show weight loss occurring at a rate of .5 lbs a week in women, and those are characterized as the fast responders.
I’ve seen tremendous variability in how fast people will lose weight, but I have never witnessed, nor has such a case been documented, when someone fails to lose weight when creating a calorie deficit. Having exaggerated expectations makes you prone to giving up, or prematurely switching away from an effective program.
Solution: Listen to the research and professionals, not the media and self appointed gurus. Losing weight, while forming habits, getting strong, learning proper technique, and preventing muscle loss, injuries, and feelings of intense hunger is a juggling act. Life rarely cooperates. So your plan has to be solid and nimble, adjusting and reacting to variations that your boss and life throw at you.
This can be overwhelming to manage yourself, which is precisely why the experts at Spectrum exist to help guide you. Going at it on your own can be like navigating a jungle. It can be done, but you’ll be more likely to come out on the other side in one piece with an experienced guide.
6. You are measuring the wrong thing
Sure, the scale will be a good rough estimate of your progress. But it is not my preferred measure. Although body composition is better, that still isn’t my favorite measure. Too often we focus on the numbers, but fail to measure the behaviors and habits that get you the results. These behaviors and habits form stable skills that you can rely on for the long term to get results that last.
Solution: Focus on process goals, not just outcome goals. Rather than only tracking your weight, track a behavior or habits that you have more immediate control of which will also lead to long term success. For example, track how many nights you chose cottage cheese vs. the ice cream you usually have while watching TV. Or track how many days you work out each week or month.
For various reasons, weight may fluctuate on a daily basis regardless of how well you ate. Menstruation, hormone fluctuations, water intake/retention, medication changes, and sodium intake are amongst the many non calorie related mechanisms that can cause weight to fluctuate by a few pounds in any given day.
But your behavior is something you have clear and direct control over, and is easily measurable. You either did it, or didn’t. Only you are in control of that. While having results based goals is still important, process based goals are equally and perhaps more so important
7. You are in survive vs. thrive mode
I’ve been baffled many times earlier in my career as to why some people just could not lose weight, even though it was clear they were working hard, eating healthy, keeping calories low, and progressing their program appropriately. After over a decade of documenting these cases, I finally started to see a pattern: they weren’t recovering.
They were stressed, not sleeping, or had sleep apnea. This is often the most common reason for the scale not budging, but rarely appreciated. Increased stress will elevate cortisol for prolonged periods of time, which leads to water retention and puts a halt to fat metabolism, among other things. Some will also turn to food to palliate the negative emotions as well.
In addition, a lack of sleep alters hormones that regulate hunger, such that we are hungry more often and do not feel as full when we eat. A lack of sleep will also hinder recovery from exercise, negatively affect our mood, and decrease our drive for activity. Not recovering will make fat loss even more of a struggle.
Solution: When you are convinced that you are doing everything with your diet and exercise right, consistently, yet you aren’t seeing results, the smartest thing to do is to turn to recovery. First, identify and address sources of chronic stress. Distractions like music, art, getting outdoors, or a good comedy are short term fixes. Talking with close friend or a professional about your problems is a simple and effective strategy. Making sleep a priority is just as important.
Get to bed at a consistent time, make sure your room is dark and cool, and avoid stressful or stimulating conversations or shows before bed. Keep a note pad and pen on your night stand to do a “brain dump” to get ideas swirling around your head out of your mind that are keeping you up so you can shut down. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol.
These are just a few of many simple, yet effective “sleep hygiene” habits to commit to. Every single time a stuck client commits to improving recovery, the scale starts moving again.
As you can see, there are some major reasons why the scale won’t budge, but having clear solutions to these problems can take someone from being very frustrated to very successful in achieving their goals. Getting the scale to move in the right direction isn’t easy, but identifying the things you need to work on and constantly working on them will make a big impact.
If you want my team and I to walk you through our proven system so you can see results in 30 days and learn how to make them last far beyond that, click here. We are only taking 9 people, first come first serve.