Help! Why is the scale not moving?
You wake up on the day of the week for your weigh-in, either at a clinic or at home. The number on the scale shows the same thing it did last week…and the week before that…maybe even for the past few months. Why is the scale not moving? It seems you’ve hit a weight loss plateau.
Understandably, some feelings related to the scale not moving can include frustration and disappointment. You might also be confused as to why you’re at this point. Below are 7 strategies straight from the dietitian’s mouth (or keyboard…) to help you get to the other side of a weight plateau and continue towards your goal.
Weight loss plateau – why this occurs
There are different reasons why a weight loss plateau can occur.
First, there is the explanation of the body adjusting to its new size and needs. The metabolic rate changes, so you end up losing less weight. Research shows, though, that this is more likely to just slow the rate of loss rather than lead to a complete stall in losing weight (1).
The second reason is much more likely: it is almost impossible to perfectly adhere to a diet regimen day-in and day-out. When there are enough small increases in food consumption, it impacts weight loss and the scale stops moving. The change in diet intake could be so slight you may not even realize it (1).
Tip #1: Avoid cutting back too much
Often our first step in weight loss efforts is cutting back on what and how much we eat. You don’t want to cut back by too much, though. At a certain point of taking in too little, the body goes into “starvation mode” and your weight loss could begin to stall. The body doesn’t think it is getting enough food to maintain basic needs; therefore, it wants to hold onto whatever it has at the time.
If this is a possibility for your stalled weight loss, try eating additional calories (100-200 or so, don’t go overboard!), or include an extra serving of healthy fat/lean protein.
Tip #2: Overcome a weight loss plateau…by eating carbs
Currently, there are several terms being thrown around in the world of diets and meal planning. Keto, very low/no-carb, high protein…they all point to a diet perceived to contain low or minimal carbohydrate content. You still need your carbohydrates, though.
Simple carbohydrates (sweets, juices, baked goods, etc.) are more refined, low in fiber, and can lead to an increase in cravings. Complex carbohydrates are higher in fiber, which means they keep you satisfied after meals and for longer. By eating more complex carbs (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes), you can sustain your appetite and hopefully prevent overeating later on.
Carbohydrates should not be eliminated, but balance is key. The recommended intake of carbohydrates is 45-65% of daily calories. If someone has diabetes, insulin resistance, or PCOS, fewer carbs are likely required when compared to the average healthy person. Thus, aiming for the lower end of the range is better in these cases.
Tip #3: Increase exercise
As your body loses weight, the number on the scale is not the only thing decreasing. Your metabolic rate goes down because of losing some lean body mass. While the goal is to lose fat, some muscle may be lost as well. Additionally, the body uses a lesser amount of calories to perform the same jobs it has been doing (2).
If you are already including exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle, that’s great! However, you may need to increase or change what you’re doing. If you aren’t currently exercising along with your improved diet, this would be a great time to add some in.
Because of the reduction in the body’s metabolic rate, you need to burn more calories in another way. Cutting back calorie intake further may not be an option, but adding exercise to your routine can make the difference.
The goal for aerobic exercise should be at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly, or 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity. If you have not yet started a physical activity regimen, it is a good idea to start slowly and increase over time. If needed, exercise can even be broken up into a few smaller sessions.
Tip #4: Mix up the usual routine
Okay, so you’re already exercising most days of the week at moderate-intensity…now what? This is an ideal time to think about how long you’ve done these activities. Is there room for more variety? Alternating intensity levels? Adding in some strength training? Whatever you end up adding or changing, make sure you’re not at risk of injury, nor are you overdoing it.
Adding in different exercises can keep the body guessing. Also, if you are only doing cardio lately, including strength training will help mix it up and contribute to building muscle.
Remember, exercise doesn’t just mean going to the gym or doing a specific program or sport. Think about how you can add extra movement to your day!
Tip #5: Reevaluate food consumption
Whether you’ve followed a healthier eating pattern for 3 months or 10 months, some things may have changed over time. There could be portion distortion, which is when portions slightly increase but still look “normal.” Or, maybe you haven’t accounted for those couple of extra tablespoons of salad dressing or barbecue sauce lately.
It is often a good idea to reevaluate what you’re eating and how much. A diet journal is recommended, even if just for a few days. This process can get you back on track in case you’re consuming more than you thought.
Check out MyFitnessPal for a free and easy way to track your intake.
Tip #6: Be consistent to break the plateau
As mentioned earlier, it is easy to overdo it ever so slightly where you aren’t aware (but the scale is)! Consistency is crucial to overcoming this problem. If you loosen the reigns and give yourself too much extra room eating-wise or “treat” yourself more often than usual, these behaviors can contribute to the scale not moving.
While there is always time to enjoy your favorite foods, it is important to remain consistent in your weight loss efforts. Whether it means getting back to the basics or using a food journal to be more mindful of your choices, staying on track will only help conquer the weight loss plateau.
Tip #7: Have patience
While a weight loss plateau is something we want to avoid, it is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be viewed as your body taking a moment to adjust to its “new norm.” In fact, a weight plateau is a completely normal part of the process.
Unfortunately, though, a plateau can affect efforts to stay on track because of the desire to lose weight each time we step on the scale. If the scale hasn’t budged, do your best to keep a positive attitude and be patient. With the strategies above and understanding of the body’s processes, I am hopeful you will start to see a decrease in weight soon enough.
Just a reminder: if you don’t have a lot to lose or are close to your goal weight, it could take a bit longer to get there. Your body naturally wants to hold onto some extra weight as part of our survival mechanism, so you may find you’ve lost less in recent weeks. That’s okay and perfectly normal!
Conclusion – Reassess and remain optimistic…the scale will start moving soon!
Whew, we covered a lot! Hopefully, after reading these tips, you have more tools and knowledge to push through a weight loss plateau. With the scale not moving, it simply means this is a good time to reassess your progress so far and identify areas that may need some tweaking.
Weight loss is a journey towards better health, and sometimes it is not a straight line. Focus on non-scale victories such as increased energy, the ability to do new activities, or improvement in medical conditions. Simultaneously, figure out if your diet or exercise regimen needs to be adjusted and keep moving forward with the revised plan.
Hard work pays off…you got this! 🙂