There are 2 different scales. The first scale has a 150lb woman standing on it. The second scale has a 150lb sack of potatoes resting on it.
Do you think you look different than the sack of potatoes? Of course you do. But to the scale you two are exactly the same.
The scale won’t show you the difference between weight loss and fat loss. It won’t show you your body composition. And because of this, it can make you think you’re not making progress when you actually are.
Let’s look at 3 different weight loss scenarios that tend to play tricks with people’s heads.
Weight Loss Fluctuates Drastically
The first scenario shows how erratic your weight can be on a day to day basis. These daily fluctuations have caused numerous people to develop unhealthy relationships with the scale.
But even though your weight might be going up and down by 1 or more pounds on a daily basis, your fat loss is much more steady. It looks something like this:
What the chart above shows is the difference between the typical person’s weight loss and their fat loss.
Each day they step on the scale their weight could be lower or it could even be higher. But over time the trend should be down.
The problem comes when the scale ticks upwards and fools people into believing they aren’t making progress when they really are. This can result in people getting frustrated and giving up.
But as you can see from the fat loss line they were still making progress day to day. Always view your weight loss over time – not day to day. Losing weight is about maintaining a modest calorie deficit over a long period of time.
Make sure the trend over time is down and you’ll be on the right track.
Changing Your Body Composition
The second scenario happens when people are working out and eating right but they aren’t losing any weight at all. What these people fail to realize is that just because they aren’t losing weight it doesn’t mean they aren’t losing fat.
Their chart might look something like this:
As you can see this person didn’t lose a single pound of weight, but they lost 8lbs of fat over those 6 weeks. This means they also added 8lbs of lean body mass.
Because of this their body composition will have changed for the better. They will be leaner even if their weight hasn’t decreased. And their tape measurements will be smaller in key places such as the waist, hips, and thighs, since this is where most people hold their fat.
Many people would have given up after 3 weeks of this, but as the chart above shows, this would be a huge mistake.
The key for this person will be to make a modest 50-100 calorie downward adjustment to see if they can start getting their weight loss trend line going in the same direction as their fat loss.
Working Out But Gaining Weight
This scenario happens more times than I can count. People go from a sedentary lifestyle and eating an unhealthy diet to one where they are exercising several times per week and eating a great diet.
The result tends to be weight gain. It looks something like this:
This is truly the time when the scale is the most demoralizing. You’re doing all the right things but your weight is actually increasing.
If the feedback loop is going to be – work butt off and eat perfectly = weight gain, who in their right mind would want to continue that behavior?
Why does this happen?
When you go from sedentary to exercising your muscles start increasing their capacity to store fuel. They have to if they’re going to complete the exercise demands you’re throwing at them.
This fuel is called glycogen and it’s part glucose and part water. This creates weight. Not bad weight, but good weight. That’s right – there is a such thing as good weight.
I wrote in more detail why most people gain weight when they start an exercise program. You can read more about that phenomena here.
What people don’t see is the fat loss that’s happening beneath the surface, as it’s being masked by weight gain. But if you just stick it out past that initial adaptation phase the weight loss curve usually corrects itself.
Moral of the story? Don’t rely 100% on body weight as an indicator of your progress. There’s also fat loss, muscle gain, confidence, health, and numerous other progress markers you should be paying attention to.
If the majority of those markers are improving but your weight isn’t yet, don’t stress. Weight loss is just around the corner.