6 signs you're getting healthier even if you aren't losing weight, according to a dietitian

  • Weight loss isn't the only or most important reason to eat healthy and exercise regularly.

  • Benefits of a healthy routine include better mood, improved digestion, and more energy.

  • You may also gain weight while getting healthier by building lean muscle mass.

Don't panic about the number on the scale — your body can still benefit from a healthy diet or workout routine, even if you aren't losing weight, according to a dietitian.

Weight loss is a popular motivation for changing your diet. But it's not the only or even the most meaningful reason to eat healthier, said sports dietitian Angie Asche.

"It can truly impact just about everything when it comes to our health," she told Insider.

Similarly, a new exercise routine may not help you lose weight, but could be improving your mood, sleep, or stamina, she said.

Positive changes in your energy, mental health, digestion, and other factors are good reasons to keep up your healthy habits, regardless of what you weigh.

Diet and exercise can improve your mood and mental health

One of the major signs that a new routine is effective is that you'll likely feel better, whether you've signed up for a new gym, or changed up your eating habits.

A healthy routine of eating well and getting enough exercise can have immediate benefits for your day-to-day mental wellness, according to Asche.

"Physical activity has a direct impact on our mood, and so do the foods we eat," she said. "If you're noticing your overall mood and even stress levels improve, that's a huge sign."

Following a healthy routine can lead to better sleep

Another green flag that your healthy habits are paying off is more restful and relaxing nights, Asche said.

Healthy sleep is an underrated habit that can be a major indicator if something is off in your routine. Exercising too much can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. So can not eating enough, eating too late at night, or not getting the right balance of nutrients.

"Choosing nutrient-dense foods consistently throughout the day, limiting caffeine intake late afternoon through evening, and exercising regularly can also improve your sleep," she said.  "Nutrient timing can play a role in this too; what you're choosing (or not choosing) to eat right before bed."

A woman jogging through a park in an orange sweatshirt and leggings, wearing earbuds and smiling
A healthy routine can boost your energy, and help you sleep better too.Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

Eating well may lead to fewer digestive issues and a healthier gut

While there's no one-size-fits-all way to eat healthfully, evidence suggests it's a good idea to get plenty of veggies, nuts, whole grains, seeds, and fruit in your diet.

Healthy meals with the right mix of nutrients like protein and fiber is great for your digestion, Asche said.

"This means less bloating, less constipation, going to the bathroom regularly, etc. Adding more plant foods to your diet, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, legumes, means more fiber, which is incredibly beneficial for our digestive health," she said.

Eating for a healthy gut can also have benefits for the immune system, Asche added.

Progress may be subtle, but still meaningful 

Noticing that workouts start to feel easier is a clear sign of progress in your diet and exercise routine, Asche said.

Over time, you may notice improvements in your fitness such as lifting more weight or completing more repetitions, moving faster, not tiring as quickly.

Better performance is a sign that you're providing the right challenge to your body so it can adapt and get stronger. It's also a good sign that you're getting the right resources in terms of rest and nutrition to help your body recover from workouts.

"Exercise obviously plays a huge role in building muscle, and reducing body fat, but so does nutrition. The foods we eat impact our performance and muscle recovery," Asche said.

a pair of friends exercising doing plank pose on yoga mats and smiling
A great sign that you're getting healthier and more fit is having more energy both in and out of the gym. Maskot/Getty Image

If you're gaining weight, you might be building muscle 

One sign that building muscle is that the number on the scale is going up instead of down while you're getting stronger, but that's not cause for concern, according to Asche.

She said several of her clients have built muscle while burning fat, known as body recomposition.

"Their weight may not change much on the scale, but the way they feel in the gym, feel in their clothes, look in the mirror, they're able to tell the difference," Asche said.

It can also be effective to intentionally gain weight by eating more calories in order to maximize muscle-building (sometimes called "bulking," although it won't necessarily make you bulky).

Asche said people may be overly anxious about losing weight, which can backfire by preventing them from gaining muscle.

"They think weight loss is the answer, and their goal is to build muscle or what clients often refer to as 'get toned' yet they're undereating," she said. "If your goal is to build muscle, you should be consuming a slight calorie surplus which will actually lead to weight gain."

Eating a nutritious diet can pay off long-term with lower risk of disease 

While short-term benefits may help reinforce good habits, a healthy routine can also add years to your life by lowering the risk of life-threatening illnesses like heart disease and cancer.

Factors like your cholesterol, blood pressure, and even the nutrient content of your diet can be good indicators of improvements to your longevity even as you're enjoying more immediate perks, Asche said.

"Staying physically active any way that you find enjoyment in – as well as eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet, plays a significant role in our long term health," she said. "If you're someone who's struggling with your energy levels, your mood, your sleep, taking action today can absolutely make a difference tomorrow."

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