The scale is one of those inventions many of us would be better off without. Don’t get me wrong, the scale is a very useful tool; the problem is how much stock ladies tend to put into that one little number. You shouldn’t be judging yourself or anyone else on what the scale says – weight isn’t what causes health problems, excess fat is.
I’ve seen too many women have their entire week wrecked all because the scale didn’t give them the number they expected to get. Women who work their asses off every day, who are constantly making progress in other areas and look amazing will deflate in an instant if that number isn’t smaller than it was a week, or even a few days ago. Quit beating yourselves up and quit giving a damn about how much you weigh – it doesn’t determine your success!
Throw your scale out -- at least hide it for a month or so. In reality, it’s not the most ideal way to track your progress anyway for the simple fact that it’s not giving you a full picture of the changes happening inside of your body.
In the process of improving health and fitness levels, you’re not only going to lose fat, you’re also going to gain muscle. And, while fat is a lazy, sluggish tissue that just sits in its own jiggly little world, muscle is a metabolically active tissue. This means it’s not just sitting there, it’s doing some serious work.
Because muscle is an active tissue, it needs a few specific things -- water and energy (glycogen). The more muscle you build, the more water and glycogen you’ll store along with it. As you’re dropping fat, you’re not only gaining muscle but also the support team for that muscle. Put this way, you can see how this could definitely stall weight loss but fat loss will continue to occur.
I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have less jiggly fat and more firm muscle -- weight be damned.
It’s Time to Find Other Means to Track Your Progress
So, now that we know the scale does a really shitty job tracking that hard earned progress, let’s look at a few alternative and more effective methods.
If you’re looking for accuracy, a Bod Pod or DEXA scan are two ways to track even the smallest changes in fat mass and muscle. Since Bozeman is the only place in the state with a Bod Pod and there’s not a DEXA anywhere in the state, we’ll move on to more practical methods.
Many trainers can perform skin caliper measurements and, while they’re not as accurate as the other two methods, can still be a great way to track changes (just make sure to have the same person do it each time to minimize intra-personal error). There are also a ton of body composition devices on the market, but purchase with caution since many of them can be pretty inaccurate.
For the more do-it-yourself kind of gals, take a soft tape measure and jot down the circumference of the major problem areas – upper arm, neck, shoulder circumference (all the way around both shoulders, waist, hips, thighs and calves. Don’t fall into the scale trap here; measure once every month or two and call it good – good things take time.
If you don’t want to take the time to measure, snap a few full-body mirror-selfies every couple of months.
By far, the simplest method to determine if your body is changing is how your clothes fit. Are you filling out the spots you want and have a little room to spare in the others? Can you finally get those skinny jeans not only over your hips but zipped and buttoned too? Perfect!
My personal favorite way to track progress is not by how my body looks or how much I weigh but what my body can do. If I can lift more today than I did last week; if I can nail that yoga pose I’ve been working on for the last few days; if I don’t feel like I’m going to die on the run that nearly killed me last week; if my knee isn’t swollen or my hip isn’t aching; if I can do awesome stunts in the backyard while playing Lone Ranger and Tonto with my kids – then life is good.
Focus on your health, fitness and happiness and your body will follow.
Change Your Training Focus
Since you’re already changing the way you determine success, now is also a great time to change your training focus – like instead of trying to lose fat, try adding muscle.
The funny thing about fat is that it doesn’t weigh that much, it just takes up a lot of space. Muscle, on the other hand, is a very dense tissue. This means five pounds of fat will be a lot more obvious and bulky on your body than five pounds of smooth, lean muscle tissue.
Consider this scenario for example: Suzy and Sally both weigh 140 pounds. Suzy has 35% body fat while Sally has 25% body fat (this means Sally has more muscle than Suzy). Because of this difference in body fat, not weight (since they both weigh the same), Sally wears a size 4 and Suzy wears a size 8. See where I’m going here? If Suzy wants to get smaller, she needs to worry about changing her body composition, not her weight.
Examples for the doubters:
As you can clearly see, the scale sucks at measuring progress -- for the most part.
It’s easy for women to get stuck in a trap of doing more and eating less in an effort to get to that golden number. Unfortunately, this is the type of cycle that’s going to lead to failure every time.
Your body’s primary goal is to survive and that means if it thinks it’s starving (famine back in the day) or over-stressed (saber tooth tiger trying to eat your ass), it’s going to hold onto everything it can. Not to mention the fact that you’re going to lose whatever precious muscle you do have.
Instead of focusing on making yourself smaller, work on making yourself stronger.
Increasing the amount of muscle in your body has a primary and secondary effect on overall body composition – more muscle will directly reduce your body fat percentage and, overtime, that added muscle will burn extra calories thereby further mitigating your body fat. While adding muscle may not get you down to your high school weight or whatever magic number you’ve had stuck in your head, I guarantee you’ll look and feel better than ever.