Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: Why Don’t I See My Progress When I Look In The Mirror?

Q&A Wednesday: Why Don’t I See My Progress When I Look In The Mirror?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

From the FB page:

Meet my very own progress dress 2012!

Q: Why is it that when you lose weight you sometimes feel you look just as big as you did before the weight loss & you may feel you are seeing no progress even though measuring tape & scale say differently.?

I went through this for a very long time. Actually, to be quite honest, I went through two rounds of this, and am going on my third. Yes, it’s that common that I’ve accepted it as a reality and I shrug it off, and I hope that I can convince you to do the same.

When I first started legitimately losing, coming down hard and fast from the 300lb mark, I couldn’t see squat. All I saw was “big girl.” I could grab a tape measure and measure my biceps, my waist, my neck, my hips and thighs and that would show me some progress. But I wanted the visual affirmation, the thing that would show me, with my two eyes looking at myself, that what I was doing was giving me what I wanted.

I think we can all acknowledge that visual progress is important. I completely get the thinking that goes along with it. If I do all the cardio in the world, sweat out my pressed hair, and walk to the showers with my head held high and my body glistening with sweaty afterglow, I believe – in my mind – that I should immediately be able to see what part of my body burned that fat… because, considering how sweaty I am, clearly it was at least three pounds. I want that validation.

It just… it doesn’t always work that way, I’m sorry to say.

The reality is, when it comes to burning fat and shrinking down in size, you won’t see immediate results. It’s tough because, with muscle, a thorough workout will have you coming out feeling like a long lost descendant of The Almighty Ernestine Shephard or something, and you can actually flex in a mirror and see muscles that are a bit more cut. You won’t get that with fat burning.

You feel like you’re seeing no progress because you look at yourself every day. While you may move a centimeter in a few places here or there each day, those centimeters turn into inches if you give it a few weeks… but you’re not going to see that week-to-week or even month-to-month change because you’re too busy looking at yourself every day and getting frustrated that you’re not waking up and looking like your goal. What’s more, if you look at yourself every single day, waiting for change, for the entire month of July? On July 31st you’ll be comparing yourself to what you looked like on July 30th, not July 1st. You’d be denying yourself all the credit for your hard work, instead of saying “Wow, the difference that 30 days can make.”

This is why I’m such a huge fan of having what I call a “progress dress.”

My old progress dress from waaaaay back!

Pick out a cute dress that no longer fits you, or go to one of your favorite inexpensive stores, and pick out a cute dress in a size smaller than what you are, now. Make it a ritual. Each week, play your favorite song in the bathroom, put your makeup on, peel that dress on, and take a picture. One from the front, one on the side. At the end of the month, compare all four photos and notice how the dress looks differently across your thighs, around your tummy, on your arms. Take an in depth look at your body. Appreciate it for what it is, praise yourself for how you’ve treated it, and become excited by the possibilities… what it’ll look like in the dress in the future if you continue.

Cut yourself some slack. Depending on your size, it may be difficult to see how much progress you’ve truly made. In all seriousness, depending on your goals, you might get conflicting messages. I remember a point where my hip measurements were actually going up instead of down and I became frustrated, but then I realized – after time – that it was because my booty was actually lifting and coming up off my thighs, and those drastic but necessary changes were taking place. Had I become discouraged, I might not’ve experienced the benefit.

The core message here is that even though our tools for measuring our progress can give us conflicting messages, we have to protect our efforts to live healthier lives. Don’t let the discouraging lack of visual progress prevent you from doing what you know is best. Give your body time to “thank you” for treating it well, and most importantly be patient and don’t stress it. Before you know it, you’ll be seeing all kinds of progress!

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Kay Tee August 29, 2012 - 1:23 PM

This is me!! I’ve just stopped looking in the mirror!!LOL The ONLY way I know I’ve lost the weight is size 26 no longer fits, and 18’s are becoming loose now. Otherwise, when I look in the mirror – I still see the same me … especially my arms!!! UGH!!!

I’m not going to stop though .. but it would be nice to see the difference – I mean REALLY see it.

Alexis August 29, 2012 - 1:27 PM

I agree wholeheartedly. There is nothing like a dress or a pair of jeans to tell me the real deal. No matter what the mirror says, my jeans say that I am doing something right. Well, jean and my hubby 🙂

robyn August 29, 2012 - 1:56 PM

This message is right on time for me. This is exactly what I am going through. I have been working out since June and eating clean and have seen little to no results. But, I never considered the fact that I am judging myself everday as opposed to judging from month to month. I will say this though. I haven’t been as consistant in the gym due to lack of motivation from not seeing results, but my diet has been on point and I have noticed small changes because of it.


Randie August 29, 2012 - 2:01 PM

I needed this! What you are saying is soooo true. It’s obvious that I have gone from 168 to 144 but it is so hard for ME to acknowledge (when I look in the mirror) that I actually made progress. But I do have these shorts, that are a size 9 that I used to wear back when I was running track in High School, that FIT, after not fitting for a long time. They fit so well I am actually going to take them with me when I go abroad this semester. I always throw on these shorts when I need a pick me up, but I also realize that I need to give myself a break and praise my success more than I critique it. Thank you for this.

Nika August 29, 2012 - 2:46 PM

Thank you for this, I recently pulled out jeans I haven’t worn since 2006 and they fit, but when I look in the mirror I don’t see 41lbs lost.

JoAnna August 29, 2012 - 7:04 PM

Oh this hits home. I’m stuck btw a size 22 and size 20 in my favorite jeans. 2 years ago, I was wearing size 28. Meanwhile, my thighs can actually slide into the size 18 but the waist ain’t budging. Also, shirts are buttoning flat now without need a safety pin that could tear thru from built up boobage pressure (That has happened). And my 4x t-shirts have morphed into low cut mini-dresses.

I’m purging my wardrobe this weekend of the oversized clothes because I still kinda see myself as the Buddha I was, and not the shapely woman I’m becoming.

Nothing like wearing an oversized t-shirt outside that slips down over your breast when bending down to pick up the paper… My neighbor liked the view and told me. Oh, yeah! 😀

Sandra Renee August 29, 2012 - 8:11 PM

Wow! Right on point. Thanks, I am motivated to keep striving on my weigbt loss journey.

mj August 29, 2012 - 9:35 PM

This was obviously meant for me to read.Thanks for posting this:)

Marquita August 30, 2012 - 10:47 AM

I really like that idea. I’m not really trying to lose the weight for the purpose of looking skinnier, but it is a perk. And there’s a dress that’s in my closet (that should have gone to goodwill a few years ago) that I know I can use for this…I’m kind of excited about getting back into it again.

Kyndle August 30, 2012 - 10:55 AM

I reallllly needed this!

Lolita August 30, 2012 - 7:24 PM

This was right on time!! just what I needed. THANKS!!!

Gia August 31, 2012 - 11:28 PM

I needed this. I’ve gone from 265 to 178 and when I look in the mirror I still see my old body. Or I see what I need to improve on. Still working on it as I continue my journey to a healthier me!

Theresa September 5, 2012 - 10:20 AM

Thanks. This was for me. This write up is so true. I do look daily and seem to look the same. I actually bought 2 progress dresses this summer without realizing it. I have lost 137 lbs and this was the 1st summer I could cash in on the great deals at NY & CO!!!! I found a maxi length sun dress and a beautiful black party dress that looked good on me but of course I wanted them to look smoother and more dramatic so I did not wear them all summer. I wore both during my birthday weekend 2 wks ago and I loved the way they fit.The sundress was actually too loose in some areas. I find that I hold off on wearing things until they are less fitting in the hips or buttocks and many times I almost miss my window for wearing them because they are too loose everywhere else! Thanks for the writeup and words of encouragement and I am on a mission to find my next progress dress!

Sam September 5, 2012 - 10:29 AM

This is very true, but what I find even more problematic is that the reverse is true as well. I can gain 15lbs and look in the mirror and see the same me I saw at 15lbs lighter. I find that I never have to face the reality of weight gain until I am forced to be in a photo. For some reason photography doesn’t seem to lie the way the mirror does.

Bonnie January 2, 2013 - 3:16 AM

I have to agree, Sam. I am a size 18, and I can look in the mirror and like what I see – shapely, curvy, pretty! But I see a photo – that someone ELSE takes when I don’t have time to pose, etc – and I am sick to my stomach at how large I have become. In front of the mirror is a tricky place to stand!

Patience September 20, 2012 - 2:40 AM

I stumbled on this page here by mistake, but for two days now I’ve been soul lifted. Am a size 18 really want to shed

yvette September 23, 2012 - 2:44 AM

This is a great idea. I lost 25 pounds (although I’ve gained 15 back) and had a recomposition from mostly fat to being very tone. Wen I was at my skinnest, I still saw my old body. Strangers would comment that was skinny or had a lot of muscle for someone that looked so small. But I didn’t see what they saw. It wasn’t until a gains 5-7 pounds that I started to realize how much my body had changed.

A year has passed and I’m up 15 pounds and feel like the fat kid again.

I think I need to stop checking everyday. The truth is, when I lost the most weight, I only checked once a week.

A progress dress is a great idea . .. as long as I’m making progress. If I’m not I feel like the fat kid again.

Weight loss is hard. People who are smaller than me still say it must be so easy for me.

yvette September 23, 2012 - 2:59 AM

Accidentally hit the “publish” buttom on my phone.

People who are bigger than me often still say that, it looks so easy for me to stay in shape. Here I am … thinking about the weight I regained.

I define myself too much by the number on the scale or some other number that doesn’t reflect the whole me. Real talk, when I was smallest, it took a lot of work! I learned a secret (at least to me) that I didn’t know before … A lot of women in single digits feel like it’s a lot of work to stay there.

Over my weight loss process, I developed more size 4 friends who talked about there weight. Many of them worked out 6 days a week, watched everything they ate, and also felt like they were just staying afloat.

I wish getting in shape meant more than the numbers. That I saw it as evidence of being a better athlete, managing my stress, developing consistent sleeping habits, etc. Those are all positives that occur when I lose weight in a healthy manner. In many ways, they are more important than the number and the scale …

Denise White September 26, 2012 - 5:07 PM

Wow….it’s crazy how I needed to read this. Looking in the mirror and you will only be able to compare yourself to what you saw the day before. This just gave me an “Aha, moment!”

Aisha December 5, 2012 - 12:21 PM

About an hour ago someone sent me a video from a conference last year. Not only did I realize how short I really am (lol), I finally noticed my weight loss.

Erin December 21, 2012 - 3:22 PM

This is completely and totally me right now. I’ve been back on my fitness/healthier lifestyle grind for about 4 months and while I’ve taken progress pictures that clearly demonstrate weight loss, I still rationalize it. I’m standing a certain way; the light isn’t hitting my stomach fat; if I turn to the side, I look thinner; I’d holding my breath. *exhale* Yes, yes this is certainly right on time.

amy April 3, 2013 - 2:39 PM

I thought something was wrong with me. I knew I had lost the weight because of the scale and my clothes being too big, but I just couldn’t see it in the mirror. Honestly I still don’t see it in the mirror. Thanks for the advice, hopefully this will calm my mind and I cab stop seeing the fat girl in the mirror

Dawn Davis April 3, 2013 - 2:51 PM

Thank you for this. I have been battling this for the last 10 months. I am down a total of 110 pounds and I don’t see it at all when I look in the mirror. I see glimpses of it when someone takes a picture of me, but I am battling this everyday. Yes, all the things you have mentioned are true. Tape measurer, scale, knowing that I am eating better. I did a squat challenge, I know full well my thighs are so much smaller, but when I look in that mirror…uggghhh…lol, they are huge. So, on legs day..I almost cripple myself trying to work out my thighs. I really appreciate your real talk with us. I am considering seeing a psychologist about this before it becomes a real problem for me.

True July 24, 2013 - 8:28 PM

I had to get over that whole “numbers” thing and how I look in the mirror. I can tell I am making progress by the clothes I am wearing. I have “progress jeans” instead of a dress. I am just too much of a tomboi 90% of the time to put on a dress lol. Anyhoo a couple months ago I couldn’t get them past my knees and now I can get them to my hips.
So I just had to stop worrying about the scale, ppl’s comments, and the mirror. It has definitely worked for me.

Evon August 14, 2013 - 10:25 AM

Judging that mirror image didn’t help me move forward, so I stopped long ago. While I haven’t lost all the weight that I want to lose- YET- I’m building muscle, and I’ve gone down from size 14 petite to 10. I have the wish dress- it’s about a size 8- and I look forward wearing it publicly without the stomach pouch within the nest year. My friends and husband notice the muscles and the weight loss, and I can see “myself” clearly in pictures . I’ll take it!

JC November 19, 2014 - 9:20 PM

I cringe when people say, “Oh you’ve lost weight.” Because the only response I can give is a look of disdain. Not really for them but for the fact that they said a very annoying phrase that I detest. I just think to myself every time, “Where?” When I look in the mirror I see no change whatsoever. So I find it insulting and almost mocking when people say that to me. And next week is Thanksgiving where I am bound to hear it over and over and over again from my family and friends ugh.

Jenn May 1, 2015 - 3:21 AM

This where I am now and it is frustrating. In Dec 2014 I weighed 209 and now weigh 190. But when I look in mirror I still see 209 frame. The mind is so powerful and keeps projecting my former image. Family and friends notice but I don’t…yet. I have a progress size that I want to get to and am working on getting my core tight. I am planning to order a dress in that size soon.

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