I stopped using my bathroom scale. Cold turkey.
Doing so immediately increased my happiness. It was like magic. How can something so second-nature as stepping on a scale cause such a dramatic shift in attitude?
I’ve mentioned before that I have an early morning workout routine. (Check out my tips in 5 Tricks to Help You Wake Up Early.) This is part of a plan to get healthier by building strength and losing some weight.
In previous attempts to get leaner, my only measurement of progress came from the bathroom scale. I would weigh in regularly–typically multiple times a week.
There were many times when I would weigh myself and find that the number on the scale stayed the same. Worse yet, there were times that the number would increase despite my best efforts at a healthy diet and exercise.
It wasn’t until I removed the source of pain that I realized how much I had become accustomed to the routine disappointment.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not particularly overweight. In fact, I’m downright average according to national standards. Unfortunately, an impossible set of beauty standards is at play here.
Rather than get into a rant about the politics of the fashion industry, let’s keep the focus closer to home, shall we?
It’s impractical to use the bathroom scale as your only measure of progress. For women, it’s actually absurd to rely solely on this tool to gauge improvement. Let’s talk about why.
There is no such thing as “true” weight
Weight at any given time depends heavily on the body’s water content. There are a couple of things that can affect water content. One is your level of hydration (how much water you consume). The other has to do with your carbohydrate intake.
When you consume carbs, your body converts them to glycogen. Glycogen is stored in your muscles for energy. Your body retains water in response to these glycogen stores–approximately 2.7 grams of water per gram of glycogen. This causes your weight to appear falsely higher.
(Disclaimer: This is not a claim that you should cut carbs from your diet. You need carbs for energy!)
Water weight is a phenomenon that works both ways. If you’re dehydrated, for example, the number on the scale can be falsely low.
For women, there is one other factor that has a huge affect on the body’s water content. That’s the good ol’ monthly menstrual cycle. A woman can retain anywhere from half a pound to ten pounds of water in the days leading up to her period. She will lose this water weight once her period starts, but this is a significant change in “scale weight” that happens every single month.
Muscle vs. Fat
A pound of muscle and a pound of fat weigh the same (a pound is a pound), but muscle is more dense than fat. Muscle weighs more than fat if you compare same-size portions.
When you work out, your goal is to build muscle and lose fat. That muscle-for-fat swap changes your body composition. Parts of your body become leaner (and denser) than they used to be.
You can’t rely on a single number from a bathroom scale to measure your progress. It’s not giving you a realistic benchmark to compare to.
So what are better ways to track progress?
Track Multiple Metrics for a Holistic Measure of Progress
Use more than one method to measure your development. You will get a big picture view of how well you’re improving, and you’ll focus less on a single, flawed metric for information.
1. Increased performance / stamina
Track the exercises you perform each workout. Include the weight used and the number of repetitions or the time it took to finish the exercise.
As you progress, you’ll be able to increase weight, perform additional reps, or complete the same exercise faster. This is a great measure of growth!
2. Waist measurements
Since a pound of muscle is smaller than a pound of fat, swapping muscle for fat means getting leaner.
When you lose fat, you lose it everywhere (there is no such thing as “targeted fat loss”). Waist measurements are a good indicator of this change.
Use a tape measure to take three measurements: at your navel, 2” above the navel line, and 2” below the navel line. Monitor the change in your waist measurements about every two weeks. This is a slow-occurring change, but it shows the overall trend toward improvement.
3. Progress photos
Take a bathroom mirror selfie or have someone take photos from different angles for you (front, side, and back). Wait a few weeks and do it again. Repeat the process as you follow your exercise and healthy eating plan.
Once you have a few sets of photos, compare the most recent photos to the first set you took. Notice any changes to size, but also focus on increased muscle definition. You can’t track these positive changes using a bathroom scale!
4. The scale (sparingly)
You don’t have to completely swear off using the bathroom scale. Measuring your weight every so often gives you another piece of information to analyze your progress in a holistic way.
However, use this method sparingly. Once every two weeks is plenty to see an overall trend in weight change.
As I mentioned before, women need to be especially selective in their use of the scale due to menstrual cycle water weight fluctuations. A woman should only weigh herself using a bathroom scale once a month. She should take the measurement at about the same point in her cycle each month to avoid the skewing effects of water retention.
You’re Not a Slave to the Scale
Friends, there is absolutely no reason why you need to continue torturing yourself with the vicious cycle of battling the bathroom scale.
Remember, the scale is one of many tools to track your progress. When it is used as a part of your arsenal, it can be helpful. But when it is the only source of information you rely on, it can be your biggest enemy.
What do you struggle with most when sticking to a diet and exercise plan? Share in the comments below!
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