On your weight-loss journey, you'll probably experience many ups and downs. One of those likely lows? When the digits on the scale that were steadily dipping suddenly grind to a halt.
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Even if you do everything in your power to drop the pounds, sometimes it's impossible to dodge the dreaded weight-loss plateau.
That's because many uncontrollable factors influence weight loss, says Sylvia Gonsahn-Bollie, MD, a dual board-certified internal medicine physician and obesity medicine specialist and author of Embrace You: Your Guide to Transforming Weight Loss Misconceptions into Lifelong Wellness.
And when you experience a temporary standstill with your scale, it may just be that "your body is in a phase where it needs to maintain your current weight," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says.
The problem is, many people mistake this pause in losing pounds to mean they're doing something wrong. "During the weight-loss plateau, if the scale is the only data you're using, you may misinterpret the unbudging numbers as a sign you're not on the right track," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says.
But that's simply not the case. "The scale is just one form of data," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says. And there are many other accurate indicators that don't involve a number on the scale — known as non-scale victories (NSVs) — you should be tracking.
"NSVs are also vital data to help you see that you are still on your way with your weight loss and wellness goals," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says.
Here, Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie shares the NSVs to keep an eye out for — and celebrate — on your weight-loss journey, even if your scale hasn't gotten the memo yet.
1. Your Clothes Fit Better
When the number on the scale is stalling, your clothes can offer a clue to your weight-loss progress.
"Your clothes fitting better can signify early weight loss or muscle toning," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says. "People often don't measure the size ('circumference') of their waist, thighs, arms, etc., but as your body transforms during your weight-loss journey, your clothes may fit better because you've lost inches rather than pounds," she explains.
2. You Feel Stronger
Lifting heavier at the gym? Increased strength is another telltale sign you're on the right track toward your weight-loss goals.
"If you are starting new fitness training, you may increase muscle mass while losing water and fat weight," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says. "Initially, the scale may not change or may even go up slightly," as lean muscle weighs more than fat, she says.
But trust in the process: Building muscle — which helps you burn more calories at rest — and strength are both stellar signposts on the path to losing pounds.
3. You've Stopped Snoring
If you've transformed from a wood-saw snorer to a silent sleeper, your efforts to drop pounds could be paying off.
That's because snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) — a sleep disorder characterized by breathing that repeatedly stops and starts — and OSA is commonly correlated to increased weight around the neck, Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says.
"Even a slight change in weight in this area could help with your snoring," she says.
4.You Have More Energy
More pep in your step is a surefire signal of your progress even if the pounds have yet to come off.
"Carrying extra physical weight has many causes — physically, emotionally and even spiritually," — and it can weigh you down (literally), draining your energy, Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says.
"As you shift your focus to prioritizing your wellness, choosing foods that fuel your body with nourishment and getting better sleep, you will usually feel more energetic," she explains.
And an increase in energy may manifest in many areas of your life, from a livelier libido to greater endurance during cardio workouts, she adds.
5. Your Heart Is Healthier
Improved metabolic markers like better blood pressure or cholesterol levels — which play a significant role in your heart health — should be celebrated as victories on your road to weight loss (and a longer, healthier life), Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says.
So, while you may not see a substantial shift in the scale, "even as little as a 5 percent change in your body weight can improve these numbers," she says.
6. Your Blood Sugar Is Better Managed
If you need proof of your persistence on the path to weight loss, look no further than your blood sugar. Stable glucose levels are major markers of progress.
Here's why: "Since fat is hormonally active, your blood sugar can be difficult to regulate when you have extra body fat," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says. And "blood sugar regulation can be especially difficult for people with insulin resistance," she adds.
"As you start making positive lifestyle changes on your weight-loss journey, your blood sugar may improve even before the scale changes significantly," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says.
You might even find that you can manage your blood sugar through diet and exercise and no longer need to take medication.
7. You Like the Way You Look
When you start liking what you see in the mirror — now that's something to celebrate.
"Confidence isn't a number on the scale," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says. It comes from within.
"Choosing to embrace your positive physical features before the scale changes can be a game-changer on your weight-loss journey," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says.
She recommends writing down compliments about yourself every day and transforming them into positive affirmations. For example:
- I am thankful for my strength.
- I love and accept my body just as it is today.
- My body is a gift. I will treat it with love and respect.
8. Your Mental Health Is Improving
A better mood is another amazing marker that the scale can't measure.
While everyone's weight-loss plan is unique, a healthy one often involves a combination of exercising regularly, eating nourishing foods and prioritizing sleep. And all these strategies can help slash stress levels and improve mental health conditions such as mild/moderate generalized anxiety disorder and major depression, Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie says.
Plus, "it can be very empowering to take control of your health by starting a weight-loss and wellness journey," Dr. Gonsahn-Bollie adds. And this feeling of empowerment can enhance your mental health too.