Ask the Dietitian: I’m Working Out But The Scale Isn’t Going Down

Ahhhh the scale. You dedicate the time to exercise, you put the work in, maybe you even start noticing that your clothes are fitting a little differently and getting looser, but that scale just isn’t budging. It’s so annoying and can make you feel like the work you’re doing is for nothing, right?


Maybe you are doing exercise that used to help you lose weight in the past but not so much anymore which is even more frustrating! Our bodies are constantly changing and things that used to work may no longer be working.


Here are a few factors to consider when you feel like you’re doing everything right but you’re not seeing results.


Your body composition. Have you heard the whole “muscle weighs more than fat” phrase? It’s actually true in a way! When comparing 5 lbs of muscle to 5 lbs of fat, that fat mass is going to be a lot larger in diameter of the muscle. This is because muscle is very dense. Think about muscle like a roast, and fat like cotton candy. They may look like they’re the same size, but that roast weighs significantly more. So remember, the scale only tells 1 part of the story but not the whole story. It doesn’t take into account what your body composition.


Your exercise. What type of exercise are you doing? How intense is your exercise? Is your heart rate remaining elevated throughout your workout if you’re doing a cardiovascular exercise? When you’re lifting weights, are the last few reps challenging? Are you breathing heavy with those reps? Are you getting a variety of exercise? 


I know it’s a lot to think about and sometimes you aren’t sure what you should be doing. Cardio, strength training, and flexibility work are equally as important when it comes to exercise. Cardio type exercises like running, biking, rowing, etc burn a lot of calories if done consistently, but you should also be doing strength exercises as well to build muscle which also impacts how many calories you burn at rest. Calories burned are important when trying to lose weight, however it’s not the only thing to pay attention to.


Your nutrition. Every one of us has our own unique needs. We all have a different metabolic rate. Metabolic rate is the amount of calories or energy your body needs to keep you alive and functioning. A few factors play a role in metabolic rate: age, height, weight, sex, muscle mass, genetics, medical conditions, and activity factor. Did you know as you get older, your metabolic rate slows down? A few things to think about with your nutrition: are you eating the right amount of food? Are you eating a variety of food? Are you eating enough protein? Are you drinking enough water?


Once you know how many calories it takes your body to maintain your weight, you can make adjustments to your diet and eat slightly less than your rate in order to create a deficit and lose weight. I recommend meeting with a dietitian to determine what this number may look like for you. Don’t want to count calories? No problem! A dietitian can help you plan meals and snacks that work for you and your needs so you don’t have to count every calorie you eat. 


What Not To Do


Cut too many calories. If your goal is weight loss, you want to make sure you’re in a caloric deficit, that is, eating less than your body needs to produce weight loss. But cutting too many calories will cause you to lose muscle mass too and may put your body into starvation mode which can have a negative impact on your metabolic rate in the long term. 


Exercise excessively. If you’re exercising and not seeing the scale move, it may be tempting to work out more. In some cases this may be helpful if you aren’t exercising much, however, it’s not necessary to work out for hours a day. It can burn you out and increase your risk of injury. 


What To Do

Get an estimate on how many calories your body needs. I’d suggest using a dietitian, however, there are body composition analysis machines like InBody Scan that can give you a close idea. Those don’t take into account medical conditions and genetics, but they do look at lean mass, height, weight, age, and sex. Once you have an idea of how many calories your body burns each day, you know that in order to lose weight, you need to consume a little less than this. 


Fuel your body well. Make sure you have a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats as well as about 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Drink half your body weight in lbs in ounces. (Example: 150 lbs = 75 oz water). 


Switch up your exercise routine. Try a new kind of exercise. Maybe try adding incline to your walks or try a new exercise class. 


Take measurements. Sometimes you’re losing inches but not pounds. Checking your body measurements or doing a body composition scan can show you more results.

Keep on pushing through. Sometimes results take awhile to see. Change happens slowly but surely so evaluate your intake vs your output and focus on consistency!

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