I wrote this article for my CrossFit box a couple years ago. Though you may not CrossFit yourself, you likely have this same frustration early in your fitness journey. You are exercising but not losing weight. Just because you are not losing weight, it doesn’t mean you are not getting results.
I’m exercising but not losing weight!
I often have a newer member, who’s been with us for 2-3 months, who comes in all discouraged and proclaim, “I’ve been working my butt off for 2 months now, and I’m so frustrated. I have not lost a single pound!” (In fact, they may have actually gained weight.)
So I ask the question, “How are you feeling?” The answer normally comes back, “My energy is up, I feel good about myself, I’m getting better at workouts, but did you hear me? I’m not losing weight!”
“Yes, I heard you, I’m not discounting that, but have you noticed any difference in your body composition? Are you able to tighten your belt or are your jeans fitting looser?” Answers the athlete, “Well, yes, I did notice I’m in a notch on my belt.”
Hmmm… How can they not be losing weight but they are losing inches?
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Fat Mass vs. Muscle Mass
The answer lies in the density of fat and muscle. If you are losing inches, you are losing weight! Well, no, you aren’t are you? I mean, a pound of fat is exactly equal to a pound of muscle. Exactly equal.
What is NOT equal is the density of the materials we are discussing. Did you know that muscle is over 18% more dense than fat? Think about that, 5 lbs of muscle will occupy roughly one-fifth less space in the body than 5 lbs of fat. So as muscles regain tone (even grow), we are in fact burning and reducing our fat, just not our weight. The below picture provides perspective for you “visual learners”.
Emphasis on Pounds vs. BMI vs. Body Fat Percentage
In my opinion, there is far too much emphasis on the pound in U.S. society. There’s not nearly enough emphasis on the space in a room one takes up! Body Mass Index is a better measure of health than weight. Even better is Body Fat percentage.
BMI is easily established from calculators you can find on the internet. In some, simply enter your weight and height and you can get a base measurement. On others, you can add age, sex and some circumference measures at different locations on your body to be a bit more precise.
Body Fat percentage is a bit harder to measure. Body fat calculators will get you close. Many say a “fat tank” dunk is the only way to be precise. Some call this “getting tanked“. What it really is, is a hydrostatic test of your body fat. You exhale all of your air, and dunk in a tank and the water rises, telling exactly how much space you take up on this earth.
So why am I not losing weight?
I have two answers. The first is, you may not have any, (or not much) weight to lose. If that is the case, you are quite possibly only going to get heavier (but don’t worry, not much – that’s a discussion for another blog post).
The other answer is simple, if you had fat to lose, you are converting it to muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat. Oh wait, muscle weighs the same as fat. There’s no difference in weight. The difference is that muscle is denser than fat!
So newbies take heart! Don’t live by the scale, live by the look and realize that after you tone, you will see some weight loss through exercise assuming you are eating correctly in combination! As they say, “you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet” (yet another discussion for a future blog post).