What to Do When The Scale Won’t Budge

Dealing with the dreaded weight loss plateau.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you really felt on top of your game? You went to the gym every time you said you would and crushed it while you were there. You ate really healthy all week and even managed to make some room to treat yourself without blowing your diet. Your energy levels are up, you are pumped and feeling great. And then you step on the scale and…. ugh. All that hard work, and nothing to show for it. Or so you think. Don’t despair; here are some reasons why you shouldn’t rely solely on the scale to measure your progress, and other methods you can use instead.

Why is This Happening to Me?

Weight loss is rarely linear.

As much as we would like to lose weight each and every week at a steady pace, that’s rarely the reality. While we’d like to see a general downward trend, the day-to-day or even week-to-week view can look a lot more bumpy. There may be times when you’ll lose only a tiny bit for a few weeks, and then suddenly drop five pounds only to tick up a pound the following week. This is perfectly normal. Keep your eye on the overall trend to make sure it is moving in the right direction. There are even apps that will take your weigh-ins and create a graph of your overall trend for you (Monitor Your Weight on Android, and Happy Scale for iOS).

You may be retaining water.

Water retention can occur for a number of reasons: a heavy or salty meal, an intense workout, or even your period. This is just temporary weight your body is holding onto, and once that meal is fully digested, your muscles have recovered from that workout and/or your period is over, things will return to normal. In the meantime, however, the scale is not your friend. Just keep in mind that water weight is not body fat, and it is temporary.

You may be building muscle.

If you are doing some heavy lifting, it is likely that in addition to holding onto some water to help your muscles in recovery, just the act of building that muscle is causing the scale not to budge. Weight lifting is fantastic since it helps you burn more calories by raising up your metabolic rate, but while you may be burning off stubborn fat, the muscle you’ve put on may cause this to not be reflected in the number on the scale. This can be frustrating, so try using one of the other methods listed below to get a feel for your progress.

You may be on a plateau.

At some point in their weight loss journey, just about everyone hits a plateau. This is where the scale seems to get “stuck” at the same number for a few weeks. Getting off a plateau often involves shaking things up a bit, so if your diet and exercise routines have been somewhat stagnant lately, it’s time to try something new! Try a new class, a new meal, or upping or lowering your intake for a week to see if that gets things going again.

There is Another Way

How do you feel?

While I am a firm believer in basing decisions of off data, it can be good to step away from the scale every so often and just assess how you feel. Do you feel lighter, either physically or emotionally? Do you have more energy? Is your skin clearer? Are you sleeping better? All these are signs that you are on the right track, regardless of what your least favorite bathroom appliance might have you believe.

Try taking some selfies.

When was the last time you took a full-body picture of yourself? When you see yourself in the mirror every day, it can be hard to notice all the changes that have been happening. But taking a photo of yourself, and comparing it to a photo from even a month ago can show you just how much progress you’ve made. It’s a great idea to take pictures about once a month so that you can really see just how far you’ve come. You don’t have to share these with anyone, and you can even take them with a dedicated digital camera rather than your phone if you are worried about the pictures somehow ending up online.

Try on some old clothes.

Another way you can check for progress without relying on the scale is by trying on some old clothes. You may have items in the back of your closet you never thought you could fit into again that you can wear comfortably now. You may have an old pair of jeans that you can’t even wear anymore because they are way too big on you now. This method of measurement is especially eye-opening if you live in a climate where you have seasonal clothing. You’ll find that items you haven’t worn in months due to weather fit completely differently than they did this time last year.

Measure the old-fashioned way.

If you prefer the cold impartiality of numbers, then measuring via measuring tape is the way to go. Sometimes that scale won’t budge, but you’ll see that you’ve lost an inch here or there. Similar to taking photos, it’s a good idea to take measurements about once a month. The important thing is that you are consistent with where you take your measurements. If you measure your thigh at a two-inch inseam, then always measure there. If instead, you measure at whatever the widest part is, then stick with that. This is a great way to measure progress if you are losing fat but putting on some muscle because the scale might not move, but you will definitely see your tape measurements going down.

Get a body fat analysis.

If you can afford it, or if your insurance covers it, another way to measure progress without a scale is to get a body fat analysis done. You can google for “body fat analysis + Your City” to find locations near you that offer this service. This will give you a very accurate picture of how much body fat you have versus lean muscle mass and bones. Getting an analysis done once a year or every six months will let you see how your body is changing over time.

Next Steps

Don’t give up!

Whatever method you use to track your weight loss progress, don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged if that scale doesn’t move. Keep working towards your best self and remember that it can be a slow process. Through persistence and consistency, you will get there! If your current plan isn’t working for you, check out my FREE 13-diet comparison guide over at Your Ideal Form. Which of these alternative methods for measuring your progress is your favorite?

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