Congratulations on all your hard work thus far. Losing weight can be very tough and involves the right combination of exercise and nutrition. Eating too many or too few calories can stall weight loss progress. Tracking your intake each day through a food journal may give you that feedback in either direction. When weight loss is slow going, there’s a natural tendency to drop our calorie intake down even lower. But unfortunately, too low of calorie intake causes the body to begin conserving energy necessary for other functions. This translates into a slower metabolism, actually making it a more difficult to lose weight. Another factor that plays into weight loss stalls may have to do with your exercise routine. If you’ve been working the same exercise routine for more than a month or so, it may be time to change it up. This will introduce new challenges to your muscle groups and inadvertently require more effort as you begin to master new skills.
The good news is that the strength improvements you’re experiencing are very important and probably even more significant for helping you reach and maintain your weight goal. Unfortunately it’s also the most under-rated progress for many of us who focus so heavily on our bathroom scale. Body composition (fat/lean mass ratio) is responsible for about 60-70% of our metabolic rate (Ravussin, 2005). There’s a very good possibility that as you feel yourself getting stronger, your body composition is improving through increased muscle mass and reduced body fat. The end result on the scale may appear as a “wash” or lack of weight loss, but in fact you may be making great strides towards improving your overall health and capacity to burn calories going forward. Therefore tracking your progress through other means besides body weight could be helpful in getting a better picture of the fruits of your labor. Body measurements with a simple tape measure is an easy way to track progress at home. You may also want to purchase a scale that has a body composition feature built-in or utilize the handheld devices available in many health clubs. A healthy body fat percentage for women can range from 21-35% depending on your age (Gallagher, 2000). Keep in mind that body composition doesn’t vary rapidly week to week, but a 1% decrease in body fat each month is realistic and will make a huge difference in weight loss efforts over time.
Ravussin E: Physiology: A NEAT way to control weight? Science 307 (5709): 530, 2005.
Gallagher, D. et al: Healthy percentage body-fat ranges, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72: 694, 2000.