Why I Ditched the Scale…Or, Using Alternative Methods to Track Progress.
With any new health and fitness journey, especially when weight loss is the ultimate goal, it is important to have benchmarks and tools to measure progress to keep you motivated and your momentum moving forward. There is not an easier or more accessible tool than the common bathroom scale. Almost all of us have one. Even if we don’t, there is no shortage of resources, so finding one isn’t hard: At the gym, spa, doctor’s office, or the rusty avocado green square at grandma’s house quite possibly from the 70’s…even some hotels have them on the floor next to the luxury sugar scrub and fluffy bath mat that may or may not end up in your luggage (by accident). Or, if you are truly in a pinch, you could sample one in the aisle of your local Walmart…for quality control of course. So, why did I choose to stop using this as a measurement of my progress? I wish I was lying when I say that I have indeed weighed myself in an aisle of a Walmart, with no intention of buying.
It started out as a casual relationship. In the mid to late 1990s, I discovered I had a true talent for step aerobics (which I am still proud of). I would drive all over town just to take a class. I found something that I truly enjoyed, so the time spent in the car wasn’t a sacrifice. I started noticing that my body was responding very positively and rapidly to training. In no time at all, 10 pound dumbbells, the heaviest weight in standard group fitness, were easy for me, and my cardiovascular endurance was on point. I could even take back to back classes with effortless effort. My physique was getting tighter, and my confidence soared. I would occasionally hop on the scale after class, for curiosity sake. In a matter of weeks, the numbers began to decrease. It was gratifying. The more classes I took, the better I felt. The slimmer and more toned I became, the more attention I received. I was congratulated by colleagues, peers, and even strangers on my hard work and discipline. This new physique was also positively affecting my professional life, and more importantly, my bank account. Perhaps it was a combination of the additional self-confidence and ongoing training, but I began booking more professional print modeling jobs and national commercials. I was a professional working actress for many years, which is a whole other blog entry. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, my visits to the scale started to become more frequent. Although I didn’t realize it until a decade later, I began to associate my personal and professional success with the number on the scale. I continued to jump, lift, step and sweat as I watched with pride the numbers on the scale decline. Until one day…they didn’t. I was stuck. Panic and anxiety started to set in. When how you look is how you pay your bills, the pressure for perfection is undeniable. My casual relationship with the scale was becoming more of a downright obsession. What was once a flippant few times a week, quickly became several times daily. Although I don’t remember it, I am positive that there were times that my visit to the judgement box was an hourly occurrence. I allowed this $19.99 piece of plastic dictate my feelings, emotions, mood and self-worth. Uneducated and in denial, I was unable to take into account the amount of fluxuation that the scale may read on any given day. Hormones, water weight, muscle mass, time of day, food consumed, food sensitivity, inflammation, sleep, and stress levels all play a part on the number between your toes. Logic and science went out the window. I couldn’t rationalize. It didn’t matter. By this time, I was so far underwater that no amount of coaxing, pleading, arguing, reasoning or professional therapy could bring me back to the surface.
I wish I could tell you this behavior dissipated, pragmatically as well as organically. Perhaps a swift and miraculous personal evolution that would allow me to make my bathroom scale prison break. My “ah-ha” moment. Unfortunately, not. It took loss of relationships, work and lost quality of life to slowly realize that the number on the scale was killing me in so many ways. I threw away my scale and haven’t stepped on one voluntarily in 17 years. Even when I go to the doctor’s office (which is rare), I shamelessly turn around to face the scale backwards when the nurse records my weight. I request that they don’t tell me or show me the result. I understand that this may be the easy way out. To keep me in denial. However, I have been a resident of my body for 41 years. I have a ballpark idea of what the scale may say. But, at this point what does it matter? I have made the choice. My worth is not a number. My day will not be consumed and preoccupied with guilt and shame from a .5 increase. At the same time, I will not walk taller and with more confidence with a 2-pound decrease. There is another way of tracking progress. Humor me and read on.
I encourage all my clients to follow their own path. If what they are doing is proving successful, I am on board! Please note that I am NOT against a scale to measure progress. I understand that it is a valuable tool, and for those who have a significant amount of weight (fat) to lose, it is a great start. But when the scale stops moving in your favor, it is a good idea to record other variables that the scale can’t measure.
Scale: If you choose to use a scale, pick a day (if possible) that you have a lower amount of stress or workload so cortisol isn’t a factor. (i.e. Probably not a good idea on Monday mornings, or if you always have big presentations and meetings on Wednesdays, skip those too). Weigh yourself first thing in the morning on the same day once a week. I would also be choosing a morning in which you are reliably consistent with your diet plan the day or days before. If your program includes a “cheat meal”, or “cheat day”, I would avoid the scale the following morning for obvious reasons. You also may have food sensitives or inflammation that influence the number. Step on, take note, step off and drop the story.
Take Pictures: One of the easiest ways to track progress. Seeing is believing. We live in our skin and see ourselves every day. We may not notice the finer details after the major weight has dropped. It is especially important to do so in the beginning of your journey, or if you are wanting to make some specific changes to physique. I would suggest taking progress pictures every other week. Take front, side and back view. If you are in a maintance phase, taking pictures once every 4-8 weeks is good to have for reference to keep you honest with training and nutrition.
Take Measurements: Once a month is a good start.
Waist (smallest part)
Hips (widest part over your backside)
Both Quads (widest part) Additional option to measure 2 inches above the knee
Body Fat Measurements: You may not have the resources or can’t shell out a bunch of money to test your bodyfat and composition with more accurate and scientific tools such as the BOD POD or DEXA SCAN. However, oftentimes trainers and health care providers use calipers to test. They pinch specific areas of the body to measure the thickness of a fold in your skin with its underlying layer of fat. Although there is margin for error either way using this method, it will still be useful to track progress. What is most important is that you go to the same person each time for the test to keep results as consistent as possible. Same goes for using a digital or hand held body fat test. Always use the same piece of equipment but take the number with a grain of salt. Just keep it as a marker that you are headed in the right direction of your goals.
Keep track of the weight you lift: While having a defined physique is appealing, it is the strength that you gain from training that is more functional and will be the cornerstone for health and longevity. The ability to have an active life, and to do all the things you enjoy well into your later years, is reason enough to keep your body strong, mobile and in balance. I see it often in the gym, and believe me I am guilty of this too. I sit on a machine and randomly pick a weight to push or pull. This is not an efficient use of your time and will lead to slow progress.
Start with recording the weight used in major lifts. Of course, your rep scheme is dependent on your goals. Power, Strength, Muscle Growth or Endurance have different volume of training methods. However, if you are just starting out, go for 10-12 reps. If the last 3 reps are easy, it is time to add weight. You want to aim for the amount of weight/reps that will bring you as close to muscle fatigue or failure by the end of the set. Always be conscious of form, keep the motion as strict as possible and your mind on the muscles that are working. Once you get your base, you can play around with drop sets, super sets, half reps etc. for added challenge. Always keep adjusting and continue to grow! There is so much empowerment and feeling of accomplishment when you feel and have evidence of your gains in strength!
For the extra curious, there are many other ways you can track your overall health and fitness levels. Testing your V02 Max, your heart rate variability, quality of sleep, hormones, blood glucose levels, genetics testing etc. to me are all super fascinating but not as practical to do for everyone. If you have any questions on how to do these types of tests, please contact me!
My advice moving forward is keep it simple. Start small, pick your battles, and stay consistent! By recording your data, you will now have the proof that all your hard work is paying off. You don’t need a scale to tell you so! As always, I am listening and will do all I can to support you through your journey!
All my best,