In the 90 minutes of face to face time I have with my clients when they start working with me, I can learn a lot about them, which is entirely the point. My consults are a fact-finding mission. It’s this detective work done up front that allows me to help people better in the future. In some cases, the client starts royally pissed off that their current situation isn’t what they’d like.
One case in particular springs to mind: you see, she’d been dieting for 3 months already, but her weight, after initially losing a bit, was at a standstill. Even the 1,000 Calories a day she was on, leaving her pretty hangry most of the time, were not enough to make the number on the scale read less than it was the day before. What’s worse, sometimes it would go up. She told me about forcing herself to do more cardio, cutting out carbs and drinking more water; but it seemed like it was all for nothing. The frustration was palpable.
Reassuring people that they’re doing things right, and that they are losing fat just fine, regardless of what the scale says, is no easy task. The problem, however, is much more common than you think. Telling people just to trust me doesn’t cut it, but explaining why it might be happening at a time of increased frustration and anxiety doesn’t always make sense either. Instead, I’ll use this blog to let you in on all the reasons you’re not losing weight.
If you’re consuming fewer Calories than you burn, you are losing fat. Period. The fact that it’s not showing up on the scale is almost always down to one of the reasons below.
You are stressed
Ever tried to diet during a stressful period in your life? Not only does it make sticking to the diet harder, while making you more prone to emotional eating, it actually makes you gain weight. As always, if you’re taking in fewer Calories than you burn, that weight just isn’t fat.
- Cortisol is usually thought of as the stress hormone
- High levels of cortisol make you retain water
- Shulz et al showed that people with chronic stress secrete more cortisol
High levels of cortisol do not affect fat loss. If you’re stressed but you’re sticking to your diet, then you’re losing fat just fine. It will just be masked when you step on the scale. A lot of water under the skin makes you feel like you’re bloated and fat too, which usually just leads to more stress.
You are not sleeping well
I sometimes go through periods of not being able to sleep. Either not getting off to sleep, or waking up in the middle of the night. During these times, the mirror is not kind. I look fluffy, bloated, and fatter than normal. Again, if I’m sticking to my diet, I’m definitely not getting fatter. The culprit, as will become a trend in this blog, is water again.
- Your kidneys regulate water balance in your body
- Sleep affects the kidney’s sympathetic renal nerves
A lack of sleep is going to affect water retention. Even if your diet is going perfectly, you might not see a difference in the scale.
You just ate something really salty
I’m not a big guy, but around a year ago I ate what I consider the be the saltiest pizza of all time. This bad boy was loaded with anchovies, capers, and black olives. I was so thirsty afterwards that I literally couldn’t stop drinking water. I woke up 4kg heavier. That’s enough to give most dieters a heart attack. It wasn’t the Calories that did it, it was our old friend water.
- If the amount of sodium in your bodily fluids varies in an extreme way, bad things can happen. Your body will regulate this by balancing the amount of sodium with the volume of water. Eat more salty food than normal, and your body will do it’s best to conserve water to decrease the concentration of sodium.
- The human body likes to maintain a certain concentration of sodium in the body. Imagine a tablespoonful of sodium in a small glass of water. Pretty salty right? Now imagine the same tablespoon of salt in a swimming pool. You’re not going to notice it. With the same amount of salt, the less water, the higher the concentration; while the more water, the lower the concentration.
- Your kidneys will try to regulate the amount of sodium in your body by balancing the concentration of sodium to water.
- Consume a tonne of sodium, and your body will do it’s best to get the concentration back to normal by making you thirsty.
- The result will be massive water retention until your kidneys have got everything back to normal.
If you’re sensitive to weight fluctuations, going near the scales after eating processed, or highly seasoned restaurant food is a bad idea.
You’re a woman
If you’re a woman, stress, lack of sleep, and salt can make you retain water just like it can for me. Women, however, also have a cycle of topsy-turvy weight gain and loss to contend with every month.
- Oestrogen and Progesterone’s rise and fall over the course of the menstrual cycle is what causes water retention
- At the start of the cycle in the early follicular phase, water retention is low
- Some water retention occurs after the first week before dropping again after ovulation
- The last 4 to 7 days of the cycle see the most water retention, with up to as much as a couple of kilograms in some of my clients
While all this is perfectly natural, if you are unstructured in when you weigh yourself, like maybe just jumping on the scale one day and then again in a week or so; you’ll never really know what’s happening with your body. Instead, you need to build a bigger picture.
The picture above is some of my actual client data. Notice that the peaks and troughs happen in the same places and that the overall trend is down. Hopping on the scale at random points might just give random results.
You weigh yourself at different times
I’ll keep this one short and sweet. If you weigh yourself one morning, nude, before eating or drinking anything, then weigh yourself the next in the afternoon immediately after drinking a litre of water, don’t expect your results to be consistent.
You got jacked
You can still gain muscle if you’re consuming fewer Calories than you burn. In fact, especially if you were relatively untrained before the diet and then started hitting the weights, the results can be profound. The issue is, if you lose fat while gaining muscle, not much is going to happen to your weight.
Recently, I took some calliper skinfold measurements of a client of mine who was starting a nutrition and training program. His weight at the start of the 12 weeks was exactly the same as his weight at the end, but a look at the skin thickness showed he’d lost loads of fat while gaining muscle.
Sometimes, gaining muscle while losing fat over the long term can result in huge changes. Even if the idea of your weight going up completely freaks you out, and obviously, your goals are your goals, the end result is often a good one
While knowing why your weight might not change while you’re losing fat is all well and good, we need to know what to do about it.
Here are some take-home points.
- You don’t have to weigh yourself. Not at all if you don’t want to. Not everyone wants to jump on the scale every morning. It can be as simple as having a target piece of clothing that might not have fit as well before, or even a target look in the mirror.
- You can take waist measurements if you’re a man, and waist, hip, and thigh measurements if you’re a woman. I give a detailed guide to all of my clients and it gives me a lot of extra insight. If the scale isn’t moving but the tape measure millimetres are going down, I know we’re good.
- You can always hire me to take skin folds like my client above.
- Last but not least, strength increases in the gym are a great indicator of muscle gain. If you’re getting stronger all the time, while fitting into clothes better, you’re likely killing it, regardless of if the scale is moving or not.
Although it can seem like it, what you weigh, far from being the be all and end all, is only one marker of your progress. Recognising this, understanding what is happening, and using the other tools and methods in your arsenal to gauge how far you’ve come will stop you from obsessing about what the scale says, allowing you to think more about what you’ve achieved.
Want to lose weight while still going out to eat the foods you love? Get the eat out stay lean system and never worry about eating out again.