Is Weight Loss Always a Sign of Progress?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say:
“I’ve been working so hard but I gained weight this month. Why is this happening?”
For some reason, “progress” in the gym is oftentimes correlated with weight loss. The more the scale goes down, the “better” someone is doing.
Let’s get one thing straight: progress does NOT always mean a lower number on the scale!
What constitutes improvement is going to depend on your body composition, your goals, your relationship to diet and exercise, as well as other factors. Depending on who you are, weight loss might not be the best indicator of your progress. In some cases, it may even mean regression.
Before you freak out from what the scale is telling you, ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you feeling stronger?
This is going to vary based on your starting point. For some, that could mean being able to walk up a flight of stairs without breathlessness while for others, it could mean hitting a new personal record in the gym. Whatever it is, be proud of all the activities that you could not do before but you can do now.
If you’ve been smashing your workouts, feeling less pain, or moving better overall, that is an indication of progress, no matter what the scale tells you.
2. Do you have a healthier relationship to diet and exercise?
Sometimes, improvements aren’t apparent in numbers but in your habits and mindset. Maybe you don’t dread going to the gym anymore, or you don’t feel like you have to spend hours doing cardio anymore. Maybe you were scared to eat certain foods, and finally found food freedom.
A more positive outlook on exercise and food aren’t easily quantifiable signs of health, and you may experience these benefits even if the scale goes up. Nonetheless, this is a very valid sign of progress, and deserves equal weight when you tally your achievements.
3. Are your clothes fitting better?
If you’re exercising regularly, especially if you’re strength training, you may see an increase in the scale as you gain some muscle. While a pound of muscle weighs (obviously) the same as a pound of fat, muscle mass has a greater density whereas fat has a greater volume. So while the two weigh the same, a pound of muscle will take up less space and look smaller than a pound of fat.
4. Do you need to lose weight?
Here’s something shocking: you don’t need to lose weight to be healthier. Sometimes, a drop in scale weight can be a bad sign. If you’re dehydrated, doing unhealthy amounts of exercise, or depriving yourself of essential nutrients, does that really translate to forward momentum?
If you’ve lost track of why you’re trying to lose weight (for many, it may be a habit to be in a constant dieting mode), ask your doctor to help you determine if your weight is on target from a health perspective.
This does not necessarily mean to stop weighing yourself altogether. For some, using the scale in addition to other data points can be a really helpful way to determine how things are moving along.
However, understand that your weight is a one-dimensional interpretation of what it means to be healthy. Don’t focus on the number on the scale without proper context to assess your progress; instead, focus on the improvements you're making in the gym and on your overall health.
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