It’s common to be highly motivated and full of hope the first few days after you set out on a weight loss journey. In the morning, you’re all fidgety and can’t wait to step on the scale and see those numbers go down.
But after a while, the dropping numbers slow down, come to a halt or even move up a bit again. You might look into the mirror and not see any difference. And then, the doubt sets in. Will I ever make it? Am I still on the right track? How long will I have to hang in there until I can finally see some progress?
The short answer to this question is: It depends. When it comes to noticing progress on a weight loss journey, there are many factors at play. Below, we’ll show you the most important ones that make a difference in how long it takes for you to see results.
1. Your starting point
The first factor that influences the length of your journey and the time until you notice your progress is your starting point. The higher your starting weight, the longer it unfortunately takes until you see results in the mirror. And the longer it takes until your friends and acquaintances notice your weight loss.
Think of a roll of toilet paper. When you take away the first sheets of a new roll, the roll looks pretty much the same. But the closer you get to the end of the roll, the more you’ll notice every single sheet that you take away.
It’s the same with weight loss. The first few kilos are hardly visible with the naked eye. But the less extra weight you’ve left to lose, the bigger the difference you see with every kilo you drop.
2. Your energy deficit
No matter what strategy you choose to lose weight, in the end it boils down to burning more calories than you take in and thereby creating an energy deficit. Consequently, it seems logical that the biggest possible deficit leads to the quickest results. But this is actually not true. Here’s why:
Your body has a natural resistance to change. Let’s say you’ve been maintaining your weight at 3000 kcal a day. This may sound like a lot, but it’s pretty easy to reach in an environment of ready-made convenience foods, snacks and restaurant meals, if you don’t track what you eat. Let’s assume for this example that you’re used to eating that way. That’s what feels good and normal to you.
Then, you suddenly cut down drastically to about 1000 kcal a day. You severely restrict what you eat. After a short while, you start to feel hungry. Extremely hungry. You try to push through, but you have no energy. It gets difficult to keep up with your normal life. All you can think of is food. You hate being on a diet. Eventually, you say “fuck it” and cave in. You start binging, glad that you no longer feel deprived, while at the same time beating yourself up that you have no willpower.
Sounds crappy? For sure it is. That’s why eating as little as possible is not the way to go if you want to lose weight and actually get to see some progress.
It’s much more sustainable to aim for a moderate deficit. What that exactly means depends once again on the point you’re currently at. As a general rule of thumb, a deficit of 500 kcal per day is seen as sustainable. This translates into roughly 0,5 kg of fat loss per week.
If you’re very overweight, you maintain your weight at a higher amount of calories than a person who’s close to or in the “normal” BMI range (BMI between 18,5 and 24,9). That’s why you have a little more room for creating a deficit. But even then, we don’t recommend you to try losing more than a kg per week, to make sure you still get enough nutrients, minimize muscle mass loss and that you don’t get overwhelmed by hunger and restriction.
Accordingly, the closer you are to your goal, the smaller your deficit needs to get, if you want to stay healthy. Once you enter the “normal weight” range, it gets harder to cut away calories from your maintenance budget, while still getting in all the nutrients you need. You simply don’t have that many calories left to spare. This is why losing the last few kilos is so slow and can be such a huge pain in the ass. But don’t despair, just stick to the plan! Which leads us to the next point …
3. Your commitment
Ideally, you start out on your journey with a plan in your pocket and follow it exactly. If you’re committed to your plan and you keep track of what you’re doing, you see consistent progress over time.
But that’s just the ideal scenario. In reality, more often than not, the road to success is a bumpy rather than even. It’s cobbled with interruptions and there might be roadblocks along the way.
You can’t just put your life on hold while you’re losing weight. Neither would it be realistic to expect you to. Things that can interfere with your weight loss plans happen all the time. Events like birthdays, holidays and vacations. Or on the other hand, illnesses and emergency situations that require your full attention. They can cause you to tweak or pause your plan. And that’s okay, nothing to beat yourself up about.
However, if you don’t want interruptions like these to stop you from losing weight, it’s essential that you become aware of them. Budget in the time you’re willing to allow for these events. Of course, it’s okay to celebrate your birthday with whatever food you want or try new local foods when you’re travelling. But once your birthday or vacation is over, make sure to get back to your plan.
If you don’t want to take a complete break from your plan, because you’re afraid it will be too hard to get started again later on, you could also set some minimum requirements that you find easy to stick to even in a special situation. For example, hitting your step goal every day on vacation. Or starting your birthday with a healthy breakfast. Or drinking enough water when you’re sick.
Another factor that impacts your commitment and thus the speed of your progress are roadblocks, such as an unfavourable social environment, a tendency for emotional eating or misconceptions about foods and exercise. Unlike the short-term interruptions mentioned above, these roadblocks tend to interfere with your goals for longer terms and may be a bit more difficult to address.
The first step to dealing with these roadblocks is to identify them. If you don’t see any progress for a long time, ask yourself if there might be any roadblocks present.
Is your environment at home, at work or in your circle of friends accepting and supporting your goals? Is anyone pressuring you to eat a certain way or making it harder for you to stick to your plan? Do you tend to eat when you’re stressed out, anxious or sad?
If you identified any potential roadblocks, you can come up with strategies on how to deal with them in a next step. Brainstorm about this, write them down. If you find that helps you, discuss with a friend or family member. Or reach out to a coach to help you.
At the same time, read up on nutrition. The more you know, the better. This will help you to make sure that you don’t fall victim to any food misconceptions.
The more often interruptions and roadblocks appear, the more they can slow down your progress. But if you’re committed, they can’t stop you altogether. Remember: It’s not a sprint, it’s a journey.
4. Your way of measuring
Last, but not least, the way you measure your progress has a huge influence on how long it takes for you to see that you’ve lost weight.
When it comes to measuring progress, the first thing that often comes to mind is stepping onto the scale. It seems intuitive, since the scale literally shows your weight. It allows you to see changes from the very beginning, long before they show in the mirror.
The annoying thing with scales is that they are not always correct. You may follow your weight loss plan exactly, eat healthy and move enough, but sometimes the number on the scale still stays the same for several days – or it might even move up. That does not mean that your plan doesn’t work, though.
The number on the scale is influenced by more than the amount of food you eat and the movement you get. If you have eaten something before weighing in or you haven’t had a bowel movement that day yet, some of the weight on the scale will be due to the food in your stomach or poop weight. You might also be retaining water from one day to the other.
Water retention can happen for many reasons. You might, for example, have eaten a little more carbs or salt than usual the day before. You might be taking a medication that causes water retention. Exercise can cause you to hold on to water, too. Strength training causes tiny tears in your muscle. This is a good thing, because when your body repairs these little damages, you build muscle. But during that repair process, you also store water in the muscle, which can lead to a higher number on the scale in the short-term. If you’re a woman, you might also retain more water at certain times during your cycle. These weight fluctuations are normal. But they are annoying and make it pretty much impossible to see accurate results from one day to the next.
Some scales also come with a body fat percentage measuring function. While measuring your body fat percentage can be another indicator of progress, these devices come with a certain margin of error of a few percent. Plus, if you retain water, this also affects the body fat percentage shown on the scale.
If you’re using a scale for measuring your progress, we recommend weighing yourself every day in the morning after your first trip to the bathroom, before you eat or drink anything. This way, you eliminate the factor of food weight and possibly even poop weight and you’ll get comparable results over a longer period of time.
But there are other methods for measuring progress.
You could, for example, measure the circumference of your waist, hips, or other body parts like thighs or arms with a measuring tape. Or you could use body fat calipers to perform skinfold measurements.
These measurements allow you to make muscle gain more visible. Muscle is denser than fat, so if you train for building muscle and losing fat at the same time, your weight on the scale might stay the same, while you still get leaner. The problem with these ways of measuring is that they are only accurate if you always perform them on the same spots, which may be difficult to ensure.
Another way to make progress visible is taking photos in regular intervals. If you look into the mirror, you might not notice any changes, as you’re used to seeing yourself every day and don’t remember what you looked like several weeks ago. If you take photos, you will notice those differences more easily.
Finally, there’s an endless amount of no-scale victories that you could take into consideration. Non-scale victories are positive changes you notice in your life due to losing weight or getting fitter. Things like the way your clothes fit and feel, no more chub rub on your upper thighs in the summer, less joint pain or more energy throughout the day.
Depending on where you currently are, some of these might appear sooner than others. But if you keep your eyes open, chances are you will notice more and more changes that you can consider non-scale victories.
What you can take away from this
- It’s hard to say exactly how long it takes for you to notice your weight loss, as this depends on a variety of factors.
- Don’t try to rush and force it by going extreme. Patience gets you further in the long run. Aim for a moderate energy deficit (500 kcal/day). This is the most sustainable way, as bigger deficits cause too much hunger and may lead to nutrient deficiencies, especially if you don’t have much weight to lose anymore. If you’re already very close to your goal, you might even want to aim for a smaller deficit for the same reason.
- Use a variety of progress indicators. Weighing yourself is fine, but weight fluctuations happen and can cause a lot of frustration. Consider using measuring tape and look out for non-scale victories besides your weigh-ins.
- Track your progress. Take photos of yourself in regular intervals. You don’t need to show them to anyone, if you don’t want to. But they are an effective way of making your progress visible. If you weigh yourself and/or perform other measurements, write the results down, so you can come back later and compare. Mark non-scale victories in your calendar – and celebrate them!
Eager to transform your life and turn into the most confident, healthy, best version of yourself? Book your appointment with Walnut Coaching.