What to Do When the Scale Won’t Budge

Jacob Warwick
by Jacob Warwick
Share it:
What to Do When the Scale Won’t Budge

When we embark on our health journeys, we are looking for ways to improve our lives. The reasons we want to change may vary from weight loss to competition, but the underlying objective is improvement. Through this, we learn that we can inspire and motivate others; however, for the sake of this article, let’s be a bit selfish and focus on #1—you. Imagine this: You conquered a very dedicated week. Your diet was spot on. The gym feared your sweat and you even avoided happy hour. You proudly skip over to the scale … GULP! You gained a pound. Are you kidding me?! Heartbreaking. But what can you do about it?

Option 1 (this is not an option)

Give up. Right then and there. Hey, what’s the point? You worked really hard and got nowhere; I guess it wasn’t meant to be for you.

Option 2

Re-evaluate. Well, maybe you could have done more. Maybe it’s water weight. If you find that this second-guessing could do more harm than good, move on to the next option.

Option 3 (recommended)

Drive on. You really feel like you are giving it your best and you understand that results will come. You are not a failure. We’re human, and changes take time. When the scale doesn’t budge or you’re feeling defeated, I invite you to find a few exercises that will help you evaluate your progress.

The exercises you choose should vary depending on your current fitness level, but the idea is to find a base of actions—ideally that demonstrate strength and endurance—that you perform consistently to measure progress. To measure strength, I focus on how many pull-ups and push-ups I can achieve because these numbers are generally easy to compare over time. For endurance, I check on how I fatigue while jogging or cycling. Lastly, I am conscientious about how my flexibility improves. I feel better when I am more limber.

Strength: You want to measure your overall strength. This is something that a number on the scale will never tell you. Find an exercise that you are comfortable performing week over week. Body squats, planks, push-ups, lifting a growing baby, anything! Push-ups work best for me. When I first started, I couldn’t manage one, but now I can do them comfortably. Even when I wasn’t losing weight, I noticed that I was improving in other areas and that kept me motivated to move forward.

Endurance: Jogging always gives a good indication of how well I’m doing. If I am easily out of breath, I will make it a priority to incorporate more running or cycling into my routine. If I’m way off track, I start with more walking and gradually add in running or cycling so that I’m always doing something to improve.

Feeling: Overall, I evaluate my health based on how I feel. If I’ve been lazy or I’m not as motivated as usual, I make steps to get better each day. I can be my own worst critic, so I’ll isolate a few areas where I could focus more—like tracking my calories. By making these habits just a little bit better over time, I begin to feel better. And I like feeling good.

The key to long-lasting health is consistency.

Focus on feeling good and on being happy with the decisions that you are making, and stick with it. Your diet and exercises adjustments will improve a little bit at a time, and you will begin to see change. At the end of the day, it’s not about a number on a scale, the number of marathons you’ve run, or the weight you can lift. It’s about how you feel and the positive impact you can make on the lives of those around you.

About the Author

Jacob Warwick
Jacob Warwick

Jacob Warwick has transformed his life by tackling a variety of fitness and nutrition goals while motivating colleagues and friends to do the same. He works as a marketing professional, and manages personal branding at ThinkWarwick. To contact Jacob, visit him on LinkedIn or Twitter.


70 responses to “What to Do When the Scale Won’t Budge”

  1. Avatar BuckeyeRebel says:

    Thanks for this! Needed it today.

  2. Avatar jedipeach says:

    Yes! Thank you for the inspiration. How you plateaus are the measure of dedication

  3. Avatar karen says:

    Great inspiration
    I’m at that point now. Was losing a pound a wk but nothing in two months. So need a recheck.

  4. Avatar TekkieChikk says:

    “The key to long-lasting health is consistency.” That is pure gold.

  5. Avatar Jackie says:

    Thank you for this article. That’s where I am right now. I know I’m doing the right things, making the right choices and adding a little more excercise each day, but the scale either won’t budge or will jump up a bit. It’s frustrating, but I feel better about myself and know, with time, I will see the results I am reaching for.

  6. Avatar 14days says:

    I’ve discovered that sometimes changes take about two weeks to show themselves instead of one week. Not sure why, but it’s a pattern.

  7. Avatar Katy says:

    That is for sure. It certainly does take a couple of weeks. It like your body needs to recharge or something.

  8. Avatar christina says:

    So i weigh 160 i we need to be 130 in two months plesae somebody tell me what im doing eat healthy water jog walk core everyday my scale went

    • Avatar george says:

      I was the same. I was 166 and lost 15 lbs in 8 weeks by planning meals and keeping calories under 1500. Only healthy snacking no choc or crisp or pop. Try the couch to 5 it starts easy so is do able! Good luck!

    • Christina, don’t be down on yourself! keep going! you should be proud of yourself for making a change and making your life better!

    • Avatar MC0084 says:

      I have lost 16 pounds since Jan 1. I too have been a victim of plateauing or hitting the wall during my long journey of losing weight and exercising. You need to eat only when you are hungry. Make sure you watch the portion sizes and focus on the sugars you take in. Balance the carbs with a protein at every meal. I have been exercising regularly for 5 years but I started jogging last year and now I am up to running 7 miles. Took a long time to get there but I think the combination of reducing sugar, portion control, increasing the intensity of your workouts and sticking to it will get you to your goal. Good luck.

      • Avatar Kelly Monin Rose says:

        Congrats on the weight loss. I, too, have lost 16 pounds since Jan. 5. And I only have 6 more to go to reach my goal. Slow and steady wins the race. Great work on the distance running, too. Maybe you could aim to complete a half-marathon this year? 🙂

    • Avatar Kelly Monin Rose says:

      That’s an aggressive weight loss (about four pounds per week!). I’ve been on a one-pound-per-week goal since Jan. 5 and have lost 16 pounds, and it’s been hard to do. I’d recommend you start out with a pound per week goal — which for me is only 1,250 calories without any cardio factored in. (I burn an additional 300 calories a day with cardio exercise, which means I can eat 1,550 calories and stay on track with my weight loss.) Losing four pounds per week will put you into starvation mode, not a recipe for success. You may not lose 30 pounds, but you’ll start dropping a few pounds in the next few weeks and that will be super motivating for you.

    • Avatar Meggie says:

      Can you add weight training to your workouts at all? Or any higher intensity walking? Maybe walk quicker for a min than slow down and do this for a period of time. Make sure that you don’t overeat healthy food. Even if something is gluten free or “healthy” you still have to make sure your portions are smaller.

  9. Avatar christina says:

    We play with our 3kids

  10. Avatar christina says:

    What to do

  11. Avatar christina says:

    Im not like sweets

  12. Avatar Katiecat2 says:

    I find measuring helps keep motivated too. Sometimes the scale doesn’t move but I’ve lost inches.

  13. Avatar DG says:

    Great article, I just love love it! Inspired & motivated to stick with it and being… CONSISTENT! <3

  14. Avatar Danae says:

    I bought myself a new vegetable contraption that allows me to make ribbons out of vegetables to use in place of pasta. Kills my carb intake massively and incorporates extra veges into my diet.

  15. Great article! It’s true that we should be happy and proud of ourselves for just making a lifestyle change instead of focusing and obsessing over the scale!

  16. Avatar KBellaLuna says:

    Any suggestions, please-I”m 53, was never really into healthy eating, exercise, etc., until about 4 years ago. I lost a total of 60 pounds. Then I had to have major surgery last February. I’m not feeling 100%, and have gained 25 pounds back. I’ve been walking since shortly after the surgery, at least 1.50 miles/30 minutes every day, plus I’ve started kettle bells, jumping jacks, other cardio and weights, but CANNOT lose the weight!! I watch everything I eat, only carbs are usually oatmeal. I eat fruits and veggies, but not tons, chicken-again, healthy food.So, what am I doing wrong? Any suggestions, help, advice, please! Thank you!

    • Avatar Amanda says:

      Increase the protein and water intake.

    • Avatar Emily says:

      Have a physical-make sure to have your thyroid and vitamin D levels checked.

    • Avatar Erin says:

      Drink water… add a little lemon. Works wonders.

    • Avatar MC0084 says:

      and watch your sugar.

    • Avatar Kelly Monin Rose says:

      I strongly recommend you keep a detailed food diary, logging everything you consume and making sure your portions are accurate. Count the calories (I use MyFitnessPal) and you might be surprised that you’re consuming more food than you’re burning off. Be sure to track every morsel. We have a tendency to cheat ourselves, and those “hidden” calories will sabotage your efforts.

      Also, change up your activities regularly. Walk briskly one day, intermittently working in high intensity for a couple of minutes each time. Next day, do jumping jacks, lunges and jump rope. Next day focus on strength training, working in some cardio while you lift your weights. Next day, rest, but take a longer, slower walk. I find that when I mix up my routine, it keeps my body “awake” and more responsive.

    • Avatar Tess says:

      Have you tried eating 5 to 6 (150-250 calorie each) small meals per day? This is how I eat and it keeps my metabolism revved up and burning calories, plus I’m never hungry. Keep your protein intake high and do only one to two whole grain carb servings per day. Remember to stay away from high carb veggies like peas and corn. And drink tons of water! 🙂 Also, keep working out and switch up your workouts so your body doesn’t become too used to them. The more muscle you build the more calories your resting metabolism burns. If you should struggle with hunger even though you’ve had enough calories for the day, try some hot tea with stevia if you need a sweetener. The warmth will make you feel satisfied. Hope this helps!

    • Avatar diamond778 says:

      I would say check first to see if everything ok medically. I am not sure what surgery you had but sometimes it is important to check what effect these surgeries have (particularly if organs that involving hormones are affected). Second, since you are approaching or in your menopausal years it might be worth checking the effect or the changes that are happening to your body as you age because your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) may in some way be affected. Sleeping patterns, eating times and water intake are just as important as what you eat. So sleep well, avoid eating after dark and drink water with meals and when getting up and going to sleep. Avoid condiments, salad dressings and juice. They contain hidden and empty calories. If you want dessert, run for it. Dessert must be earned. The more processed the food, the smaller the portion. Whole fruit and coconut water are great substitutes for juice. Finally, have rest days between your exercises routines. I recommend one day on, one day off because your body needs time to heal and recuperate. This also helps your BMR.

  17. Avatar Paul says:

    I can relate to the article. Lost 18 kilograms in 62 days now all of a sudden the scale has stopped dropping even though i kept my daily routine. Love the challenge and will not stop till I achieve my target.

  18. Avatar DIYDanielle says:

    I think checking with your doctor is always a good idea too if you have any other undiagnosed medical issues. There are a few that make losing weight a struggle.

    My other thought is that I don’t always lose in numbers, but if I track with other mfp options then I do show a loss.

  19. Avatar Katrina Duff says:

    Sometimes the scale doesn’t budge because of adding muscle!

      • Avatar Nono_Yobiz says:

        As you should know, that’s unlikely to be the case. A motivated woman lifting heavy and consistently can gain maybe 10 lbs of muscle mass in a year. That’s n00b gains, while eating at a surplus to support muscle mass gain. Eating at a deficit to lose weight, lifting hard and heavy might help her to retain muscle mass, at best.

        • Avatar Buffalogal1 says:

          True. I have my body comp tested fairly regularly and my muscle mass rarely changes despite a routine of resistance and weight lifting.

  20. Avatar Lynn says:

    Push-ups are great. I just keep having shoulder pain when I do them – even though I am doing them against the wall still to build up my strength 🙁 Any tips??

  21. Avatar Lara says:

    I have been using my fitness pal for a month now I log everything I eat and drink I exercise every day I walk, swim, do push ups and sit ups, yoga and I have an Xbox I do just dance for 30 minutes I change it up every day so I not doing the same exercises all the time. I take 1 day a week where I do very little just to give my body a break. I am always close to my calorie count for the day and I watch my carbs sugar and fat intake. I eat a lot of fresh vegetables ,fruit and chicken and I have not lost a pound any suggestion I very discouraged I feel like I am doing everything I am supposed to do but nothing is happening

    • Avatar DB says:

      I’m with you. Been doing the same and nothing happens. If anything, I’ve gained weight. Everybody keeps saying it will fall off but looking like I’ll be dead before that happens.

      • Avatar Aj says:

        Weight gain can indicate a gain in muscle as muscle weighs more than fat. I’m sure that if you measure yourself you will find your physically smaller and you’ve just gained muscle

    • Avatar Debbie says:

      Me too!!!! When you find an answer lmk…
      But possibly you are in your body’s nornal weight range and your body isn’t giving up the weight that quickly. Survival mode

    • Avatar LindaSueMcCarrel says:

      It may be time to visit the doctor and get your thyroid checked. So many women suffer with hypothyroidism unknowingly. I was shocked to find this out just a month ago! My weight just wouldn’t budge after 2 months of 1200 calories a day and five days a week of exercise (like Zumba, water aerobics). If you have thyroid problems, you are unlikely to lose weight without hormone replacement therapy.

    • Avatar karolvette says:

      Lara- I’ll bet you feel great and your skin is glowing and you are sleeping like a baby every night. I’ll bet you are thinking much more clearly and feeling energized. Keep at it! Great job!

  22. Avatar Ashley says:

    This is just what I needed to read. I was all upset because the number on the scale didn’t go down after a week of sticking to my calories and running up this killer of a hill that usually takes 45mins to the top. Then I realised each time I’ve been running up I’m getting faster and just cracked it in 38mins. Yay! So now my goals are focused on fitness and not weight.

    • Avatar Meggie says:

      Those are the best goals! I have actually gained weight since starting Crossfit and doing it 6 times a week. But my body looks much more muscular. Always set goals that are strength, flexibility, or speed related it will make you a much happier person!

    • Avatar Moisés Bolaños says:

      That’s exactly
      what people don´t get! You have to focus on how healthy and fit you are instead
      of how much you weight. When I started running I could barely complete 1 mile,
      now I’m doing 35 miles a week! Congrats on you for making that change of
      mind, wish is only going to make you healthier every day.

  23. Avatar P. Jones says:

    When I reached a plateau I discussed it with my trainer and figured 140lbs was where I was supposed to be. I then increased my calories from 1200 to 1300 and lost an additional 5 pounds with very little effort. My body was conserving fat because I wasn’t fueling it enough for all the cardio I was doing.

  24. Avatar hopeless says:

    what if I’ve done everything? Like gone to a gym class that has me dripping in sweat 4 times a week doing strength and conditioning; gave up all dairy and wheat products; went organic everything, walk the dog for an hour every evening, tried every fricken “lose 5 pounds in week” recipes; lemon water in morning, cranwater in morning, every detox know to mankind- like talking 5 years of giving my all – and still not one single ounce of weight has come off….not one single ounce.
    And according to the bmi calculator – I am grossly overweight. Need to lose 50 pounds to meet bmi target weight.
    So what do I do??? Sure feel like crying. and definitely getting tired of trying and seeing no results. Absolutely nothing works.

    • Avatar Nyla says:

      I am going thru the exact same thing, I’ve been in a boot camp for 2 months I go to the gym 4 times a week I’ve changed my eating drastically and still nothing but a couple inches lost.

      • Avatar diamond778 says:

        I am in different position to you. I was 306 pounds lost 45 pounds thus far. Expecting to reach my bmi by my next birthday. I have no trainer. I just use My Fitness Pal and treadmill. Dietary changes are mainly portion control through caloric monitoring and this caused me to reduce my juice and meat intake and less empty calories. The more processed the food the smaller the portion and the less frequently I eat it. I log everything in MFP…even the bad days… and then i make up for them later that way I avoid going over calories. Treadmill- I get faster each week but on average it’s 500Cal for 75 minutes. I do not exercise everyday – one day on, one day off. I run for my desert, if I want Häagen das I run for it. Don’t be discouraged. Use the software to see what is going wrong i.e. assess where you are right now. However you will have you consistently and truthfully enter your meals and exercises and that takes some real discipline.

  25. Avatar Dwight Von Heeder says:

    I live in a retirement center. I have no control over food that is served. We can eat or not. I’m killing myself doing exercises and walking. Some days I walk up to 10 miles. I have a Nordic Track Ski machine that I use most days. I do 2 miles on that. Monday before last I had a Root canal tooth removed so I had to slow down. I need to lose 35 # to be healthy. What else can I do?

    • Avatar diamond778 says:

      Hi Dwight. I realise it must be difficult since you might not be able to properly balance your carb, protein and fat ratios because some one else is providing the food. You may be able to have some leeway in controlling the portion you eat of each item on your plate though and thus by doing that you may be able to control caloric inputs through foods and to a lesser extent the carb, protein and fat through portion control. My Fitness Pal has may features that and low you to do this but first you will have to enter the meals into your database and your daily log. Remember the more refined or less natural the food the smaller the portions. With respect to exercise I am impressed but be sure to have rest days as exercising too often without giving the body time to heal or rework the muscles may be counter productive to the weight lose process as you more prone to injury and you may lose the muscle mass necessary for a higher metabolic rate. One day on, one day off is a nice approach. Final rule, dessert must be earned. If you want that tasty treat..know you have to run for that specific treat. Now that is what I call motivation. Enjoy your golden years. Crystal.

      • Avatar Dwight Von Heeder says:

        Thanks for the advice. My South Beach Diet book says to eat .05 cup of an Item. I have a .05 measuring cup but I don’t want to take it to the table with me because I sit with 5 ladies and you know what they would say about that. I have some left over food in fridge that I might put in the cup in our apartment to get a ball park idea of what it looks like. Thank you so much for taking the time to give the encouragement.

        • Avatar diamond778 says:

          I understand where you’re coming from. In the beginning I had the same issues with measurement and youre right it would truly be embarassing to walk around with cups all the time. So I compared how much a cup of something was in relation to my own hand or a handful. I think you only really need to do this once when no one is around. Note the size and shape of your hand. Your hands might be bigger than mine but since your hands are always with you it is a great and subtle estimate. After a while you will only have to cup one hand and glance at the food to know to gain a rough estimate. The best thing is your companions will be none the wiser as people tend to use hand gestures a lot in conversation and I imagine sitting with 5 ladies means that there is a lot of talk going on 🙂 lol

  26. Avatar Marie says:

    Just be sensible it went on slow it will come off slow if need be take another look at what you are eating I want to loose 3 St at least hopefully 4 but a pound a week is a year but I can live with that and stick with is at the end of the day it’s 52 pounds in a year

  27. Avatar Dade Dyana says:

    Hi Jacob,
    I think a lot of people struggle with this. They are working so hard and they just hit their plateau. Hopefully, most plateaus arrive after some weight has been shed. Do you think that a lot of it has to do with unrealistic goals?

  28. Avatar Lisa C says:

    Excellent post. It’s all so very true. Thank you for sharing. This is literally my current situation. And although I already knew what everything you wrote was true, it was reassuring to read it and not only say it or think it. Perhaps I’ll try Writing it too and make it set in stone. Thanks again for motivational and supportive post!

  29. Avatar Buffalogal1 says:

    You make a good point about measuring strength. But you have neglected to mention inches lost. the scale csn be a poor indicator of our efforts as weight can vary hour to hour. There are many occasions when the scale has not budged for me, but the tape measure has.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Never Miss a Post!

Turn on MyFitnessPal desktop notifications and stay up to date on the latest health and fitness advice.


Click the 'Allow' Button Above


You're all set.