Why Don't I Look Like I'm Losing Weight?

scale with no numbers
Not seeing the number on the scale drop can be disappointing. (Image: © Rick Elkins/Moment/Getty Images)

It can be frustrating to spend long hours at the gym, eat nutritiously for weeks, and yet fail to see weight-loss changes in the mirror or on the scale. Rest assured, however, that if you keep trying to lead a healthier lifestyle and lose weight, your body will begin to take on a new shape. Diet and exercise are still the gold standard for long-term weight loss. You may not physically look as if you are losing weight, but changes are happening that you cannot see.

Look for Health to Improve First

Much of the motivation to lose weight lies in physical appearance. While this is an important aspect of losing weight and the most recognizable, it is not often the first improvement enjoyed with weight-loss efforts. If exercise is included in your weight-loss plan, your body will begin to function more efficiently right away. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that in the absence of weight loss, aerobic exercise improved lipid and glucose metabolism after six weeks. The American College of Sports Medicine states that aerobic exercise and resistance training reduce resting blood pressure. Be confident that efforts taken with physical activity and diet modifications are having a positive impact on your health.

Expectations for Losing Weight

Depending on how fast you want to see results, expectations for weight loss can be bigger than what will immediately happen. Participating in an exercise program and cutting calories by approximately 500 per day will help you lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, the recommended amount of weight loss. Continuing to eat poorly -- lots of processed and fast food, for example, or too much sugar -- but beginning an exercise program, will slow down weight-loss efforts.

At the same time, eating appropriate portion sizes of nutritious food -- fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats -- but failing to participate in physical activity will also yield slower results. A 2012 study in Obesity concluded that while either diet or exercise alone will benefit weight loss, when you combine the two, the results are more pronounced. Measure your expectations for weight loss with the quality of your diet and continue with daily exercise.

Exercise for Weight Loss

The type of exercise performed can influence how quickly you will notice a decrease in your weight, both visually and on the scale. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that resistance training did not reduce body fat percentage, but it did increase lean body mass. In addition, aerobic exercise produced greater losses in weight and fat mass. While your body will begin to change shape, you may not notice a drop on the scale. Adding aerobic exercise to your routine can help burn more calories, and you may notice a change sooner.

Weight Loss Changes Can Be Subtle

Weight-loss changes are subtle and often are not realized immediately. People who see you every day may not notice either. Take a full-length picture of yourself and wait a few weeks to take another in the same clothes at the same time of day. In a 2011 study published in Qualitative Health Research, some study participants found taking pictures to be a motivating factor for weight loss. Before and after pictures can be a powerful reminder of how far you have come. Successful weight loss is more of a marathon than a sprint.

When to See a Doctor

If you have been following a vigorous diet and exercise program for many weeks, and the scale is not going down, it may be worth a trip to your doctor. A physician will be able to evaluate your health to determine if underlying issues or medications are keeping you from achieving weight loss. Your doctor may also refer you to a registered dietitian who can assess you current diet and make appropriate changes to help you meet your goals.

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