You're working out and eating healthybut

Dear Wendy,

I have been working out really hard for the past couple months. I have been getting in at least five workouts every week with a mix of cardio and weights. I feel awesome and so much more energetic but the only thing is, I haven’t lost a single pound.

When I was in my 20s working out like this always helped me lose weight but it doesn’t seem to work any more. I don’t understand this because I am eating very healthy and have cut out all sweets, sodas, junk food, etc.

I am trying not to get discouraged but I’d really like to lose a few pounds. OK, I probably have more like 20 pounds to lose but at this point I would settle for any weight.

Why aren’t I losing any weight? Am I turning my fat into muscle because of the weight lifting? I know that muscle weighs more than fat. Am I going to end up being bulky? What is going on?

Thank you.


Dear P.,

Wow, that’s a lot to cover! But if it helps, (although I’m guessing it won’t), you’re not alone with all those questions because I get asked them all the time. It’s not fair: You work out hard, you clean up your diet and still the weight doesn’t come off.

First: awesome job on the workouts. Second: two thumbs up on the healthy eating. However, the best thing is that you’re feeling better than you were before.

If only we could drop weight the way we did when we were in our 20s. Le sigh. As you’ve noticed, as we get older, we burn fewer calories. Our metabolism slows for a variety of reasons, including the fact we tend to lose muscle and move around less (when we aren’t working out) than we do when we’re younger. So, boo.

As for whether you have “turned fat into muscle” I am guessing that maybe you have gained some muscle and perhaps lost some fat, especially if you’re new to weight training. However, I don’t think that’s the reason the scale hasn’t budged. Strictly speaking, fat loss and muscle building are two different phenomena. Building muscle is a slow process and chances are that in two months you haven’t gained enough muscle to offset any significant weight loss.

And no, unless you are training specifically to get “bulky” you likely won’t gain enough muscle for that to happen unless you have a genetic predisposition to gaining muscle quickly, and for women, that’s a rarity.

And maybe it’s a point of semantics, but a pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat — they both weigh a pound. The muscle just takes up less mass, so it is possible to get smaller and still weigh the same as you did when you had more body fat.

There are a few things I’d recommend to get the scale to move.

First of all, make sure you’re drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water a day.

Also, if it’s possible, try to make sure you’re getting some activity outside of your workouts. The amount of movement you do over the course of a day has a huge impact on your weight.

Then, even more importantly, we need to evaluate your portion sizes so that you aren’t mistakenly eating “extra” calories, because even healthy foods add up. A lot of times when we ramp up our activity we inadvertently eat more fuel to power us through the workouts.

As we age, we have to be even more diligent about those “extra” calories. Again, #unfair.

If you are on any medications, have a medical issue or any specific concerns/limitations, check with your physician or a registered dietitian for their input before changing up your diet. Ask them about any vitamins or supplements (such as fish oil) that you should be taking.

If you are otherwise healthy here are some guidelines you can use to  help determine your portion sizes for fat loss.

If you don’t want to keep a food journal (and I know a lot of us balk at that because it’s a time-consuming pain in the butt although the people I know who use one get more consistent and better results), I’ve found a good guide, which is below. And if you DO want to use a nutrition tracking app for a few days to see what’s going on, try myfitnesspal. Or if you use an electronic activity tracker like the FitBit, you can always use the nutrition app that comes with it.

(NOTE: I highly recommend using a food journal at least for a short while!)

Portion sizes using a portable portion-size gauge (your hand):

Protein: have a palm-sized portion with every meal (men get two).

Vegetables: have a fist-sized portion at every meal (men get two).

Starchy carbohydrates or fruit (rice, pasta, grains, etc.): have a cupped-palm size portion at several meals (men get two). Yes, this seems like very little pasta/etc., I know. These foods tend to have a lot of calories for the amount of bulk they contain.

Fats: Have a thumb-sized portion of good fats such as avocado, oil, olives, nut butters, nuts, etc. (again, men get two) at a couple meals.

Here’s a link to a page with a graphic that is close to the above.

All that being said, we are all a little different in our fuel input/output needs/configurations, so this might need some tweaking.

If you get too hungry/tired/drop weight too quickly, add another meal or a little more carbohydrate or fat to the mix.

Likewise, if the weight loss is still stalled, try eliminating one of the portions of starchy carbohydrates.

And in the meantime, try not to obsess about the scale too much, especially on a day-to-day basis. It will naturally fluctuate so the best bet is to look at the weekly trend.

Does this help? I hope so!

Let me know how it goes!


Do you have a question? I’d love to hear from you … hit me up with a comment or an email to the address in the top menu!