You’ve been trying to lose weight for weeks. You’re dieting. Working out. Making mindful choices about everything you do, from the amount of sugar you stir in your coffee to skipping that extra glass of wine at dinner. But then you step on the scale and your heart sinks: The number is the same as last week. Or maybe you’ve lost a couple of pounds, but you feel like you’ve worked so much harder than that. What gives?
When you’re on your weight-loss journey, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game. But there are plenty of non-scale victories indicating that your hard work is, well, working. So instead of focusing on that flashing number on the scale, look for signs that you’re moving in the right direction, even if the scale’s not budging.
“Chances are, positive changes are happening that you’re not noticing if you’re obsessively checking the scale,” says Devin Alexander, a weight loss coach, cookbook author, and chef for NBC’s The Biggest Loser. “There are other ways to see results.”
So how do you tell if you’re achieving those non-scale victories? When it comes to improving your health, the following five signs reveal that you might be doing better than you think.
Non-Scale Victory #1: You Feel Stronger
That endless set of stairs in the subway station that you dread climbing? Well, after a couple of weeks following a workout program, you’re walking up them with a lot less huffing and puffing. “If you feel less winded after exercise or have more energy as you go about your day, that means your heart is getting stronger,” says Alexander.
It’s also a sign that it may be time to up your fitness game even further. “Your body is amazing and has the ability to maximize performance and minimize energy expenditure,” says Dr. Ralph Esposito, a men’s health expert and functional medicine practitioner at Armonk Integrative Medicine in Armonk, New York.
The more you perform an exercise, workout, or fitness program, the more efficient your muscles and nervous system become at doing it. That’s why you might notice your progress start to stall if you always do the same workouts — and why you need to regularly switch things up to continue to adapt.
Non-Scale Victory #2: Your Clothes Fit Differently
That bodycon dress isn’t as, uh, revealing as it once was. Or maybe there’s a little more room in the waist of your jeans, or you notice they’re getting a bit saggy in the seat. If your clothes are looser or fit differently than they did a few weeks ago, that’s a non-scale victory.
If you want more concrete evidence that your efforts to lose weight are working, break out the measuring tape. Each week, measure your natural waistline (just above your navel). If you see that number shrinking, then you’re losing fat mass. “Sometimes instead of losing weight, we lose inches,” says Esposito. And those lost inches might not be reflected on the scale as dramatically as they are on the tape. The reason: You are gaining muscle as you lose fat, and muscle weighs more than fat by volume. So even if your dimensions are shrinking, your bodyweight might not follow suit as quickly.
Non-Scale Victory #3: You See More Muscle Definition
You might not have six-pack abs or bulging biceps, but look for clues that your muscles are more defined than before. A simple way to do this? Go into selfie mode. “Take pictures of yourself from week to week. Keep them in your phone so you can quickly compare each picture,” says Alexander, who suggests striking various poses, like flexed biceps, shots of your stomach, or profile views of your midsection and backside. “You should be able to see some subtle changes in the photos that you wouldn’t necessarily notice while you’re staring in the mirror.”
Non-Scale Victory #4: People Are Noticing
A couple of colleagues have mentioned that you look slimmer. And then you bump into a buddy who asks if you’ve been working out. Chances are, they’re not just being nice: They’re being honest. “Other people can often see subtle physical changes in you before you see them,” says Alexander. “If someone compliments you, embrace it. It’s a sign that you’re doing the right thing.”
Non-Scale Victory #5: You’re Happier
We tend to focus solely on outside appearances, but there’s a lot to be said about the shape of your inner self, too. Take a step back and analyze how you feel as you go through your day. Is your mood lighter? Are you more confident? Are you getting better sleep? These factors are flashing indicators that positive changes are happening.
“When you get in the habit of making better, healthier choices, it becomes easier to replace all of that negativity you tend to pile on yourself with happier thoughts,” says Alexander. “Plus, the release of endorphins from exercise are a proven way to combat depression and stress.”
Your Health: More Than Just A Number
Sure, the weight you’ve lost is an obvious way to track success, but it’s not the only — or even the healthiest — way to measure progress. “What people usually forget is that you’re really only supposed to lose one to two pounds a week, which may seem insignificant. But that can add up to 52-plus pounds a year,” says Alexander. “Dropping 15 pounds a week is just not realistic in a normal setting.”
Instead, appreciate other milestones you reach along your journey, and celebrate the efforts you’re making to improve your overall health.
“Use the scale as a general guide, but don’t let that weight define you,” says Alexander. “There’s so much more to what makes us healthy than that number.”