Updated: Aug 4
When you change your eating habits and sneak in more exercise, yet the scale doesn't seem to budge. That growing frustration of feeling like you're trying so hard and getting nowhere.
The reality is even when we think we're doing everything right we may be overestimating our efforts and without realizing it, sabotaging our goals.
6 reasons the scale isn't moving:
1. You underestimate your calorie intake. You might be surprised to find you're consuming more than you think. Documenting daily food and beverage consumption can be a great way to demonstrate just how much (and what) you are consuming each day. It can also help you identify patterns or where you can make 1% improvements toward your goal.
Dietary trackers are a great resource for showing nutritional areas where you could be low, high, and/or where you might need some help better hitting your nutrition targets. From misjudged portion sizes to assuming the amount of whole vs. empty calories consumed during the day, it can be easy to underestimate how much you are actually eating and drinking. And those calories add up.
Keep in mind if your goal is weight loss, caloric expenditures should exceed calorie intakes. Meaning, the more active you are the more calories your body will burn, and the less active you are the less calories it requires to do the job. In general, 1 lb of fat loss per week equals a 3,500 calorie reduction (but don't panic, that's just 500 calories a day over the week!), and the empty calories should always be the first to go. It is important to note that not all calories are created equal. 100 calories of carrots is not the same as a 100 calorie glass of wine. If you're eating/drinking 1800 calories of processed gunk and with very little whole and nutrient dense foods in your diet, then your body will struggle to shed the fat. For some tips on clean eating, check out my article How to Practice Clean Eating for Weight Loss.
2. You overestimate how hard you're exercising. You're sweating, breathing hard, and muscles are feeling tired so you must be getting in a good workout and hitting your target heart rate, right? Not necessarily. If your goal is to trim down and tone up then you want to ensure you're ramping up the intensity of your exercise and are in your active heart rate zone.
A simple way to do this without spending countless hours in the gym is through HIIT exercise (High Intensity Interval Training). In contrast to steady-state conventional cardio exercises, HIIT utilizes high-intensity interval periods of exercise, often involving several muscle groups at once, followed by a lower-intensity or rest periods - like an all out sprint followed by a light jog or fast paced walk or a series of jump squats followed by a short rest break. And HIIT exercise takes half the time of conventional workouts! #gamechanger
I tell my clients if you can easily hold a conversation, sing your A-B-C's or feel like you could work a bit harder, then you probably aren’t exercising in your active heart rate zone. There is a difference between building cardio endurance and burning fat. Endurance activities are excellent for heart health and supporting strong bones (so keep doing those too), but if your goal is to trim down and tone up, you'll have to increase the output.
3. You aren’t getting physically active as often as you think. One or two days a week for an hour a day is not enough exercise to combat sitting for 10-12 hours a day. With more and more people spending their day at a desk, sitting in the car, playing video games, or scrolling their smartphones, well, we aren’t getting as much movement in our day as we did even a decade ago.
The body is made to move and movement = calorie burn and boosted metabolism. Take an honest look at your week, how much physical activity are you actually getting each day? Challenge yourself to look for opportunities to move your body, whether it's walking 10 minutes at lunch, walking to the furthest bathroom, standing every time you take a sip of water, or meeting a friend for a walk and talk... every step counts. Aim to get 10,000 steps a day to strengthen your heart, help your body store less fat, stabilize your blood sugar, boost mental performance, and reinforce other healthy habits.
4. You are ingesting the same (or more) calories because you've started exercising. I often say you can't outrun your fork. As a runner I can't tell you how many times I saw someone run a 5 or 10K and then make plans to go hit the local pancake house to load up on their reward.
Adding fitness to your weight loss plan is excellent for so many reasons and when paired with good nutrition you have a powerhouse team! A common mistake I see is overestimating just how many calories are actually being burned during exercise and then using that as a deposit in the bank to eat more. Another roadblock to weight loss is exercising more, yet continuing to eating processed foods that are high in unhealthy fats, processed sugars and laden in salt. In short they're eating too much of the gunk and not enough of the good stuff.
A common misconception is by adding fitness we are able to earn more food. That is a yes and no answer. Remember as we discovered in tip #1, if your goal is weight loss your caloric expenditures should exceed calorie intakes. If the goal is fat loss, then ultimately there has to be a calorie deficit, meaning we have to use more calories than we consume each day. Other factors that can derail healthy eating habits and inadvertently challenge your weight loss includes chronic stress, lack of sleep, increased alcohol consumption, not enough water, and even too few calories, in other words starving your body of the nutrients it needs to perform at its best i.e. lean proteins, healthy fats, complex carbs). In order to achieve results that last, you want to use a balanced approach for body, mind and spirit.
5. You are still doing the same fitness routine. Repetition is great in many ways, but it's important to know that the body is built to adapt and be efficient. As your body adapts to a fitness routine it will begin to work more efficiently, which often translates to plateaus. This is why I never teach the exact same fitness class twice and I mix up my private client's fitness routines every 4-8 weeks.
Have an activity you love? Don't worry, you don't have to ditch your favorite fitness! Just try throwing some new exercises in there that will target muscle groups in a fresh, new way. For example there are loads of ways to do a squat, push up or plank. And there are many ways to increase challenge, such as ramping up your speed, increasing your weight loads, or working in multiple planes of motion. This is also a great way to reduce overuse injuries and promote a healthy overall balance within the body.
Consistency is a wonderful thing, and so is exploring new opportunities.
6. You rely on the scale. I see this all the time. People fixated on that number on the scale, why isn't it moving? Remember the scale is just one indicator of fat loss in the body. Body measurements (such as hip, waist, legs, arms and chest) can also be a great representation of changes to your body composition, demonstrating inches lost and muscle gained. And you might be surprised to know that your weight can fluctuate throughout the day, 1-5 lbs depending on the person!
Hormones, water retention or dehydration, dietary changes, sodium levels, etc. all influence your daily weight and can explain why you can feel slim and trim one day and bloated and uncomfortable the next. Ever jump on a scale in the morning and see one number, then jump on again that afternoon or evening and wonder what the heck happened? Rather than getting caught up in the number on the scale, start tuning into how you feel, how's your energy, your mood, your sleep? How are your clothes are fitting and are there any other notable improvements such as improved health stats? Progress is happening from the inside out, and it is reflected in so many more ways that just that number on your scale.
The take away: it's time to self-assess with a few important questions...
What am I doing well?
What positive changes am I noticing in my body?
What could I be doing better?
Where am I consistently putting my time and energy?
Where could I make a 1% improvement?
The answers to these questions can help reveal patterns or missteps. They can also highlight where you can start spending less time and attention and where you might need to put your focus for greater awareness and results. Practices such as dietary tracking, fitness tracking and journaling can help you document your day-to-day routine for valuable insight.
When you write down everything you eat and drink, including the amounts and timeframes, you will be able to see patterns such as eating when you're stressed, tired, or bored. You might also notice how stress, sleep and physical activity are influencing your decisions. If you're feeling routinely stuck, try recruiting a power partner. Whether it is a friend, co-worker or neighbor, or hiring a coach or trainer, accountability and support are huge. Not only in creating healthy habits, but in making them stick!
Are you a busy man or woman who's ready to feel strong, live healthy, and get fit? Discover how to take small steps to get healthy & fit without cutting out the foods you love or spending countless hours on cardio. Come join me inside my online Facebook Community - The Healthy Habits Club. It's where busy folks go for tips, tools and support they need to eat healthy, move daily, and feel good for life!