By Soji James, CPT, CSCS
Enthusiasm. Frustration. Euphoria. Anger. Sadness. No, I’m not talking about the wave of feelings you get while watching your favorite television show. I’m talking about the scale blues. You go to measure weight loss, and the feelings you experience with the increases, decreases, and stagnancy can challenge your weight loss journey.
You know what I mean.
Week 1, you’re down 2.5 pounds and on top of the world. Week 3, you’re staring at that same 2.5-pound loss on the scale, wondering what you are doing wrong—ready to throw in the towel and eat your sorrows away.
Sure; exercise is about way more than just the physical, but seeing results is pretty motivating nonetheless. I get why you might feel discouraged when those results don’t show up consistently on the scale.
The mistake that most people make when measuring their results is obsessing over the scale number—though it’s only a single data point of a much larger story. I’m not going to be one of those trainers who tells you to completely chuck your scale out of the window (though to be honest, some people might be better off) because I believe that it possesses some significance.
The problem begins when you place all of your self-worth in a number and choose to ignore all of the magnificent changes that may be occurring.
Check out these 10 ways to monitor your progress and keep your sanity, too—all while striving for better health and happiness.
A tape measure can be your best friend when the scale has seemed to turn its back on you. Scale weight can fluctuate tremendously, and at a time when your weight refuses to budge, it can be highly rewarding to see that you are still down two sizes from your last measure. Just make sure to be consistent in your measurements. I recommend measuring your waist (at the belly button for consistency), your hips (at the widest part), one of your thighs (midway—and pick the same spot each week), and your bicep (midway—again, be consistent).
You might ask yourself, why am I not losing weight? When most people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is body fat. If you’re looking to kill it at the beach this summer, look great naked, or simply crush it in your daily attire, you need to decrease your body fat percentage in order to let that hard-earned muscle shine through. Muscle is less dense than fat, so it takes up less space on your frame.
That means more lean body mass, and less body fat, leads to a smaller, more defined you. Body fat measurement can be an inexact science, but make sure to be consistent in the method you choose, the person measuring it, and the time of day it is being measured. The most important thing you are looking for is a month-to-month trend of a decreasing number.
How your clothes fit is an awesome barometer of progress. If you have an old pair of jeans that are collecting dust in your closet, make it a thing to try them on once every 2-3 weeks to gauge change. Make sure you aren’t shrinking them in the wash or wearing them too often—since that’ll make them roomier.
Taking pictures over time (I recommend every 4 weeks) is a great way to examine changes in your physique. (Who would have thought that selfies did more than just get you mad likes on Instagram?) We see ourselves every day, so it can be harder to notice changes.
Using before and after photos has nothing to do with a number, but a lot to do with how your body is actually physically transforming. Make sure your lighting and attire are consistent. Having a significant other or friend help you take the photos could also be beneficial.
If you’re looking to build a lean physique, you need to get stronger and clean up your diet. Lifting heavier is a major key (DJ Khaled voice) to dropping body fat. Our bodies need to constantly be challenged in order to adapt, get stronger, and experience results.
When it comes to lifting, you’ve got to do it with purpose. You can’t go in blindly, and you don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. Track your workouts in order to monitor your progress over time. If you don’t currently track your numbers anywhere, I recommend checking out the fitbook fitness journal. It’s an amazing way to track your numbers and keep yourself accountable.
As with most things in life, you manage what you can effectively monitor. Keeping a food journal is an integral part of body transformation. If you aren’t journaling your nutrition in some shape or form, you aren’t reaching your full potential. Writing things down is an awesome and easy way to monitor how both the quantity and quality of the food you consume has changed your health over time.
One great way to measure weight loss without a scale is to challenge yourself.
Maybe you enjoy running, so how about signing up for a series of 5K’s and looking to better your time each outing? If running isn’t your thing, every 4 weeks you can complete a plank test, 1-minute burpee test, 1-minute pushup test, or even complete a series of timed sprints on a track. These are all solid ways to assess improved performance. If you are getting faster, able to perform more reps in the allotted time, you are getting stronger—and trending in the right direction.
When it comes to building a better body, the process is 80% mental and 20% mechanical. Our habits dictate our actions and our actions determine who we become. Focus on developing habits that lead to a healthier you.
Horrible at journaling? Focus this week on writing down 4/7 days worth of food. After you hit that number, do a celebration dance, and then work on 5 days next week. Maybe you eat out for every meal. This week, focus on cooking 4 meals at home. As you continue in this fashion, admire your progress and dedication to the small things that lead to big results.
Exercise is about way more than just the physical benefits. Lena Dunham said it best: “It ain’t about the a$$, it’s about the brain.” Eating well and working out can transform your entire mental well-being. It also leads to improved self-confidence and self-love. Keep a journal. Each day, write down how you feel and what you are grateful for when it comes to your life & your body.
Pay attention to the positive trends and changes in your mental focus over time. Be huge on gratitude! If you don’t already have a book that you practice with, I recommend the five-minute journal. With over 1,500 reviews at 5 stars, this thing is pretty transformative. Journalling can also help create a sleep ritual.
As you get fitter, daily activities such as climbing stairs, sprinting to catch a bus, carrying groceries, keeping up with children, and the like will get much easier. Don’t just measure weight loss, but pay attention to these positive changes. In addition, your vigor throughout the day and quality of sleep at night will improve as you transform your exercise regimen and diet. These same inner feelings of empowerment will soon manifest themselves in a tangible, physical way, as long as you are dedicated and consistent.