What to do when the scales don't shift

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 22 Jan, 2021

Been sticking to your calorie target but not seeing the results you want? This happens to most of us at some point in our weight loss journey, and in fact was the third most popular reason people gave in a poll about why they'd given up on diets in the past (stress and boredom being reasons one and two). It's no wonder – you feel you are doing everything right but not seeing any shift on the scales – it's incredibly frustrating and hard not to let it affect your motivation.

But stop and think for a second – what is the alternative to sticking with it? Giving up, reverting to your old habits and possibly putting ON weight? Surely this is not the option you really want?

The truth is, if you're not losing weight there is very often a logical reason – so the first step is to look into what this might be. Here are my top tips on what action to take if the scales aren't moving:

1 Check back over your food diary

Be honest with yourself – did you weigh everything? Enter everything? Used the right brand for foods you've selected from the database? In order to be successful with your diet you need to ensure you are sticking to the calorie allowance set for you, and the only way to know this is to accurately record everything in your food diary. Remember it only takes a few calories either way to tip the balance between losing or gaining weight. Read more about accurate tracking here.

2 Check your settings

Do you have the right options ticked in your Personal Details (under 'My Profile')? If you select that you are moderately or very active for your job, you will be given extra calories each day to compensate for this. You should then only be recording additional activity which you do on top of your normal routine in your diary. If you do have your activity levels set at the wrong level, it's possible you will be having too many calories each day, or not achieving the required level of exercise to lose weight at the rate you selected.

3 Are you being active enough?


If you can fit in more structured exercise then great – try something new and that you think you will enjoy. People often ask 'what is the best exercise to help me lose weight?' The answer is the activity that you keep up with because you enjoy it and it's not a chore. Try a Zumba class, go walking with a friend, try swimming with the kids – just something where you can burn some extra calories while having a good time.

4 Are you eating the right type of foods?

With Nutracheck, no foods are banned and generally speaking if you stick within your calorie target each day, you should lose weight – regardless of what you are eating. But that's not to say that you should be eating empty calories. You should be aiming for the best food choices when you can, to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. A healthy diet should be rich in wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, wholegrain rice, oats and quinoa; lean protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, quorn, eggs and lean meat; a variety of fruits and vegetables and three portions of low fat dairy foods such as low fat yogurt, reduced fat cheese and semi-skimmed milk each day. You should also aim to cut down on saturated fats found in things like fried foods, cakes, pastries, biscuits and fatty meats, and increase your intake of unsaturated 'good' fats in things like nuts, seeds, olive oil and oily fish. Our ethos is that if you eat well 80% of the time, then you can afford to have a few treats the other 20% of the time. Eating the right balance of foods will help to keep you healthy, feeling satisfied and should help with your overall weight loss goal.

5 Have you reached a natural plateau?

Have you been losing weight steadily for a while (several months)? If so, you may have just hit a natural plateau – it's very common and happens to most people at some point. The good news is that it is usually temporary but it can be a risky time if it starts to affect your motivation. So my advice is to expect a plateau will happen at some point – it's normal! And be confident that if you keep going with your healthy eating and exercise regime, it will pass and weight loss will start again.

There are things you can do to help kick start your weight loss:

  1. Increase or change the exercise you are doing
  2. Vary the types of foods you're eating
  3. You may need to reduce your calorie allowance a little, if you haven't changed this since you first started losing weight
  4. Go back to being 100% accurate with your food diary – it's possible you may have become complacent with recording your intake or measuring portions
  5. Try introducing some resistance training into your regime to build up some lean muscle tissue – this type of tissue burns calories so will help to boost your bodies overall calorie burning potential.

It may sound silly but you can actually eat too little, and this can have a negative impact on your weight loss. Eating well under your calorie target for an extended period of time can mean your body isn't getting all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. Our bodies are also very clever and adaptive, so when you reduce the amount of energy you're consuming over time, it's natutal response is to try and conserve energy and slow down the loss of fat stores. So eating a very low calorie diet can be counter-productive and cause your body to slow down its metabolic processes which can result in weight loss slowing down or even stopping for a while.

It's important that you eat the calorie allowance that has been set for you, as this is set to help you lose weight at a rate of 1-2 lbs per week. When you reach a milestone of 7lbs ot 1 stone, you can then gradually reduce your calorie allowance to ensure weight loss continues – starting off too low will mean you have nowhere to go with your allowance.

6 Are you being realistic?

You should be aiming for a 1-2 lb per week loss, as this is a healthy and sustainable rate of loss. If you're feeling frustrated because you aren't losing weight at a faster rate than this, then take a step back for a second. This is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix diet – if you follow the principles of Nutracheck you can lose weight healthily and happily. There is no need to cut out food groups, not eat your favourite foods, not go out for dinner or have the odd glass of wine – you can do all of those things and still lose weight. Don't set yourself unrealistic targets, because you're likely to quickly fall off the wagon and lose your way.

Take home message!

So to summarise – if you are not seeing the weight loss you'd hoped for, don't immediately throw in the towel. Refer to the 6 points above to see if there is something you can change to get things moving – more often than not there's a very logical explanation!

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.