Expectations vs. Reality
Let’s say it’s the start of a new challenge, day, week, month, or even a new year….motivation is high, you really feel like NOW IS YOUR TIME! The world is at your fingertips! You hit the ground running and are off! It seems so simple…do everything your plan prescribes, follow what your coach tells you, check off A, B, C, and you’ll be there in no time! Easy peasy!!!
We all know how that usually ends up…motivation dwindles, we hit a plateau, life throws some curveballs, and suddenly you find yourself sitting there pouty or ugly crying about why you failed (we’ve all been there). What did you do wrong!?
Whether you fell off the “wagon” (we slightly hate this phrase, but that’s another blog post), hit a plateau, or had some other things in your life take priority, THIS JUST IN Y’ALL…you did not fail! Weight loss/fat loss is not linear, and to get from point A to point B, there’s a whole roller coaster ride going on if you know what we mean! Be patient and don’t give up!! Give it time. It’s not a sprint y’all.
NOW, let’s talk about making sure you’re tracking the right kind of progress. If you’re only looking at pounds lost and measuring your success by the scale, then you’re doing yourself a disservice, and we’re going to explain why!
Weight Lost vs. Inches Lost
Maintaining a healthy weight is about more than just the number on the scale. It's also about achieving an appropriate body composition -- or in other words, a healthy ratio of body fat to lean mass. Weight loss and inches lost sometimes go together because when you lose a significant amount of weight, you tend to lose inches too. However, it's possible to lose inches without seeing the scale budge. You heard us right! You can lose inches and not weight. Please take both measurements into consideration when you're figuring out your health and fitness goals. Let us explain why!
Focusing on Fat Loss not Weight Loss
When you talk about losing weight, what you usually mean is slimming down. You want to lose weight around the hips, thighs, belly, and arms. But, the odd thing about slimming down is that it doesn't always mean losing actual weight off the scale.
It may sound strange, but it's possible to get thinner without actually seeing a change in your weight. This happens when you lose body fat while gaining muscle. Your weight may stay the same, even as you lose inches, a sign that you're moving in the right direction. The problem is, you may be focused on the scale, believing that if that number doesn't change, you're simply not getting real results. Knowing the difference between losing weight and losing body fat can change how you see your self, your progress, and maybe even how you look at your own body.
The Truth About the Number on the Scale
The typical scale shows your weight, but it doesn't tell you how much of that weight is muscle, fat, water, bones, or organs. Someone who lifts weights a lot (like a bodybuilder) could be off the charts because of extra muscle, but it doesn't mean he's overweight or fat. Knowing your body composition is crucial information if you really want to get results and, unfortunately, the typical scale doesn't tell you that.
Another reason scale weight isn't so reliable is that it fluctuates all the time. You will see weight changes throughout the day, sometimes by as much as 10 pounds depending on what and how often you eat and drink (high sodium intake), stress, lack of sleep, you need to go the bathroom or you’re constipated, or maybe you’re retaining water.
While the scale isn't completely useless, it may not be the best tool for people just starting a fat loss program. If it doesn't help you stay on track and reach your goals, maybe it's time to take a different approach to tracking your progress.
Focusing on fat loss is much more important than focusing on your weight. When you lose body fat, you're changing your body composition so that you have less fat and more muscle. When you lose weight, you could be losing water or even muscle. That’s why tracking your macros is so beneficial because as opposed to just tracking calories, you’re tracking protein which is crucial to maintain lean muscle mass while in a calorie deficit and trying to lose body fat.
What to Know When You Get on the Scale
When you first start a program, you may need extra encouragement to keep going and proof that what you're doing is working. The scale may not give you that. Let’s talk about why the scale is misleading.
It measures everything: Muscles, fat, bones, organs, fat, food, and water. For that reason, your scale weight can be a deceptive number.
It doesn't reflect the changes happening in your body: If you're doing cardio and strength training, you may build lean muscle tissue at the same time you're losing fat. In that case, the scale may not change even though you're getting leaner and slimmer.
It doesn't reflect your health: The scale can't tell the difference between fat and muscle. That means a person can have a low body weight but still have unhealthy levels of body fat.
It isn't always a positive motivator: If you step on the scale and you're unhappy with what you see, how does that make you feel? You may question everything you're doing, wondering why you even bother at all. Focusing on weight may overshadow the positive results you're getting such as fat loss, more endurance, and higher energy levels.
Alternative Ways to Measure Your Success
While it’s absolutely okay to use weight as ONE way to track your progress, it’s important to use other ways to measure progress can keep you motivated and help you realize that you are making changes, no matter what the scale says. This is especially true if you're not losing weight on the scale, and it’s becoming a source of frustration.
It helps to remember that your body loses weight in a certain order based on your gender, age, genetics, and other factors beyond your control. Just because you aren't losing weight in your hips doesn't mean you're not losing weight somewhere!
Go by how your clothes fit. If they fit more loosely, you know you're on the right track. It helps to have one pair of pants that are a little too tight. Try them on once a month and make notes on how they fit. Clothes don't lie.
Take your measurements to see if you're losing inches. Measuring your body at different points helps you figure out if you are, in fact, losing fat. Knowing that may motivate you to keep going and allow your body to respond to your workouts.
Use a scale (like InBody) that measures body fat. These scales may be available at your gym or local supplement shop. While they can be affected by various factors, they will give you a more accurate view of whether you are losing fat and gaining muscle. It doesn’t really matter where you get tested or the accuracy of it (because they’re all more or less guesstimates), as long as you get tested every so often under the same circumstances you can see if that body fat number is getting lower.
Set performance goals. Instead of worrying about weight loss or fat loss, focus on completing a certain number of workouts each week or competing in a race. See how many push-ups you can do or how many days in a row you can exercise. These are tangible, reachable goals that give you more of that instant gratification the scale doesn't.
If the scale is making you crazy, taking a break from weighing yourself may just open your eyes to other possibilities. Your weight isn't the only measure of your success. Put away the scale and you may just see how far you've really come. You may also want to read a letter from Yours Truly, The Bathroom Scale.
If you’re interested in being a part of a community that values more than just the number on the scale, we’d love you to be a part of our Macro Challenge Team. Our next challenge starts November 5th, and we’ll be opening registration in a couple of weeks. Sign up below to be the first to know when it opens. We want you to know you’re more than a number.