Here’s One Sneaky Reason the Scale Won’t Budge

Upset that the scale isn't changing? Step away for a week.

Upset that the scale isn’t changing? Step away for a week.

Have you ever felt frustrated when it seemed like no matter what you did, you couldn’t lose weight? When the scale simply refused to budge?

That happened to one of my fitness coaching clients recently.

My client (we’ll call her Tammy) had been killing it in the gym nearly every day for weeks, lifting weights and doing cardio. She prepared her meals in advance. She logged her meals in a food journal.

Heck, she even measured out her water intake.

Then one day I saw her fighting back tears during a workout. I pulled her aside so we could talk.

“I don’t know what I am doing wrong,” she told me. “I am ready to give up. The gym has always been my happy place and I’m starting to hate it.”

Now, Tammy is not a quitter. We went over every detail of her plan for possible problems. (There weren’t any.) Finally, I suggested she do one thing differently. She thought I was crazy, but she did it anyway.

The next morning she stood on the scale (even though I had told her not to).

It was down 3 pounds.

And she had just changed one little thing.

Crazy, huh?

Stress is a mean bully

Have you ever started a new fitness or weight-loss regimen with full force? You make a plan, you get all your gear assembled and then come Monday morning you are all-in: diet and workouts are ON!

The next few mornings you weigh yourself, looking for the scale to suddenly reflect all your hard work.

And maybe it does drop a pound or two over the first week. And then …


And you think you might be slacking a little so maybe you do extra workouts. Or eat a little less. You weigh yourself in the morning. And then again at night.

And still … nothing.

It doesn’t make any sense.

And yet it does. Your body is a finely tuned, complicated machine but it’s also kind of dumb. You might be exercising and dieting to get healthier and fitter, but your body doesn’t know that. All it knows is that things have changed – it’s being worked harder on less (and different) fuel – and it surmises that it’s under attack. It wants to survive.

It starts churning out extra hormones to fuel itself to combat the attack. The weight loss temporarily stops – a normal phenomenon generally lasting a week or so.

But when that happens, we start to mentally freak out and even more stress hormones are dumped into our system.

We go into lockdown mode. Progress comes to a halt.

I find this phenomenon happens more with women and more often still after they reach their mid-30s. It has happened to me, too. There’s only one thing you can do.

You have to trust the process. You have to relax.

During my conversation with Tammy, I asked her if she could do anything more than she was already doing to achieve her goal.

No, she said. She couldn’t.

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, I asked her: “You can’t do more than the most you can do, can you?”

She frowned. “No.”

“Then you’re off the hook, right?” I asked her. “You can’t do any more. So just let all that stress go, and trust the plan.”

Sure: I know it’s easy to say, “Let the stress go.” Doing it is another matter. How, exactly, are you supposed to stop being focused on the results of all that effort – all the workouts and the attention to the diet?

You relax. You make time for a bubble bath or you browse a favorite store, or you get a massage or pedicure. Maybe you curl up on the couch with a good book and cup of tea. For every bout of intense activity, make a little time for relaxation.

(I also told Tammy to stop weighing herself for a week, but she didn’t listen to that part.)

And maybe the scale doesn’t drop 3 pounds immediately, like it did for Tammy, but it will begin to move again. More importantly, perhaps, a figurative weight – all that stress – will drop, and with it gone, you can enjoy your workouts again.

Make a plan and work the plan

How do you know if your plan is trustworthy?

Work with a respected resource. Hire an experienced personal trainer. On a budget? Find a well-vetted online resource and browse their free programs.

Or hire a virtual fitness coach who can design a plan for you and coach you through it online, like I do with Tammy.

Set your plan, work your plan – put it on autopilot, even – and let the results roll in.

Wendy Watkins

About Wendy Watkins

Wendy Watkins is a Bangor-based personal trainer, fitness coach, studio owner, and writer/editor. She is the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Losing 20 Pounds in 2 Months. Visit her website at