7 Signs You’re Getting Healthier Even if You’re Not Losing Weight

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7 Signs You’re Getting Healthier Even if You’re Not Losing Weight

It’s no secret that there are myriad ways to measure your overall health: strength, aerobic fitness, cholesterol levels, mood and, of course, the seductive shrinking of that number on the scale. But what happens when you’re not dropping pounds — or worse, you’re actually gaining a few — despite sticking to your diet and exercise commitments?

This isn’t a sign that you should throw in the towel. The number on the scale is simply one factor of your health, and weight-loss plateaus are incredibly common.

If you feel like you’ve hit a frustrating leveling-off period after making some dietary changes, it might be time to amp up your fitness routine to restart that slimdown. Add speed drills to your morning run or tack cardio onto your weight-training routine.

In the meantime, to keep you going strong to the other edge of that plateau, pay extra attention to these seven signs that you’re getting healthier even if you’re not losing weight:

1. YOU HAVE MORE ENERGY

A major perk of dropping pounds is the increase in energy you experience as you get fitter. But even as your weight loss slows or plateaus, research points to the energy uptick you’ll experience when you continuously exercise.

One study from the University of Georgia found overwhelming evidence that exercise not only boosts baseline energy levels but also keeps you from getting fatigued. It may seem counterintuitive. How can expending energy through exercise boost your overall level? But the researchers found that the energy-boosting benefits existed for people of all health and fitness levels. Exercise does more to fight fatigue than drugs or stimulants. If you notice yourself powering through the time of your typical afternoon crash, chalk it up to improving your health.


WATCH > ASK A TRAINER: ON LOSING WEIGHT


2. YOU HAVE MORE STAMINA

The healthier you become, the more stamina you’ll have, meaning you can go farther and faster before throwing in the towel. A lot of factors influence stamina, but your overall cardiovascular fitness is a biggie. And while this is related to weight loss, it’s not totally determined by how many pounds you drop. When looking for indicators that you’re getting healthier, pay attention to small tests of stamina like how many flights of stairs you can climb before losing your breath or how far you can make it on your run without slowing down for a walk break.

3. YOU FEEL SMARTER

Obviously, improving your health isn’t just about the body — your brain health plays a major role, too. And if you notice you have more mental clarity, better memory and feel all-around sharper, you can thank your fitness routine.

A large body of research has explored the brain benefits of exercise and how committing to a healthier lifestyle can boost cognition. If you find you’re suddenly able to remember the name of every person you meet at that companywide happy hour, your sweat sessions are paying off.


READ MORE > DOES MUSCLE REALLY WEIGH MORE THAN FAT?


4. YOU FEEL HAPPIER

What’s the point of getting healthy if you’re not happy? Luckily, the research shows these two are pretty intertwined. As your physical health improves, so will your mood. One 2015 study found that sticking with an exercise program significantly improved happiness among older adults in just eight weeks. For signs of progress, pay attention to your improving outlook in addition to the scale.

5. YOU CAN DO MORE REPS

Don’t get stuck in the rut of measuring health progress purely by how many pounds you’ve dropped. As you get stronger, you might even put on a few. Don’t panic. If the number on the scale jumps up a little along with the number on your go-to kettlebell and you’re staying within an appropriate-for-you calorie range, you’re getting stronger and healthier.

Keep in mind: Muscle is denser than fat. That is, a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. So even if the numbers on the scale aren’t decreasing, you might be replacing fat with muscle. You’ll look leaner even if you don’t necessarily weigh less.

6. YOU’RE EATING LESS

Logic says that if you burn more calories through exercise, you’ll want to eat more to make up for it, right? Research shows it’s actually the opposite. Several studies have shown that individuals who keep up with a consistent exercise routine are actually more likely to eat less and have a decreased appetite after their sweat sessions. One 2016 study found that exercise decreases your hunger hormones and led study participants to consume one-third fewer calories than those who were dieting without an exercise routine.

7. YOU SET A NEW EXERCISE PERSONAL RECORD

The ability to achieve new fitness goals is perhaps the biggest indicator that you’re getting healthier even if that needle isn’t moving when you step on the scale. Whether you’re aiming to achieve your weight-loss goals via a couch-to-5K program, signing up for a strength training boot camp or having a nutritionist give your diet an overhaul, it’s more important to pay attention to what your body is telling you than what the scale is telling you. If you’ve just run your fastest 5K, made it through a whole boot camp class without wanting to die or actually craved kale, you are well on your way to better health.

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  • Connie Chow

    I can attest to every single one of these. Thanks Macaela.

  • Lea

    I haven’t lost weight and my muscles feel much smaller, but I think that’s because the consistency of my fat has changed significantly. It used to be very dense and I thought a lot of it was muscle. If I was pinched even gently it would hurt so much. Some days I felt like I had a fever because my skin was so sensitive. I can pinch a lot more fat now just because it’s so much looser and less inflamed (and the muscles underneath are no longer stuck in chronic contraction since I’ve been doing Hanna Somatics), even though the volume feels the same and the scale is the same. I am much less sensitive to touch and pressure and that’s not something I expected!

    • Emma Richter

      If your losing weight by lifting, it’s important to have protein after your workouts so your muscles don’t burn out. Your muscles can get smaller if you do not have protein after exerting them a lot.

      • Lea

        I haven’t been lifting…and that is basic basic basic knowledge but thanks anyway lol.

        • Dharmish

          Protein doesn’t build muscle, it just helps maintain it. A consistent strength training routine helps build muscle, and hence lose weight efficiently as the vast majority lost will be fat.

          • Lea

            If you’re strength training without sufficient protein you won’t get a whole lot out of it. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle. But like I said, I am not currently strength training. Not sure where that person got that.

  • Emma Richter

    Another sign of becoming more fit is being stronger. Naturally you’ll gain some muscle while burning some fat.
    Also, another reason you may have more energy and start eating less is because when you lose weight, you no longer need the calories to sustain those pounds. In other words, you regularly need 15-20 calories per pound of body weight. But if you lose 10 pounds, you’ll no longer need those 150-200 calories, so you can then have more energy to invest in workouts, or you could eats less.

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  • barb

    I’m have been slowly losing I do zumba and walk and yard work house work and I can tell my arm muscles and leg are totally different .I think I’m losing inches instead of lbs .can u do that .

  • Ana Hernandez

    It’s possible that you’re not eating enough. I went through this earlier this year, I was lifting heavy 5 times a week plus some hiit on the 6th day and sometimes in conjunction with my strength training. At first I did see results, slowly I started gaining muscle but later on I noticed it wasn’t all muscle, I was gaining fat as well. Then I looked at my diet, I was eating healthy foods but I was rarely hitting 1,500 cal. I believe this put my body in starvation mode. I was not eating enough to fuel it, so whatever I ate was stored as fat so my body could “survive” later on. Slowly I started to increase my calories and finally saw progress again. Not eating enough can also hinder your performance, so perhaps you can take a look at your diet and see if it needs any changes. Good luck!

    • robinbishop34

      It is impossible to gain muscle while in a calorie deficit. If you were “lifting heavy” 5 days a week followed by HIIT while in a deficit, you were over training… which will result in muscle loss.

      Also, you were not in “starvation mode” by any stretch of the imagination. The entire “starvation mode” narrative is overblown hype.

      • Ana Hernandez

        Robin I clearly didn’t give all the details in order to keep the message short. I was not in a calorie deficit at first. It was after i started gettings serious about training that I cleaned up my diet and at the time I wasn’t keeping track of my macros/calories so when I swapped calorie dense foods for micronurient dense ones I significantly lowered my calorie count. Some time into this is when I hit my plateau. This continued on for a while, which is when I decided to take a look at my diet. Keep ij mind I did have cheat meals, which some times turned into cheat days. And any “extra” intake would be stored as fat. So You might disagree with the starvation mode narrative, but that was My experience. Once I slowly started to increase my calorie intake I saw the fat drop.

  • Little-1

    If you’re ticking all the boxes (ie adequate water intake, sleep, stress levels) then I’d suggest getting your free T3 checked. If we are on restricted calories for longer than 96 hrs (and lets face it the mfp settings put everyone in this category) then our thyroid shuts down to preserve fat for famine. The longer we restrict for the more damaged the thyroid becomes, putting us into hypothyroid function and increased risk of heart attack from resulting heart disease. If you don’t want to get bloodwork done just yet then perhaps start zig zagging your caloric intake.

  • William Phinn

    Thanks guys, that’s given me some food for thought. I’m really not sure what my daily calorie intake should be. I’m doing 1900 a day I’m 172cm and 79 kilo, 38 years old, does that sound too little? I initially started at 2100 but it didn’t work so dropped to 1900. Do you think I need more than that? I eat 40% carbs and 30 and 30 fat and protein. Been sticking to it well and measuring everything so it’s pretty accurate. I occasionally have the odd biscuit here and there and sometimes yes it later on but that’s once a week if that… how would I know about my thyroid? Docs in England wouldn’t see me just for that. I also had tests done a wee while back linked to another illness I had a no signs then.

    • Travis Chilcot

      Have your body fat checked once, then again in about 4-6 weeks. If it drops then what you are doing is working so stick to it. If it doesn’t, you may want to have it checked or go to a nutritionist to look over your food logs

  • Dave

    My advice is go slow. I’m averaging 0.83 pounds a week for the last 48 weeks. But it zig-zags down & it is never steady. I lose 2-4 pounds, plateau for 1-3 weeks, then gain a pound or two, then drop 2-4 again. The cycle repeats. The plateaus and gains are frustrating but I remind myself that it could be food in the “system”, water, or muscle gain. Just keep at it, focusing on less than 500 cal deficit, healthy foods, & regular workouts. I do resistance training 2-3 times/wk and cardio 3 times/wk on alternating days.