4 reasons for losing weight without getting leaner

written by Philip Stefanov  |  MAY 10, 2022

Losing weight can be one of the most frustrating experiences. The process is challenging, takes a lot of time, and often leads to surprising results. If you’ve ever tried losing weight, you’ve probably had to deal with the issue of actually dropping weight but not seeing yourself getting leaner. You might even be in that situation now, given that summer is close and ‘tis the fat loss season.

So, why does this happen, and what can we do about it? Let’s explore.

Reason #1: Unfair Expectations

We experience this phenomenon because we often start with wrong expectations of how much weight we need to lose to get lean. For example, when I first started losing weight in my teens, I weighed over 240 lbs. So, I reasoned I would need to drop to around 190 lbs to look great.

Fast-forward a few months, I was 190 lbs, but I looked nowhere close to my ideal image of washboard abs, guns of steel, and rock-hard pecs. I ended up losing an extra 20-25 lbs before I reached a somewhat acceptable level of leanness. You can see a photo here. I still wasn’t at the level I wanted to be, but I had made progress, and I was happy with myself. I also learned something:

No matter how objective you are with your body, you will almost always underestimate how much fat you need to lose until you reach the desired level of leanness.

Reason #2: Not Losing Fat

The second significant reason for not getting lean as quickly as you’d like to relates to improper weight loss. As a result, you lose more muscle and less fat, increasing the time required to reach your desired body composition.

Consider the following examples:

Greg is 200 lbs and is at 20 percent body fat, which means he carries 40 lbs of adipose tissue. He follows good fat loss tactics and drops 25 lbs in 20 weeks. His average muscle-to-fat loss ratio is 20/80, which isn’t perfect but also isn’t bad. So, of the 25 lbs he’s lost, five lbs are lean tissue, and 20 are fat tissue. His new weight is 175 lbs, and his body fat percentage is 11.5.

Mike is also 200 lbs and is at 20 percent body fat. But, unlike Greg, Mike follows ‘traditional’ weight loss advice of doing lots of cardio, slashing his calories, and avoiding weights. He drops 35 lbs in the same 20 weeks, but his ratio is 50/50. His new weight is 165 lbs, but his body fat percentage is almost 14. Mike has lost less fat and doesn’t look as good despite losing more weight.

Greg is quite happy with his visual progress, but Mike still has a long way to go for the washboard abs and bicep veins.

Here are some suggestions for more effective fat loss:

  • Consume enough protein - 0.7 to 1 gram per pound of body weight
  • Weight train three to four times per week, emphasizing compound lifts
  • Maintain a moderate deficit, losing no more than 0.7 percent body weight per week
  • Sleep for at least seven hours each night

Reason #3: Improper Weight Tracking

What if you’re not getting leaner because you’re not losing weight, or, at least, not at the rate you believe you are?

Many people don’t track their weight accurately and trick themselves into believing they are making progress. The correct way to track weight is to do the following:

  • Weigh yourself at least four times per week, but limit it to once per day
  • Weigh yourself in the morning, on an empty stomach, after having gone to the bathroom
  • Write the value down to the 0.1 of a kilogram or lb
  • Calculate the weekly average
  • Compare your averages from week to week, looking for trends

Here is what it might look like:

Monday - 183.2 lbs
Tuesday - N/A
Wednesday - 183.5 lbs
Thursday - 183.1 lbs
Friday - N/A
Saturday - 183.0 lbs
Sunday - 183.1 lbs

Average for the week: 183.1 lbs

Compare each week’s average for a more accurate reading of your body weight to determine if you’re losing weight and at what rate.

Reason #4: You Are Getting Leaner

Okay, this one might sound a bit confusing but bear with me. What if you’re getting leaner but not realizing it? For example, my arms and shoulders are usually the first to get leaner, whereas my stomach and lower back retain fat well into my dieting phases. If I obsess over my troublesome areas, I might believe I’m not making any progress while completely disregarding that other areas of my body are getting more vascular and defined.

Taking progress photos is beneficial because they provide a more objective look, showing how your body changes from month to month.

Thank you for taking the time! Until next week,


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