Losing Weight Without Losing a Pound: What the Scale Doesn't Tell YouAndrea Howe
Next month my third-born turns two years old, and I’m still about eight pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight. The funny thing is, about 11 months postpartum, I had technically weighed in at my pre-pregnancy weight for about 5 seconds, and while hitting that number on the scale “should” have made me happy, I physically didn’t feel like I had a lot to celebrate. I was exhausted most days; I continuously had dark circles under my eyes and dry patches on my face, feet, and hands that no amount of lotion could rub away; and my post-baby belly was as squishy as ever. While I high-fived myself for being able to suck squeeze and pinch my body into my pre-pregnancy jeans, the reality was my old clothes felt painfully tight, and my physical being felt a lot older than I ever expected to feel at age 37. A lot of those postpartum feelings of general discontent are what motivated me to try and clean up my diet and start cooking from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook It’s All Good. Sure, I secretly hoped to come out on the other side with her abs and legs, but in reality, I was just hoping to feel a bit more energetic and to be able to comfortably fit back into some of my clothes.
Two years postpartum and one year into eating the healthiest I’ve ever eaten, I still haven’t reached my pre-pregnancy weight nor have I lost much weight. And I’m here to tell you that sometimes, the scale doesn’t always tell the truth. If you look at the pictures above, we can take a visual tour of my changing body in the last year and a half and see that while the scale hasn’t fluctuated much, it doesn’t reflect what’s going on with the size and shape of my body. I chose these photos because I’m wearing almost the exact same thing in each photo, and the way the pleats of the skirt drape and fall on my body reflect its physical changes over the past 18+ months.
In the first photo I’m a couple of months postpartum and at that point, weighed in about 15 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight. I was still breastfeeding several times a day and my baby was just a couple of months old, so I had no expectations to be any further along than I was at that time. Truth be told, I remember being ecstatic that I could wear that skirt again, a pre-pregnancy purchase, and was genuinely happy that for this photo, I had found the time to not only shower, but blow dry my hair and put on makeup! Other than walks with the baby, I hadn’t gotten back into an exercise routine yet.
In the second photo, which was just before I started changing my diet, I’m about 10 months p0stpartum and am consistently weighing in at about 10 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight. I’m also not having much motivation or energy to exercise more than a couple of times per week. I can’t attribute the 5-pound weight loss to anything other than just time, and possibly breastfeeding less, therefore snacking less. Those 2 am nursing sessions always drove my hunger through the roof, and I found myself searching the pantry for something to eat in the middle of the night so I could go back to sleep, as I’m sure many can relate to. Don’t I look tired though? Those first couple of months of life with three kids, you are sort of on this adrenaline rush, and then several months in, you just feel exhausted most of the time.
In the last photo, taken just a couple of months ago, the physical transformation of my body may not be dramatically different, but certain changes are noticeable. Most noticeable to me are the changes in my neck, clavicle, hips, and stomach area. I can especially see a difference between the first and last photo because the same exact belt is cinched in quite a bit more. Here’s the really interesting part though: I haven’t lost more than two pounds from the second to third photos, and I haven’t lost more than seven pounds from the first to the last. But overall, I look really different. On my 5’10” frame, a few pounds of weight loss (or gain) is pretty negligible, and much of that weight loss could simply be attributed to stopping breastfeeding. Since I dropped a cup size when I stopped nursing, I can easily see how much of that weight was lost in the breast area alone!
A simple explanation for my change in appearance over the past year, even though the scale doesn’t reflect much change, is that by volume, muscle weighs more than fat. Because I’ve had increasingly more energy to be physically active and have dedicated myself to a couple of great workout regimens I truly love, including outdoor bootcamp and yoga, I’m building more lean muscle, which takes up less volume in the body, attributing to a leaner frame. Really though, no explanation or deeper understanding is really necessary, because I feel good and that’s what matters most.
I needed to learn to stop being trapped by a number on a scale.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I know the intricate details of my weight so well over the past several years and that I’ve paid that close of attention. I’ve continued to weigh myself throughout the past year of changing my diet, and while I’ve said many times that this lifestyle switch is and never was about weight loss, at times I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that the scale wasn’t budging, even though I felt “lighter,” more toned and lean, and could see definition in my arms that I hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t until my husband took that photo of me on the right and compared it to the other photos that I called bullshit on the scale, and I made a promise to myself to stop taking notes on what it was telling me on any given day.
Regardless of what the scale tells me, above all else I need to celebrate all the non-scale victories I’ve experienced this past year:
1. Better fitting clothes
While a couple of pounds lost or gained doesn’t count for much, I’m pleased as punch that I can fit into most of my old clothes. This means that I can wear old favorites and save myself a lot of money by having to invest in a new wardrobe.
2. More energy and motivation
Eating more lean proteins; complex, slow-burning carbohydrates; and drinking more water overall has led to increases in energy and a greater desire to consistently exercise, for the most part. I still experience ups and downs, as I wrote about last week, but overall I’m able to get through the day feeling relatively energetic and eagerly anticipate my early morning workouts.
3. A more positive disposition
Learning to be bold and adventurous in the kitchen some days leaves me feeling exhausted, but more often than not I continue to be happy and proud of my many culinary accomplishments. Besides eating good food that’s good for me, being involved in consistent exercise programs that I never thought I’d love leave me feeling grateful and thankful for an open mind and persistent spirit.
4. Healthier body image
Knowing that I’m treating my body right and doing all I can for it leaves me with nothing but admiration and appreciation for it. I no longer struggle with the ultimate dietary question of what do I feed myself. I now know how to properly nourish my body to help it feel great and that is one of the most positively empowering feelings in the world. There’s no room for negative self doubt or qualms with squishy bellies or slightly jiggly arms; it’s who I am, and I’ve finally learned to accept and be happy with me.
Learning to take proper care of my body over the last year and grappling with the scale during the process has taught me that this journey to improve my health isn’t about a number on a scale, how many hours I can dedicate to exercise, how “clean” I can get my food, and heck, it isn’t even really about how I look. At the end of the day it shouldn’t and doesn’t matter if I get back to my pre-pregnancy weight or I can buckle my belt tighter. It’s about how I feel and the quality and longevity of life I can build for myself. Right now, that quality is pretty fantastic, and I think it may be time to kick my scale to the curb once and for all.