Scale Down, Worry Up? Why Not All Weight Loss is Equal for Women Over 40

Posted On Feb 12, 2024 |

Does a drop in scale weight mean loss of fat-or maybe water, muscle or bone? Learn why the scale matters least for weight loss success for women 40+.

Scale Down, Worry Up? Why Not All Weight Loss is Equal for Women Over 40

The Scale's Deception

The scale measures your total weight (the force of gravity on the mass of your body,) but it doesn’t tell you what that weight is made up of (fluid, fat, muscle, bone, organs etc…). 

We usually view weight loss through the lens of scale numbers, but it's complicated, especially for women over 40!

I’m willing to bet you DON'T want to lose weight. 

You want to lose body fat!! 

You also want to keep every ounce of muscle and bone. 

The scale cannot tell you if that’s what is happening. The scale can’t tell you if you had a particularly tough workout yesterday and created lots of little micro tears in your muscles so that they are swelling (imperceptibly) and making you “gain” 2lbs. 

The scale can't tell you if you're on one of those fad starvation-like diets and you are on the road to dehydration. 

The scale can't tell you if the hormonal fluctuations you are experiencing are the cause of a weight drop due to temporary shifts in fluid levels

Most important: the scale does not determine your progress, your worth, your value, your self control, your discipline or your JOY! 

If you feel worse (or better!!) about yourself after stepping on the scale, then I HIGHLY RECOMMEND throwing it away…at least for now, while you learn how to change your focus. 

Beyond mere numbers lies a deeper understanding of what's truly happening to our bodies. In this article, I'll delve into the complexities of weight loss, exploring why the scale matters least for lasting well-being, and uncover strategies for sustainable weight loss success - on your road to the fitness transformation you've always dreamed of. 

Understanding these nuances is crucial for avoiding frustration and maintaining motivation. By recognizing that weight loss is not linear and that scale numbers can be influenced by various factors beyond fat loss, women over 40 can adopt a more holistic approach to their health journey. In the following sections, we'll delve deeper into these factors and explore alternative measures of progress that provide a clearer picture of success.

    The Water Weight Conundrum

    One of the most significant factors contributing to fluctuations in scale numbers is water weight. For women over 40, hormonal changes can cause significant shifts in fluid retention. Excessive exercise, and simply not drinking enough water can lead to sudden increases or decreases in scale weight that have little to do with actual fat loss.

    Furthermore, dietary choices, especially high-sodium foods, can  contribute to water retention, leading to bloating and temporary weight gain. Conversely, reducing sodium intake can result in rapid drops in scale weight as the body releases retained water. Note: this is not advice on sodium intake overall, just its impact

    It's important to note that fad diets, often low in carbohydrates (especially fruit), can also lead to a drop in water weight due to the depletion of glycogen stores (running out of energy that's stored in your muscles, energy your body needs for day-to-day functioning). 

    While this initial weight loss may seem promising, it's unsustainable and can be detrimental to overall health. Depriving the body of essential nutrients can have serious consequences, including muscle loss and compromised metabolism, as we shall see.

      Protecting Your Bones and Muscles

      One of the primary concerns during weight loss, especially for women over 40, is the potential loss of muscle and bone mass. As we age, our bodies naturally undergo changes that can lead to a gradual decline in both muscle mass and bone density. However, rapid weight loss, particularly through fad diets and/or excessive calorie restriction, can exacerbate this process and accelerate muscle and bone loss even further.

      Muscle loss, in particular, is concerning because it not only affects our physical strength and mobility but also has implications for our metabolic health. With less muscle mass, our bodies burn fewer calories at rest, making it more challenging to maintain weight loss and potentially leading to regain over time. Additionally, decreased muscle mass can increase the risk of injury and hinder our ability to function normally throughout the day.

      Similarly, bone loss, becomes a big concern for women over 40. During this time, hormonal changes can accelerate bone loss, putting women at greater risk of fractures and osteoporosis-related complications.

      Therefore, it's crucial to prioritize strategies that protect both muscle and bone health during weight loss. Instead of resorting to extreme measures or quick fixes, opt for a balanced approach that includes:

      1. Adequate protein intake: Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass during weight loss. Aim to include lean protein sources in your diet, such as meat, chicken, fish, tofu, and legumes, to support muscle preservation. Check out my Handy Portion Guide for more info on how to figure out your ideal protein intake.
      2. Strength training: Incorporating resistance training into your exercise routine is crucial for preserving muscle mass and promoting bone density. Focus on compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups, such as squats, lunges, and push-ups. I have 2 free guides guides to help you here: Easy Start Exercise Guide and The Top 9 Strength Building Exercises 
      3. Nutrient-rich foods: Avoid restrictive diets that deprive your body of essential nutrients. Instead, prioritize nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens, fruits, root vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats.
      4. Calcium and vitamin D: Ensure adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, which are essential for bone health. Incorporate dairy products, leafy greens, and supplements if necessary to support bone density.

        The Role of Body Composition

        Body composition, which refers to the proportion of fat, muscle, bone, and water in the body, provides a much better picture of your health and fitness than the numbers on the scale. 

        By monitoring muscle mass and body fat percentage, you can better understand how your body composition is changing over time and make adjustments to your approach as needed.

        One of the key benefits of prioritizing body composition over scale weight is the ability to differentiate between fat loss and muscle gain. While the scale may show little to no change or even an increase in weight, improvements in body composition can still occur as you lose fat and build muscle. You will still LOOK like you lost weight even if the scale number says otherwise. 

        Furthermore, focusing on body composition allows for a more individualized approach to goal setting and progress tracking. Instead of fixating on arbitrary weight loss targets, you can set goals based on achieving a healthier body composition. 

        This shift in mindset is CRUCIAL as it promotes a more sustainable and health-focused approach to weight loss, emphasizing long-term well-being over short-term results.

        Here are some ways to track your body composition: 

        1. Body Measurements: Track changes in key areas such as waist, hips, thighs, and arms using a tape measure. Progress in these measurements can indicate changes in body composition, even if scale weight remains the same.
        2. Body Fat Percentage: Use methods such as skinfold calipers, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) scales, or DEXA scans to measure body fat percentage. These methods provide a more accurate assessment of fat mass compared to scale weight alone.
        3. Progress Photos: Take regular photos from multiple angles to visually track changes in body composition over time. Comparing photos side by side can help you see subtle differences that may not be apparent on the scale.
        4. Clothing Fit: Pay attention to how your clothes fit and feel as you progress on your journey. Changes in clothing size or the way garments fit can indicate changes in body composition, regardless of scale weight.
        5. Strength and Performance: Monitor improvements in strength and performance during workouts. Increased strength and endurance are often indicators of muscle gain and improved body composition.

        Focus on long-term trends, including how you FEEL, rather than day-to-day fluctuations. Keep a log or journal to track your progress over time and identify patterns or trends in your body composition changes.

          Non-Scale Victories

          While scale weight can be a useful metric for tracking progress, don't overlook the significance of non-scale victories on your health and fitness journey. Non-scale victories encompass a wide range of achievements and improvements that go beyond mere numbers on the scale, providing valuable indicators of success and well-being - and the loss of fat!

          They include:

          1. Improved Sleep: Better sleep quality and quantity can lead to increased energy levels, improved mood, and enhanced cognitive function. You won't be as hungry or prone to having and giving in to cravings. Read more here
          2. Increased Energy Levels: Feeling more energized throughout the day can indicate improvements in overall health and fitness.
          3. Enhanced Mood: Exercise and healthy eating habits can positively impact mood and mental well-being, leading to reduced stress and anxiety. Improvements in body composition and yes, weight loss, will make you happy! 
          4. Better Digestion: Improved digestion and reduced bloating can signify a healthier gut, better utilization of the foods you eat and you're eating a foods that are right for you.
          5. Improved Hydration: Staying properly hydrated supports overall health and can lead to clearer skin, better digestion, and improved physical performance. And you won't have to worry as much about wide fluctuations in water weight. 
          6. Enhanced Physical Strength and Endurance: Building strength and endurance through exercise can improve lean mass, lead to better daily functioning and reduce the risk of injury.
          7. Better Flexibility and Mobility: Increased flexibility and mobility contribute to overall physical well-being and can enhance performance in daily activities and exercise.
          8. More Confidence: Achieving fitness and health goals can boost self-esteem and confidence, leading to a more positive body image and mindset. It will give you the motivation to keep going!
          9. Clothing Fit: Feeling more comfortable and confident in your clothes can signify changes in body composition and improved fitness levels.
          10. Overall Quality of Life: Non-scale victories contribute to an overall sense of well-being and vitality, enhancing the enjoyment and satisfaction of life.

          Celebrating non-scale victories is important because they provide a more holistic view of progress, taking into account factors such as improved physical and mental health, increased energy levels, and enhanced quality of life. By focusing on these victories, you cultivate a healthier relationship with yourself and your body, fostering long-term success and well-being on your health and fitness journey.


            It's SO important to recognize that weight loss is a multifaceted journey that extends beyond the numbers on the scale. Throughout this blog post, I've explored the complexities of weight loss for women over 40 and the limitations of relying solely on scale readings as a measure of progress.

            By understanding the various factors that influence scale weight, including water retention, muscle gain, and the dangers of fad diets, you can adopt a more informed, empowered and sustainable approach to your health and fitness goals. Protecting bones and muscles, monitoring body composition, and celebrating non-scale victories are all integral components of this holistic approach.

            Ultimately, the key takeaway is to shift your focus from the scale. While scale weight may fluctuate, your overall health and quality of life are far more important indicators of success. By prioritizing balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and self-care practices, you can achieve lasting well-being and vitality that extends far beyond a number on the scale. 

            Let's all embrace this holistic approach to health and fitness and celebrate every step of the journey towards a healthier, happier, independent life!


            Still confused or overwhelmed?

            Book a call with me and let's create a plan to get your health and fitness on track together.

            Categories: Nourish