Standing on the scale can give you one of the most nerve-racking moments — “What if I’m not losing weight?” “What if I can’t lose weight?” It’s the moment when you get the sentence — have you made it, or not?
Just a few weeks ago, I received a long email from a reader Beth. She has been religiously following a diet that she thinks is healthy. She’s also doing some light exercises regularly. She has lost 3 inches on her waistline. But on her scale, it says she has lost 0.5 pounds — after 3 weeks of effort.
Beth couldn’t believe it, so she went to her mom’s home and weighed herself there. Despite the small variance, the verdict was close — not much weight loss was going on.
Still, she didn’t give up. And she went to Target that night and bought a new digital scale, and stood on it right after she installed batteries. Still the same.
Out of frustration, she wrote to me that night.
“I don’t know what went wrong. It’s so frustrating not seeing results on the scale because it feels as if everything I’ve done is in vain. Can you tell me what I should do?”
Quite frustrating. And what exactly is happening?
First of all, Beth’s situation is not uncommon. I know people who has lost more inches than her but dropped nearly 0 pound on the scale.
But despite how discouraging it is, it’s in fact a great thing to celebrate!
And I’m not saying it because of this “cheering the last winner” sentiment. Growing up in an Asian household with a tiger mom, I’ve never been the last winner once without getting my ass whipped. My parents got a “treat” for that named “Leather Belt & Meat Stir-Fry” — LOL not for the “50 Shades” kind a thing but some serious parenting/disciplining sessions. Being regularly treated with that, I did not grow up with a nerve for “cheering the last winner.”
Rather, I asked Beth to celebrate because she’s in a far better position than many who have seen a significant pound drop.
The truth is: if you’ve dropped 3 inches but 0.5 pound, it means that your body is responding very well to the effort you’ve made and one thing you can clearly tell is that what you’ve dropped is mostly fat.
This is because fat loss is far more visible compared to muscle and water loss.
Fat is 3X bigger than muscle when the weight is the same. And you can visualize it as muscle being one fist size, and fat being 3 fist size.
On the flipped side, fat weight is only ⅓ of muscle weight at the same volume. That’s why if you lose 1 pound of fat, it’s much more visible than losing 1 pound of muscle…
That’s why losing fat is going to give you the most visible result on your look but your scale number doesn’t look as significant as losing muscle and fluid.
Say if you are an 160 pound woman and have lost 5 pounds of muscle, it may not even be seen.
Therefore, if your goal is to lose fat like 99.9% of people who need to lose weight, inches are way better reflection of your result.
And in fact, if you’ve been losing a lot of pounds but not the comparable amount of inches, you may need to rethink about your approach.
Losing weight — regardless from fat or muscle — will give me a lower BMI, and a lower BMI means I’m healthier anyways. So why give a crap about it?
Lower BMI doesn’t mean you are healthier, it could mean you are sicker in certain situations.
And the difference between fat loss and muscle loss — besides visibility — lies deeply in how they make your body function.
Fat stores energy, kills your metabolism, and leads to more fat; muscle burns energy, boosts your metabolism, and burns fat.
Fat leads to inflammation which causes weight gain in return and is at the core of most diseases and symptoms in today’s world — including diabetics, heart diseases, sepsis, arthritis, obesity, and cancer, etc.
Fat — through inflammation — causes negative thinking, stress, anxiety, depression, and even impaired memory and everyday performance.
Fat — through messing with your hormones — leads you to insatiable hunger.
Fat makes you look flabby and weak. Muscle makes you look sharp and strong.
A 150 pound woman with 35% body fat is different from a 150 pound woman with 18% body fat on every level — from how they look, how they perform, how they feel, how they think, to how they live.
So if you’ve been losing inches steadily but not many pounds yet. Keep up with the great work! You are doing way better than a lot of people who are losing pounds, and you should really be happy.
Meanwhile, here’s a reminder: do not always trust the scale. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the dynamics of your body, which fat loss is dependent on.
It discourages more than encourages. And you might feel frustrated and give up the great thing you are doing.
Have a great weekend.