There’s nothing more frustrating than eating healthy, going to the gym and feeling like you’re at a standstill. The numbers on the scale haven’t moved since your last check-in and are staring up at you, taunting you, making you feel like all your work has been for nothing. But the thing is, a lot of times you’re just building more muscle mass, which can even cause you to gain weight. However, if you still aren’t feeling like you’re seeing a transformation in your body composition and you’re noticing a lack of definition, it can be extremely disheartening to get such stagnant (or rising) scale feedback.
That’s why we got in touch with two fitness experts: Ngo Okafor (who trains mega-celebs like J.Lo and Naomi Campbell) and Thumbtack personal trainer Katilyn Noble for their thoughts on how to actually tell if what you’re doing is working.
Ahead, their honest answers.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Okafor says a surefire way to tell if your fitness routine is successful is if you’re hitting the goals that you’ve set for yourself. Don’t compare your gains to those around you—just focus on your own benchmarks and count each milestone as a win.
Look for internal Improvements
Noble says some of the best improvements are those that are non-aesthetic, like better sleep, improved mood, and increased energy.
Make Sure You’re Being Challenged
“If you’re so used to your routine that you breeze right through it without breaking a sweat or feeling your muscles burn, it’s time to bump up the intensity,” says Noble. “Your heart rate should be elevated throughout your routine, you should walk away sweaty, and you should have moments where you couldn’t imagine doing another rep.”
Your level of desire to work out is a sign of success in and of itself. Says Noble, “While working out may never sound as good as a glass of wine, you should have a list of benefits motivating you to go (like the feeling you get when it’s finished or the changes you’re seeing in your body). If you find yourself dreading your workouts and can’t think of any benefits that make it worth it, it might be time to try something new.”
Pay attention to your Clothes
Okafor says signs of fitness gains also manifest themselves in how your clothes fit. If they’re looser or more comfortable, those are signs you’re losing inches, even if the scale says otherwise. (Remember, the scale is not a measurement of your success!)
What About the Things We’re Doing Wrong…
The sad truth is that sometimes we’re just not working out or eating the right way. Okafor says that even if you’re eating healthy foods, there’s a good chance you’re eating too much of them (yes, this can happen).
“Portion control is a very important factor when it comes to achieving great results from working out,” he advises. “Healthy food is great, but this does not mean that it is calorie-free. Gluten-free does not mean calorie-free. Even if you’re vegetarian, you can still overeat. I often tell my clients that pandas are vegetarian but are overweight. If you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning through your workouts, you will gain weight.”
Noble adds that you could also be eating foods that you think are healthy, but aren’t. “Keep a food journal for a week and if you don’t spot any red flags, head to a nutritionist who specialises in weight loss for advice.” You also may not be drinking enough water. Says Noble, “Our metabolisms slow down when we’re dehydrated. That moment you feel thirsty, you’re already in a dehydrated state. Aim for at least half your body weight in water, plus an additional eight ounces for each 30 minutes of exercise. If you live in hot weather or have an active job, you’ll need even more.”
Next, try not to overestimate the number of calories you’re burning during a workout. “[People] tell themselves that they’ve worked out, so they deserve that drink or dessert, but in actuality, they did not burn enough calories to earn that dessert or drink,” says Okafor. “Therefore, they end up gaining weight or staying at zero.”
Also, remember to get enough sleep! “Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on weight gain and poor results from your workouts,” Okafor shares. “Exactly how lack of sleep affects our ability to lose weight has a lot to do with our hormones. The two hormones that are key in this process are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have less leptin and are more likely to exhibit poor judgment, which may lead to overeating. More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain. You are eating more, plus your metabolism is slower when you are sleep-deprived. Also, our muscles recover and grow when we sleep. Research shows that the human body requires an average of 7.5 hours of sleep to completely recover. Many people do not get this amount of sleep and therefore their workout results suffer.”
Lastly, your lack of fitness success could be because you have something going on medically. “If you’re doing everything and still not hitting goals, talk to your doctor about other causes like thyroid function,” says Noble.