5 Stages of Noticing Weight Loss: Picture & Timeline of Phases

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan Petitpas | Updated on 5 July 2024

On the left, a woman, initially overweight and wearing glasses and a white long sleeve with red paint on her face, is depicted, while on the right, after adopting a vegan and CICO diet, she appears in a purple long-sleeve and black tights, showcasing a fitter, healthier, and more toned physique.

While the weight loss process can sometimes feel slow and tedious and because the 5 stages of noticing weight loss are spread throughout months and years it can be difficult to determine which stage you or someone is in, if you’re noticing the first signs of weight loss, or have some idea of how long it’ll take to get to your goals.1 

For this reason, we’ll give specific characteristics to help discern one stage from the next and give a timeline of phases with pictures for a visual representation.

When and How Quickly Do You Notice Weight Loss?

Whether following specific weight loss diets or choosing intuitive eating for weight loss, people often wonder about the timeline for noticing weight loss and when the first signs become evident.

A woman is measuring her waist wearing gray fitted long-sleeved and black gym tights against a blurred background.

Source: happyveganfit from Pixabay2

Weight loss progression is different for each individual and though each stage of weight loss can differ, there’s some clear signs of noticing weight loss that most people will experience.

Furthermore, the physical stages of weight loss can differ in duration–and how long one can be losing weight before noticing can vary–but most people will notice some changes within the first few weeks.

The 5 Stages of Noticing Weight Loss & Weight Loss Process

The initial signs of weight loss can appear during the first of the five stages of weight loss. We’ll explain when weight loss first becomes noticeable, identify the changes at each stage, and describe how the body reacts throughout the process.

There are technically four phases of weight loss that we’ll assess, but since maintaining a healthy weight is as important as losing, we’ve included maintenance as the 5th stage with advice on how to keep the pounds off once they’ve been shed.

1. Glycogen Depletion & Rapid Weight Loss

The first step to weight loss is glycogen depletion, and it’s often accompanied by rapid weight loss. Glycogen is the body’s stored form of glucose in the muscles and liver; during exercise glycogen is broken down to release glucose and converted into energy.

Since each gram of glycogen requires a minimum of 3 grams of water to be stored in the body, suddenly decreasing these reserves by cutting carbs will release not only the glycogen but triple the amount of water. With this sudden restriction of carbs and loss of a significant amount of water weight, pounds can be shed rapidly.

Be cautious and pay attention to your body, as a sudden drop in carb consumption can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness. Fatigue and irritability are also common in this stage so be patient with yourself.

Glycogen depletion can happen quite quickly, especially for anyone following a keto low carb diet, but the rapid weight loss phase can last 4-6 weeks.

It’s exhilarating to see a lower number on the scale or feel clothes start to hang more loosely; be encouraged and let this amp up your enthusiasm and motivation but also be mindful that most of the weight being lost in this stage is water weight.

2. Reality Check Once Weight Loss Slows

For individuals seeking methods to achieve rapid weight loss, navigating through the journey outlined in strategies for fast weight loss may lead to a realization during the second phase when progress diminishes and the pace of shedding pounds decelerates. Try not to get discouraged though, as weight that’s lost rapidly in a short time span is much more likely to return, whereas slow and consistent weight loss is more likely to stay off.

A positive aspect of this stage is that the pounds being lost are more from fat than water. Fluctuations in the rate of weight loss are normal as the body adapts, and the rate of metabolism will often decrease in accordance with fewer calories consumed.

At this point, people often become disheartened since they’d become used to quicker results; focus on the big picture and check out new foods and exercises to avoid boredom. Recruit an accountability partner and stick to the program you’re following instead of overindulging.

If you catch yourself slipping, don’t be too hard on yourself; just get back on track immediately and keep the long-term goal in mind. On the bright side, after the irritability and sleepiness of the first stage, stage 2 should bring about slower but more consistent weight loss, higher energy levels, and restful sleep.

3. The Plateau: Weight Loss Becomes Stagnant

Stage 3 is toughest for most, as weight loss becomes stagnant; since some of total weight loss could be muscle, and since muscle keeps metabolic rate higher, metabolism can drastically slow.

Despite a calorie-restricted diet, the scale won’t seem to budge and can feel frustrating.

Our advice is to go easy on yourself, be patient, and know this is temporary. Don’t give up; switch up your routine to keep it fun and interesting.

Intriguingly, cognitive and behavioral strategies employed to overcome lapses and prevent relapses among weight loss maintainers and regainers showed surprising differences. Those who maintained weight loss at this point tended to have healthier social relationships, while those who had a harder time socializing or in their relationships often ended up regaining.

This shows an interesting correlation between healthy personal relationships and healthy habits.3

4. Lifestyle Changes Become Habits

At stage 4, one’s initial lifestyle changes have become habits and the 3 steps to lose weight are familiar by now. You’ll notice many more signs you’re losing weight including increased energy levels, less joint pain, fewer sugar cravings, and may even need to buy smaller clothes.

The behaviors that took a lot of discipline in stage 1 are now intuitive habits and you’re likely craving healthier snacks. You’ve created sustainable healthy habits and are well on your way to a much improved future.

5. Maintaining Weight Loss With Lifelong Strategies

Lastly, maintaining weight loss will require lifelong strategies but many of these have become second-nature by now.

Though some people who’ve lost a significant amount of weight have loose skin, be encouraged that loose skin is far less detrimental to one’s health than problems that can arise from obesity–and there are plenty of options for working on body recomposition such as tricep dips on the best exercise machine for flabby arms.

People living a successful weight loss after severe obesity have described it as an all encompassing, transformative, and constant journey of bettering themselves.4 Don’t get complacent, but if you slip up or pack a few pounds back on, simply follow the steps and behaviors you’ve learned and stick with your healthy habits and diet for lifelong health and freedom.

Stages of Weight Loss With Before & After Pictures From a 200lb Female (Her Amazing Weight Loss Progress)

We’ve provided before and after photos of a 5’6” 23-year-old woman’s weight loss journey as she lost over 200 pounds and photos all throughout the stages of noticing weight loss.

Though she didn’t fully realize she’d gone through all of the stages of getting fat and finally had a reality check after seeing some photos of herself, she chose to take charge of her health and make some big changes.

It’s taken her 2 years and 9 months to move through these body stages of weight loss and she’s now only 10 pounds from her goal of 130 lbs.

Her 1st Stage: Glycogen Depletion & Quick Initial Results

For this female, stages of weight loss began in the glycogen depletion stage at the starting weight of 345 lbs. She mentioned being very out of shape and addicted to sugary snacks and drinks before starting her journey.

She jumped into weight loss head first by combining vegan and CICO diets and keeping a food diary.

A long-haired woman wearing eyeglasses, a white long-sleeved shirt, black long tights, black shoes, and gloves stands in front of a house with another person on her side wearing a green polka-dot dress and brown boots.

One Woman’s Inspiring Weight Loss Journey from 345 lbs. Source: u/madcatputtytat on Reddit1

Her 2nd Stage: Reality Check & Continual Weight Loss at a Slower Rate

In the second stage, she focused on eating smaller portions versus what had been normal for her previously. She mentioned being on her feet all day at work at a veterinarian clinic but didn’t work out at all outside of work demands, so it’s possible to lose a lot of weight with only dietary changes and it worked for her but isn’t recommended as physical exercise and muscle health have their own multitude of benefits.

A woman wearing a black shirt and undergarments taking a mirror shot revealing her belly with excess fats.

This Woman Shed Pounds Without Hitting the Gym. Source: u/madcatputtytat on Reddit1

Her 3rd Stage: The Plateau

Like most, in the third stage when she hit her plateau, she mentioned feeling discouraged; her binge-eating disorder returned at this point and she struggled with weight fluctuations and unhealthy eating habits for a while before getting back on track.

Her 4th Stage: Engraining Habits Into Your Lifestyle

On the left, a woman taking a mirror shot wearing a red and white long-sleeved shirt and black pants shows the result of her diet after 2 years and 2 months: her body got into shape and got slim, while the image on the left shows the body of the woman wearing undergarments, where she reveals the loose skin in her belly and thighs.

Woman Lost Over 190 Pounds and Cut Out Added Sugars for Good. Source: u/madcatputtytat on Reddit1

By stage 4, her lifestyle changes were truly becoming habits and she’d dropped from 345 lbs to 151.5 lbs in 2 years and 5 months. At this point, she cut added sugars from her diet completely and felt much more mindful and in tune with her body.

Her 5th & Final Stage: Maintaining the Weight Lost

At 140 lbs in stage 5 she’s not quite at her goal weight and maintenance point but is extremely close and mentioned she no longer craves sugar at all, said that fruit tastes much better now that her taste buds aren’t used to artificial sugars, and has loose skin but “wouldn’t change the lost weight for anything.”

A lady wearing eyeglasses, purple long sleeves, black tights, and black shoes is standing beside a tree, showing her body, which is slimmer and more defined, with green grass and trees in the background.

This Woman’s Journey to 140 lbs Taught Her to Love Fruit and Embrace Loose Skin. Source: u/madcatputtytat on Reddit1

She noted that though she didn’t incorporate much physical activity throughout her journey, she plans to exercise more now and focus on body recomposition. Her final words about this amazing weight loss transformation are that it’s been a “long but rewarding journey.”

How To Expedite Weight Loss in Each Stage

Since losing weight can feel tedious sometimes, we’ve come up with several options for how to expedite weight loss for each stage. However, be sure to only partake in sustainable weight loss practices like the ones below and don’t ever jump to any extremes.

One study found that increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism is extremely useful in mice and can help regulate insulin levels, which could carry over to humans–so focusing on building muscle by joining powerlifting programs for beginners or strength training at home can effectively burn more weight even at rest.5

Phases of Recognizing Weight LossHow To Expedite Weight Loss
Stage 1
  • Start tracking and weighing food
  • Avoid alcohol and soda
  • Write current feelings and future weight and health goals
Stage 2
  • Workout consistently
  • Find a workout partner
  • Eat plenty of fiber and protein
Stage 3
  • Don’t obsess over the scale
  • Practice mental toughness
  • Be kind to yourself
Stage 4
  • Change up workout routines
  • Follow dinner with apple cider vinegar
  • Celebrate how far you’ve come
Stage 5
  • Re-read the goals written in stage 1
  • Acknowledge your progress
  • Set new maintenance goals

How To Identify Signs of Weight Loss Without Using a Scale

It can be triggering or disheartening for some to pay close attention to the scale; thankfully there are many other signs of weight loss without using a scale.

  • Notice How Clothes Fit Differently: Try on an outfit you wore at starting weight; see and feel how much looser it fits now and how far you’ve already come.
  • Get a DEXA Scan: A DEXA scan can show one’s bone density and muscle and fat composition of the body, so getting a scan before and after (or even during) one’s weight loss can give precise measurements of body fat changes.
  • Take Before, During & After Photos: When feeling discouraged, taking a look at side-by-side photos from around one’s starting weight vs now can be very motivating and inspiring.
  • Take Measurements: Measuring the waist, hips, chest, arms, and thighs and comparing these measurements over time can provide a great alternative to the scale.
  • Note Differences Throughout the Body: Keep a journal of how your body feels at your heaviest, and through each stage of weight loss to note differences in joint pain or relief, body aches or lack thereof, how difficult or easy breathing is, energy level differences, and more.

How To Maintain Motivation When You’ve Hit a Plateau

Nearly everyone who’s tried trending diets or other forms of weight loss has or will hit a major plateau at some point–or even multiple points. It can feel nearly impossible to keep any semblance of motivation when you’re sticking to your weight loss rules or calorie deficit with great consistency but not seeing results.

While this might be overwhelming or even seem like the plateau will last forever, it may be reassuring to know that the determinants of weight loss almost entirely come down to one’s mental toughness and behavior.6 The best methods of getting through a plateau are to stick to your weight loss plan and not give in to cravings or a negative mindset.

For those who can’t seem to get through the plateau without help or accountability, this is nothing to be ashamed of and support from a friend, family member, or doctor can be extremely encouraging.

In fact, studies have shown that the long term dietician and psychological support of obese patients who have reduced their weight allows them to maintain the effects; patients who lacked support were more likely to give up and regain weight, but those who maintained contact and had support had much more success with keeping weight off.7

We came up with a few more ideas for how to maintain motivation when you’ve hit a wall and feel stuck; feel free to try one or a few at a time.

  • Stick to healthy habits created in the first stages
  • Try a new workout routine
  • Find an exercise partner
  • Pass on alcohol and sodas
  • Keep healthy snacks and ingredients around
  • Increase protein consumption
  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid refined carbs and sugars
  • Maintain a caloric deficit
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Keep a food journal
  • Reduce stress
  • Try new workout locations or routines
  • Be kind and patient with yourself
  • Get plenty of sleep

Weight loss journeys can feel long, grueling, and discouraging at times but always remember that the payoff is worth the effort and time put in. Stick to your goals and the health benefits and confidence boost will feel amazing.

A woman wearing an orange shirt, black long tights, and black shoes is standing at a rock with her hands up, with green pine trees and rocky mountains in the background.

Source: ID 11417994 from Pixabay8

Track your way through these 5 stages of noticing weight loss and keep in mind that many others are experiencing the same journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Pounds Do You Need to Lose Before It's Noticeable?

Pinpointing the exact number of pounds for noticeable weight loss can be challenging. However, the lighter you are to begin with, the fewer pounds you’ll need to shed before noticing a difference.

When Do You First Notice Weight Loss?

A weight loss graph provides valuable insight into the point at which changes in weight become visible, as it visually depicts the rate of weight reduction over time. Typically, the initial weeks of adopting a new lifestyle or reducing calorie intake result in the most rapid weight loss. Consequently, within a short span of a few weeks, it is probable that noticeable changes in both appearance and well-being will occur.

Do Others Also Observe All the Stages of Recognizing Weight Loss?

Your weight loss may not be noticed by others immediately but you’ll likely get some comments especially in the later stages. Although it’s great to hear compliments, remember your weight loss journey is about you and is to be celebrated whether others notice or not.


References

1u/madcatputtytat. Reddit, Accessed 1 April 2023. <https://www.reddit.com/user/madcatputtytat/>

2happyveganfit. “Free Image on Pixabay – Remove, Weight Loss, Slim, Diet.” Pixabay, 19 October 2019, Accessed 6 April 2023. <https://pixabay.com/photos/remove-weight-loss-slim-diet-4559326/>

3Lawlor, E., Hughes, C., Duschinsky, R., Pountain, G., Hill, A., Griffin, S., & Ahern, A. (2020, August 7). Cognitive and behavioural strategies employed to overcome “lapses” and prevent “relapse” among weight-loss maintainers and regainers: a qualitative study. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7116423/>

4Natvik, E., Raheim, M., Andersen, J., & Moltu, C. (2018, June 27). Living a successful weight loss after severe obesity. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6022235/>

5McPherron, A., Guo, T., Bond, N., & Gavrilova, O. (2013, April 1). Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3661116/>

6Varkevisser, R., Stralen, M., Kroeze, W., Ket, J., & Steenhuis, I. (2018, October 16). Determinants of weight loss maintenance: a systematic review. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7416131/>

7Ilowieka, K., Glibowski, P., Skrzypek, M., & Styk, W. (2021, June). The Long-Term Dietitian and Psychological Support of Obese Patients Who Have Reduced Their Weight Allows Them to Maintain the Effects. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8231289/>

8ID 11417994. “Mountains Canada Girl – Free photo on Pixabay.” Pixabay, 28 January 2019, Accessed 6 April 2023. <https://pixabay.com/photos/mountains-canada-girl-outlook-snow-3959204/>

About the Author

Nathan Petitpas

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.