There's a little device in every Australian home that has the potential to seriously give you the blues. No, it's not the TV – it's the bathroom scales. But when it comes to measuring your progress, it’s not the best tool you can use.
We have all been a little guilty of paying too much attention to the scales. Some people form an unhealthy obsession of weighing themselves morning and night, the problem with this becomes not about their weight at all, but it starts to become a measure of their own happiness.
If their weight goes down, they are excited, but when it goes up in the evening or even the next day, they get the scale blues.
There are a number of reasons WHY our weight can fluctuate like night and day, but for any person new to a lifestyle change, and if this is YOU, please keep reading to understand how to measure true success over the course of your journey, especially in the first few months.
Are you that person that has said recently - "I've been working out for weeks now but nothing's changed on the scale – what's going wrong?"
The main reason why the scale isn’t the best tool to measure your progress is the simple fact that it can't differentiate between what is muscle, what is fat, what is water or whaat you have eaten for the day – all it does is measure the relationship your body mass has with gravity.
So when people start hitting the gym for a few weeks, and then step on the scales to discover the number hasn’t changed at all, they can be left feeling disappointed and the demotivation starts to kick in– but there's a whole number of reasons why this happens.
When you start resistance training, or any form of training that results in your muscular gains, along with an adequate way of eating, your body composition will start to change. Muscle mass increases, fat mass decreases, bone density increases, internal organs become more toned, glycogen factors in the muscle may increase leading to water retention, and you undoubtebly still have food in your stomach which also holds weight.
If you've put on a bit of muscle and lost a bit of fat, it's very possible that you'll be even heavier than when you started – despite looking and feeling better. One kilo of fat is roughly four times larger than one kilo of muscle, meaning you could very well be smaller yet heavier than when you started.
Another reason your weight could be fluctuating like night and day, is also due to your new found exercise regime which will be firing up your appetite a lot more. The extra energy expenditure could result in more calories consumed to replace those lost during or even long after a workout.
So you'll be eating more than usual which isn't a bad thing, and if controlled properly can give you even more room to bounce back from heavier meals on those occasions when you need to be social or want to treat yourself.
Your weight can also fluctuate day to day dependant upon what you eat, what you drink and what you exercise if at all for the day.
Given that our bodies are made up primarily of water, changes to our bodies hydration can vary how much of the scale reflects what is water retention and what is body mass. If you have had quite a bit of fluids to drink and haven't moved much for the day, sweated it out at the gym or pee'd much, you can be certain your body will hold onto that water which could be mistaken by scale conscious people as body fat.
Other limiting factors around fat loss and scale changes at play are consuming fibrous or salty meals, a full bowel, or hormonal changes especially in women around their period cycle, can all influence weight and cause greater daily fluctuations that normal fat loss would show over a week, so real change can easily be hidden and a person's mindset can start to carry some negative associations to the journey.
And while the scales, in my opinion, don't lie, they aren't measuring the amount of hard work and little win's people are achieving each day. Nor are they recognising that change occurs after several imperfect attempts of trying to get "things right."
I personally became obsessed with the scales during my high school years, but truth is I tried to justify my guilt of overeating, while battling with stress from VCE and coping with depression at the same time and often found myself eating more if I was lighter on the scales to reward myself of my "hard work" of being 1kg lighter today. Mind you, I didn't train or work during VCE, so I had no reason to lose weight when I was sedentary for most of the year.
And if I weighed in heavier, I over ate any way because I thought "oh well what the hell." Put on the kettle at my nonno and nonna's house, made a cuppa and ate an entire $6 coles chocolate cake with it. And THEN weighed myself again after it!!! What an idiot, talk about eating with your emotions. Thank god those days are over.
What a mind F&*k it can be when you leave your happiness dependant on a few fluctuating numbers, such a bad relationship to be had, run while you can!!!
- Focus on behaviours, not numbers
Behavioural outcomes are always a better option than relying on the scale.
Each week you can ask yourself, "what can I improve upon this week to further improve my results, perhaps I can train 4 days instead of 3 days a week, I can try and walk to 12,000 steps on my fitbit, or I can start to cut back on my alcohol intake."
By making improvements on your own habits, this is a far better way to measure where you are currently at, and taking ownership on when things can be better. Just be real with yourself, you're never going to be perfect, life's a challenge, and sometimes the way we deal best with it is to eat crap, or not eat at all. No two people's bodies will respond in the same way if they were given identical meal plans and exercise regimes any way.
You need to also enjoy how you're eating, how you're training and how it can fit best with your work, and personal life. Enjoyment allows you to focus less on the numbers and more on the process.
If you aim for consistency and achieve it, you are winning!! Be patient, enjoy the ride, and stop worrying over the mountain peak of glory; for success rejoiced is found in the hustle along the way. Does the top of the mountain of success actually exists? And when you supposedly get there then what?? You guessed it, you just keep on going anyway.
A final thought...
Realistically, if you're exercising often, eating a relatively healthy diet and don’t have any recurring medical issues, there probably isn’t much need for you to have scales at all.
Unless you're an athlete such as a bodybuilder, powerlifter or boxer and need to make weight for a competition, why weigh yourself? You have eyes, emotions and a mirror right? Look in the mirror and check yourself out, and not obsessively, but that's a pretty easy indicator of where you are at?!
Secondly if you're on the right track your body will "feel" toned and tight, muscles will likely feel sore, your gut health will feel normal, and your sense of vigour will be positive.
If you aren't enjoying the process, but feel you are still doing all the right things, perhaps it's not your efforts and some other stressor is at play here, such as hating your job, leading you into a semi depression, which could mess with your ability to perform properly and achieve your potential in improving upon body composition. Stress is a silent killer, but that's a separate topic for another day.
Nothing will give you a more accurate reading on yourself than yourself...be honest with where you are at, and if you can't separate your emotions from the scales, then for now, just