I remember the days when I used to weigh myself every morning to see how my latest diet attempt was progressing. I knew I needed to lose ‘weight’ but back then I didn’t think too much about what ‘losing weight’ represented, I just needed to see the scales move south.
A good day started out with seeing a drop on the scale, a bad day was a gain on the scale. I would beat myself up mentally for ‘failing’ and the rest of the day was ruined. My relationship with the scale kept me on the dieting roller coaster of starve, binge, excessive exercise and then bulimia for many years in my teens and twenties. I got fatter and fatter!
Flash forward to my mid-thirties with a nutrition degree under my belt and experience preparing myself and my clients for bodybuilding shows, and I have a lot more knowledge and understanding about how to ‘recompose a body’ or help someone build muscle, reduce body fat and the best way to track progress. None of my clients ‘lose weight’, the goal is always more sophisticated, to lose body fat and gain lean muscle.
Now, even though my competition clients were told not to weigh themselves (I used Dexa scans, body measurements and progress photos to track their progress), I knew they couldn’t resist doing it. During check-ins I would have a client lament that the scales had gone up 250 grams. I’d tell her to go to the bathroom, do a number 1 and number 2 and jump back on the scales and begin her day again.
What does ‘weight loss or gain’ really mean?
You see weighing yourself is just your total ‘weight’ it doesn’t consider how much muscle you’ve gained (or lost), how much body fat you’ve gained (or lost), how much liquid or undigested food is in your body at any given time (remember 1L of water weighs 1kg), or how much water you’re holding onto depending on where you are in your cycle. For a dramatic 1.5kg loss on the scale, you could simply chop off your arm, but that probably won’t help you do up your jeans.
So, I believe weighing yourself is a poor way to gauge your progress and I personally believe it’s one of the most effective ways to drive yourself slowly insane.
Here’s an example. You decide to start a new diet. You weigh yourself after a few days and the scale has dropped 1kg. YAY…. But what does that 1kg represent? Have you ever thought about this before? Well, if the goal was to lose ‘weight’ then congratulations, you’ve achieved that. However, if the goal was to improve how you look then let me ask you, how much body fat did you lose and how much muscle did you gain? If you’re on a 1200 calorie diet, you’re hungry all day, grumpy and using sheer willpower to stick to the diet, I’m betting that the1kg loss could represent something like this:
- Water loss – 250 grams – you’ve cut out carbs and carbs are stored in the body with water.
- Fat loss – 250 grams – that’s a good start.
- Muscle loss – 500 grams – not good
It’s the loss of muscle on low calorie diets that is a concern. You see, muscle is important to have and to try and retain when you’re dieting. What I think tends to happen is that women go on these restrictive, low calorie diets or use quick fix methods to ‘lose weight’ when a lot of the time they are losing a lot of muscle due to the inferior type of diet they are on. Inevitably, when the diet ends (usually unsuccessfully) and a binge or their ‘normal’ eating resumes, the body fat piles on. So, the result from dieting over time for so many women is a loss of muscle and an INCREASE in body fat.
So, it is important to know what your ‘weight loss’ means and whether you are ideally losing body fat and retaining muscle (or sometimes even gaining muscle if your training and your nutrition is correct).
Yes, there are scales that can tell you how much body fat or muscle you have gained, but again, I do question their accuracy compared to more sophisticated machines like Dexa Scans, so don’t just rely on the results from your scales, use all the methods below in conjunction with your scale readings to get an overall picture of your progress.
Use a number of methods to track your progress
So, how can you find out if you are gaining muscle, losing body fat, and getting great results? Well first I think you need to use several methods to track your progress:
- Scales – Use scales for a weekly or fortnightly weigh in as part of the overall data you are collecting. But if you find yourself becoming obsessive about weighing yourself and it’s impacting your mood, then put them in the cupboard. If you keep getting the scales out and still weighing yourself, put them in the bin and get rid of them.
- Measurements – Take monthly body measurements of key areas (bust, waist, hips, upper arm, upper thigh, calf). If the scales aren’t budging, but you’ve lost 5cm off your waist, 5 cm off your hips and 2cm off your upper arm, then you’re probably losing body fat.
- Photographs – Get into a bikini or underwear (hint, use a plain pair of black none see through underwear. I’ve found many clients want to share their progress photos on social media down the track but regret that they are in a g-banger or an old pair of sagging undies). Take progress photos from front on, side on and the back every 2 weeks or monthly. Then compare them side by side. I believe this is the most powerful way to see visually how your body is changing. Can you see more definition in your legs? Well, you’ve probably dropped some body fat and gained some muscle there. Can you see that overall, you look smaller, or can you see differences in certain areas of your body? All my competition clients submitted fortnightly photographs so I could see what they looked like and from a coach’s perspective, how to adjust their program to now build out their shoulders more or add some extra muscle to the hamstring to balance the quad for example. I believe photos are one of the most effective ways to gauge your progress.
- Your clothes – Suddenly fitting better into your clothes? You’re probably smaller. Please don’t relay on ‘dropping a dress size’ because a size 10 in one brand could be size 6 or size 12 in another brand!
Now there are a couple of other things you can do to keep yourself on track. When my competition clients came to me frustrated that they weren’t getting results this was usually because they ‘forgot’ about the donut they had on Monday, the chocolate bar they snuck in on Wednesday and the couple of wines they had Friday night. Then there is the gym session they missed and the cardio that they didn’t do. My point is that we tend to forget or ignore dietary mishaps or when we’ve slacked off with exercise.
So, get yourself a notebook and call it your ‘accountability journal’ and track your food for 7 days. Put everything in, even those sneaky bites or couple of extra chips. Also track your exercise. Keep yourself accountable to yourself. This is the only way to call BS on your own behavior if you aren’t getting the results you want. As well, for your coach, it provides valuable feedback on whether a diet needs tweaking, or an exercise program needs changing. There is a saying, you can’t manage what you don’t measure!
So, tomorrow morning, when you jump on the scales and you see your results, don’t just focus on the ‘weight’ gain or loss, I want you to ask yourself:
- If the scale went up – have you gained body fat or have you gained valuable muscle?
- If the scale went down – have you lost body fat or have you lost valuable muscle?
If you aren’t sure, book in some time to take your body measurements and record them and take some photos to compare changes in 2 weeks or a month’s time. Then use all this data to gauge your progress.
When the scales stay exactly the same or go up
Here’s something else to be aware off. Your body can completely change without the scales changing much at all (or even going up). You can see from the photo below that this person looks visibly different due to changes in body fat levels and lean muscle, yet she GAINED weight on the scale. Another reason to get rid of the scales!
Thanks for reading. Please let me know any comments your feedback you might have. You can follow my blog for more articles on fat loss or my YouTube channel.