Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Losing weight without "losing weight"

As strange as it sounds, its true- you can actually lose weight without seeing a change on the scale. It is possibly one of the most frustrating things to experience both as a client and as a dietitian.

For one, it is hard to convince people that an inanimate object, such as a scale, should not be the only source for motivation when trying to lose weight. It is hard to convince die-hard scale fans to cut down on their weigh-ins and just focus on attaining (and setting) their non-weight based goals.

The reason behind this mysterious loss of fat but apparent non-loss of total body weight is easily explained. When you decide to change your eating and activity habits to help yourself lose weight, you are essentially trying to change what your body is composed of- you are burning fat and gaining lean muscle mass (or non-fat weight).
Eating a little bit less calories than you need and exercising more, on a daily basis, encourages your body to burn its excess stores of fat. At the same time, by exercising more you start to tone and strengthen your muscles- and thus encouraging them to grow. You are replacing the weight lost by fat with muscle weight- and the scale may not move much.

So how do we judge if our efforts are being rewarded? Well, one easy way is to take a look at your waist. Use a run-of-the-mill measuring tape used in sewing and measure your circumference at the height of your bellybutton: Is it getting smaller? Are your pants fitting you better? Losing inches off your waist not only can give you a better idea of just how much fat you have lost, but its a better indicator of how much you have decreased your risk for developing diabetes and heart disease than a scale.

Another way to judge if we are successful is to set goals that are not based on numbers on a scale. Setting short term goals that are realistic and focus on specific tasks can be a more positive way to look at changing your lifestyle. If you attained your goal, you will have been successful, regardless of what the scale tells you.

This advice is ESPECIALLY true when it comes to children and teens losing weight. Since they are still growing, the scale is very unreliable in showing if they have burnt fat. Not only are they replacing fat with muscle, but their bone mass is also growing. Other ways to tell if they are changing their body composition is to take a look at how fast they move in their favourite sport or hobby, as well as if they attained the goals they set personally and as a family. If the goal has been reached, they are deemed successful and should continue to set new goals every month or so. Having a healthy perspective on weight loss is more important than obsessing about their weight.
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