9 Signs of Progress That Aren’t a Number on the Scale

by Trinh Le, MPH, RD
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9 Signs of Progress That Aren’t a Number on the Scale

Think about what triggered your weight-loss journey. It could have been anything from being able to squeeze into an old dress again to appeasing your unrelenting doctor to staying around for your grandchildren. Whatever your original intention, once you start losing weight a new motivation takes over. Watching the scale go down as you shed the pounds becomes a tremendous source of motivation. But what happens when a weight-loss plateau threatens to kill that motivation?

The dreaded plateau is inevitable, and it happens to the best of us. What you need to understand is that it isn’t a sign of failure but of progress. Your weight is a one-dimensional interpretation of what it means to be healthy. Don’t just focus on the number on the scale. Focus on the signs that you’re healthier even when that number flatlines:

1. Your body composition may have changed.
If you exercise regularly to lose weight, especially if strength training is involved, you may see a stubborn scale as you lose some fat and gain some muscle. In this instance, it may be better for you to invest in a smart scale or set of body calipers. These tools can help you measure body-fat percentage and document improvements better than a scale can.

2. You are better, faster and stronger.
Obviously, this depends on where you started. For some it’s being able to walk up the stairs without huffing and puffing. For others it may mean running a mile without stopping. For me, it was being able to haul my groceries — a gallon of milk and all — inside at one go. Relish all the activities that you could not do before but you can do now.

3. Your doctor is happy about your labs.
Despite the weight-loss plateau, you’re at a lower weight now than when you started. Even modest amounts of weight loss (think: 5 to 10% off your original weight) can lead to big health benefits like lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Better-looking labs translate to a lower risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

4. You get way more steps in your day.
The days of cheap plastic pedometers are over, but tracking steps is more popular than ever! Whether you invest in a sharp and shiny activity monitor or program your smartphone to count your footfalls, watch your steps data. After committing to your weight-loss journey, you likely ramped up your activity to see results. Perhaps you made trade-offs like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car farther away so you could walk in. Be proud of how many steps you’ve added into your day.

5. You like how your clothes fit.
Both how much weight you have on (think: number on the scale) and its location on your body (think: belly versus thigh) have an impact on your health. If weight loss halts, turn to important wellness indicators like how you fit into your clothes. Did you lose inches from your waist? After all, the most dangerous fat — visceral belly fat — is the easiest to lose when you exercise often.

6. You dread working out … a little less.
Whoever said, “showing up is half the battle” clearly understands my gym strategy. When I first made it a goal to hit the gym regularly, I strategized more around how to get into the gym versus what I’d do when I got there. For this I used some serious self-motivation strategies because I didn’t have an accountabilibuddy. This included spending hours crafting a wicked workout playlist and putting on workout clothes right after work. Over time, going to the gym became a habit, and it didn’t feel as hard anymore.

7. You’ve made exercise a part of your identity.
If, as a part of your weight-loss journey, you’ve hit on a fitness community you can call your own, congratulations! That fitness community could include yoga, CrossFit, barre, HIIT, etc. What matters is that you found an activity that you love doing, thereby making exercise a part of your identity. This is a boon to your health even when losing weight is no longer your top-notch priority.

8. You pass up your kryptonite food.
There’s no such thing as perfect eating. We all have our “kryptonite” food — be it donuts, muffins, potato chips or chocolate candy — to which we cannot say no. If you were able to practice restraint and reject the free break-room donuts, give yourself a pat on the back!

9. You feel like you have way more energy and stress out less.
A more positive outlook, better focus or enhanced energy levels aren’t easily quantifiable signs of health. Nonetheless, you may experience these benefits in spite of your weight-loss plateau. They deserve equal weight (pun intended!) when you tally your achievements.

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  • Jim Chambers

    My biggest problem is the cookie I use to reward myself for passing up my Kryptonite food…

    • RobRex2010

      LOL…At least yours is only a cookie. Mine was 3 Dunkin’ Donuts’ Boston Cremes…

  • Danielle Tideberg

    excellent article…most of those points i wrestled with, and over time one can win, but the struggling doesn’t stop, it just isn’t in the forefront as much after routines take over. i am not one to do all exercise in one stretch of time, so i do it in 10 minutes spurts throughout the day. i hang on and work out on a bar 10 minutes, jump on trampoline 10 minutes, do yoga ten minutes. that lead to wanting to do it for 30 minutes on lovely days and then not sleeping as well if i don’t do my yoga before bed. keeping at anything over 60 days makes it the new norm. most just don keep going long enough to reap those benefits.

  • wonderful piece – thank you for this!

  • Bianca lynn

    Love this!! I’ve been in a plateau for a couple of months now after losing 70 lbs but I’m okay with that because people tell me I still look smaller from last month lol. So that means I’m losing inches and toning up. Just reminds me to keep going 😀

  • Kelly

    What an encouraging article! I feel like we intrinsically know these things, but the reminder is so reaffirming. Thank you!!

  • tess123

    Yes this is great info, but when the scale doesn’t move, it’s still depressing no matter what this article says!

    • Becky Beauregard

      That is True, but you have to remember Muscle weighs more that Fat.

      • jane doe

        Muscle weighs the exact same as fat……please stop spreading this falsehood!

        • Kat

          I agree. I laugh every time I hear someone say that. One pound of muscle weighs the same as one pound of fat. lol

          • Rob Western

            well obviously Jane and Kat. One pound of anything weighs the same as one pound of anything else.

            However, most people assume you know that. They also assume you understand that they mean that by volume, muscle weighs more. The idea is that most people who say that are more interested in motivating people, and less interested in talking down to them.

          • Kat

            Who said anyone was talking down to anyone?

          • Kat

            Rob, who said anyone was talking down to anyone? Or are you just trying to stir up something? In fact I have never corrected anyone I heard make that comment (I was replying to Jan, not Becky). I know exactly what people mean whenever I hear them say that, I just think it’s humerus the way they are wording it.

  • Jesse

    I am at a point where the scale does not matter too much and i quit weighing my self as often as i used to. i dont want to get to the point where i look too skinny and look sick. I want to look good and feel healthy, my muscle mass is now more part of my weight.

  • I’m noticing several of these changes and am pretty excited. Today I passed up a “kryptonite” food: (free) cheesecake. Yikes and Hallelujah!

  • T Loftus

    Started with a new trainer and attitude in Oct 15. Down 15lb. and meet all 9 signs of progress.

  • Pat

    This article was just what I needed to read right now. I’ve been at a plateau for two weeks now. I know from past experience that, when I walk two to four miles a day, after several weeks – even if I don’t lose any more weight on the scale – my measurements in inches start going down, and I look thinner because I am thinner … even if not on the scale. It’s so frustrating though when you eat healthy and no more than 1200 calories a day, and still lose weight at a snail’s pace. I definitely need to be more patient with my weight loss efforts!

  • Lisaknoweverything

    I can’t stand the way EVERYTHING is geared toward weight loss. Not everyone is trying to lose weight. I’m thin… There! I said it! I don’t have weight problem, just like a lot of other people. I just want to get in shape and feel better as a whole. Inside and out. Thank you.

    • Alice

      Well don’t read about weight loss if you have no interest. Many people are concerned with their weight and just because you’re not … Doesn’t mean anything. Your moniker says it all.

    • Jerrod A. Xavier Weiland

      I don’t think he’s 9 signs of progress that don’t correlate to a number on a scale for weight loss alone. How much rain in with a medium build and want to get bigger I’m not happy at 215 pounds and 13% body fat I still want to gain more muscle and get bigger. With that being my girl I can see how these 9 things speak to me hand reaching my goal. Don’t read into it and apply it to your personal goal. That’s what’s important.

  • Christian S.

    True! As a woman, I’ve actually packed on a few more pounds, but my arms have gotten leaner, thighs leaner and waist smaller. I can actually wear and shop in the juniors dept ((Yay!)). But I’m heavier now.
    Oh well.

  • Jennabazy

    I throughly enjoyed this article! It was almost like this article was wrote specifically for me.
    A HUGE shout out and thanks!!