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When the scale doesn’t budge

When trying to lose weight, we expect the numbers on the scale to drop steadily, pair-matched with our consistent effort. However, more often than not, the scale doesn’t move in the way we want or expect it to despite us taking the right action.

Weight loss patterns can be so frustrating for a lot of people and can even cause some folks to give up on their goals. When sitting with my weight loss clients, I’m often asked, “Why did I drop five pounds last week and none this week, when I did the same thing?”

In a perfect world, when you are trying to lose weight, the scale would go down every week and it would go down consistently; it would reflect consistent drops with your consistent effort. Makes sense, right? Well, just like how weight loss is much more complicated than calories in and calories out, so is how your body responds to the weight loss process.

In reality, not many people experience that linear weight loss we all desire. Throughout my more than 12 years in the field of nutrition and weight management, working with thousands of clients, I’ve seen two common weight loss patterns emerge. One is what I like to call the “stair-step pattern.” This is common and presents with weight loss for one to two weeks in a row, and then no loss for about the same length. Then it repeats, another one to two weeks of great weight loss and then one to two weeks of nothing.

The second most common pattern I see is what I call the “roller coaster.” This pattern presents with big drops of weight for about one to three weeks and then one to two weeks of small weight gain. Another one to three weeks of major drops and then one to two weeks of small gains. Not only is this a “roller coaster” on the scale but, as you can probably imagine, often causes a roller coaster with our emotions if we aren’t aware of its existence.

The reason these various patterns present is multifactorial, and I believe we have yet to even understand all of them. For example, factors include but aren’t limited to: the length of time it has been since you’ve eaten; what time of day you are weighing; how much water you did or didn’t drink; hormone fluctuations caused during weight loss; water retention as a result of what you ate during your last few meals; and of course, stress. In fact, just being too concerned about the number when you step on the scale can affect weight loss.

While we could dive into each of these aspects individually, for the purpose of this column let’s just look at stress, a factor many of us ignore. It has been known for a while that stress significantly impacts weight gain. Recently, U.S. News and World Report had an article discussing the five ways stress makes you gain weight. Stress triggers food cravings, makes insulin less effective, leads to more belly fat, insomnia and sabotages your workout. Having a good strategy to combat stress such as exercise, meditation, playing with your dogs or children, and breathing exercises may seem unimportant, but they really are essential.

The most important thing to remember is that the averages with all patterns, linear, stair-step and roller coaster, all come out to be the same. In my practice for example, most men drop three to four pounds a week and most women, two to three pounds. If you find your weight loss patterns fit within one of the above examples, understand the mental game that can be caused by watching the number on the scale. This is why it is important to not weigh too frequently. Once a week is sufficient. If you’re the kind of person who obsesses about the number on the scale, it might be beneficial to find someone who can track the numbers without letting you see them.

If you are a stair-stepper or a “roller-coaster rider,” understand that you will indeed get to where you are going but only if you don’t let those weeks of no losses get in your head. Sabotaging thoughts may pop up when there are weeks with no scale movement. For example:

“I knew it, I would never drop down to XXX pounds, I quit.”

“I will never reach my goal.”

“I’m working so hard but not seeing the results. What’s the point?”

The trick is to catch these thoughts and realize that they are just that: thoughts only and not your reality. The deal is, you must hang in there and hang on during those tougher mental weeks; understand that the fruits of your labor are just around the corner. Do not give up. Do not stress. Instead, maintain the faith, confidence and belief in yourself and the process. Trust that weight loss is more about making consistent healthy choices than it is the number decline, and eventually with the right consistent action, you’ll find your body and the scale, harmonious.

Ashley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.