The scale; Friend or Foe


Is the scale all you go by when trying to track your progress? If so, then youre setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Fat loss is not a linear process i.e. fat loss does not happen in constant or consistent intervals. People usually aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds / week. If you have just started embarked on a fat loss goal, u may be able to see constant progress through the first few weeks. After which, id put my money on the fact that youll stop seeing consistency as you advance. You may even at times see your weight go up. While this may frustrate you, you need to accept the fact that this is normal and does not mean youre messing up. Apart from the physiological factors of fat loss, your weight can be influenced by a number of factors;

– Water Weight

Your body is 60% water. Fluctuations in your hydration levels can change the numbers on the scale.Your weight will fluctuate by 1 to 3 pounds throughout the day. This is mainly due to the fact that your body regulates the level of water in your body. A high sodium (aka salt) meal or being dehydrated may cause you to retain excess water. All of which will contribute to your total weight. Having a large number of carbohydrate rich foods will do the same by storing excess water in your glycogen stores around your body.

For the girls, as you get closer to your menstrual cycle, your body will retain water hence the feeling of being bloated, which dissipates a day or two into your cycle.

– Gain in Muscle Mass

Muscle is denser than fat and it takes up less space, so adding muscle could increase your scale weight, even though you’re slimming down.

If you have chosen to start weight training to reach your goal you might even see the numbers on the scale stay the same as you lose inches off your waist. this is called “Newbie Gains”; (not a scientific term per say)  and is due to the fact that in your early stages of starting weight training, you will be able to gain muscle while simultaneously losing fat. Even as an advanced-intermediate lifter, you might still notice muscular hypertrophy will dieting which will increase your weight (not as much as beginners though)

– Food / Bowel Content

Weighing yourself after a meal isn’t the best idea simply because food adds weight. When you have a meal, your body will add that weight. So try to weigh yourself first thing in the morning.

Ok, this is a touchy one *straight face*. Well, if you haven’t visited the loo for a day or 2, all the food you ate is still in your intestines, and when you come to think of it, people pass quite voluminous fecal matter (aka poop). So now that you have a visual image of that, you can clearly understand how that would contribute to your weight

So as you can see there are a number of possible factors that affect your weight on a daily basis. Note that the deviation I am referring to here is 1 to 3 pounds and maybe 5 pounds (2.5kg) at most with some exceptions so you should not use this as an excuse or justification to you slipping up and blaming the complex working of your body for gaining weight.

Having said that, it’s in people’s nature to want to quantify things.

We increasingly depend on numbers to know how we are doing for virtually everything. We ascertain our health with numbers. How many calories or grams should I eat? We assess one another with numbers. What’s your I.Q.? What’s your GPA?

That gives us a sense of meaning and more importantly a sense of control. So im not telling you to ditch the idea of quantifying your progress, Hell, you should!! But the scale is not your best friend.

Here are a few better ways to track your progress, be it losing weight or gaining muscle.

Photo Log

Rely on the mirror.  You can do that by taking pictures of yourself to track your progress. To guarantee the highest level of accuracy, try taking the picture with the same angle, distance and lighting conditions. Lighting has a big influence, so try taking the picture with the same lighting conditions and in the same room, maybe make a mark on the floor where you stand. This way you can have a weekly photo log to compare. Pictures wont lie.

Clothing

Try to compare how you fit in clothing. Pick a pair of pants (I don’t recommend jeans since they tighten up when theyre washed and loosen up the more you wear them) even if your scale weight is going up but your pants are fitting looser, youll know your making progress. Also you don’t just lose fat from your waist down, so pick a full outfit i.e a shirt or tshirt.

Tape measure.

Take weekly measurements and make a log of them.

The points to measure are as follows:
– Waist: Place the tape measure around the smallest part of your midsection for your waist measurement, keeping the tape measure above the belly button and below the sternum. Breathe normally as you measure, taking the measurement midway through a breath.

– Slide the tape measure down slightly to take a midsection measurement at belly button level.

– Hips: Measure your hips around the largest part of the buttocks while standing with your heals together.

– Upper Arms: Measure your upper arms around the largest part of your bicep.  Do not flex your muscles while measuring the arms.

– Thighs: Measure your thighs just below where your rear end meets the back of the thighs.

– Chest: Measure the bust or chest. If female, measure bust size while wearing a bra(wear the same bra for your weekly measurements). Hold the tape measure around your back, keeping it at the level of your nipple line all the way around. Do not press down on your breasts as you measure. If male, measure around the chest, keeping the tape measure at level with your nipple line.

So now you should have 6 points of reference. If your are more concerned with Muscle mass you can factor in additional points such as shoulders, neck etc.

Body Fat Percentage

If youre a member of a gym that has the equipment to measure your body composition, you can opt for that route However, these machines usually use impedance methods which involve passing an electrical current through your body and based on the resistance calculates your body fat percentage along with your lean muscle mass. This method is limited due to its inaccuracy, since  the results are influenced mainly by your hydration methods. I have been able to influence the readings by 3% i.e .measured at 11% body fat then right after at 8% body fat simply by drinking 2 liters of water, so don’t rely faithfully in it but purely as an added comfort along with the other methods highlighted in this article.

So there you have it. I am not telling you to ditch the scale but to simply not get de-motivated if the numbers aren’t coinciding with the effort youre putting in. Use an alternate method or all of them if you want and as long as you’re confident in the effort you’re putting in, the results will come.

On a final note, stressing so much about your weight will lead to elevated stress levels which will in turn increase cortisol levels in your body. This will be counterproductive to your efforts since cortisol is a fat storing hormone and you may see yourself gaining the weight rather than loosing it (especially in your mid-section which is related to cortisol levels). So lighten up, do what you know and give everything the time it deserves.

Don’t 4get to like and comment 🙂

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