Is the weigh scale the only method we should use to keep track of progress in fat loss? Do you even keep track of progress?

You should. If you are not, how do you know if what you are doing is moving you forward or not?

Does this sound familiar?

  1. You have an inspirational ‘moment’ and decide you want to get in shape
  2. You go for walks, runs, exercise most days for a full week and try to eat less food
  3. You step on the scale multiple times every day and the numbers seem to go down.
  4. You have a social weekend which includes eating out on a couple of occassions, step on the scale on Monday morning, and it’s higher than before!
  5. You give up, decide this ‘dieting thing’ is too hard and fall off the wagon
  6. Some time passes, you have said inspirational ‘moment’ again. You know the rest…….

Where did it all go wrong?! Did it go wrong? Should we do it again? Maybe it will work next time?  Let us pause to read a famous quote from a rather famous scientist:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So, before we ‘do’, let’s stop to consider the road ahead. The 2 big questions are (1) What do we want and (2) How do we know if we are making progress.

First, let’s cover goal-setting:

  • What is your goal? A rather obvious question but one that rarely has a clear answer. We tend to embark on health-related endeavours with a lot of energy, without stopping to think ‘what do I want out of this?’. So set a goal!
  • Have a sensible basis for the goal: It’s easy to randomly set a goal to lose X kgs, where did this X come from? Who knows, but it sounds good, right? Wrong!  Think about what YOU want. Maybe it is as simple as not adding any weight for the next 3 months, that is a very legitimate goal. Start with baby steps, and win!
  • Now that you have a goal, stop to check if it is SMARTSpecific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound. Losing 10kgs in 2 months is most of this but not achievable, and you know it! At the same time, if you want to fit into the next size of jeans, your goal should be one that is relevant: waist measurements in cms, and not weight in kilos!
  • What are some ‘good’ goals?  When most of us think of getting healthy, what we really mean is fat loss!  For this we want a few thing to do down – weight AND waist/chest/thigh measurements. At the same time, some things should not go down and ideally should go up – strength, energy levels and endurance are good examples. Another, simple metric is height:waist ratio (in cms) which should go up as your waist reduces (unless you somehow grow taller too!). When you combine the ups and downs (see what we did there?!), you get a leaner and stronger you, what’s not to like!

Now that we have a well thought-out goal, track it!

Often, we beat ourselves up because we think we’re not making progress. Yet, the truth often is, that we are making progress. Equally, we sometimes think we are doing really well because we ‘just feel better’, but are we?  The only way to answer ‘Am I making progress?’ is by measuring. If you’re not measuring, you’re guessing.  To quote the infinite wisdom of Shakira “Hips don’t lie”! So get that measuring tape out. Without that knowledge, everything you do is a shot in the dark.

 Some realities

So what do we measure that can give us meaningful feedback on progress without making us feel like we are getting a lot of bespoke tailoring done!  Before we get down to specifics, let’s be clear on a few things:

  • Weighing scales don’t tell the whole story – your body weight is just one of many things to consider. Our body weight can easily vary by up to 2-3kgs during a single day!  Its how the body works, so face it and stop fretting over where the few grams came from since your last measurement an hour back!
  • Plus there’s the fat loss vs weight loss issue, which we’ve covered here.
  • Your body is a dynamic piece of kit – there’s a lot going on at any point and it’s not all about food and exercise.  Sleep and stress play a huge role too and your body is constantly adapting to all of these variables. So don’t obsess over a number, look at the direction you are headed, look for a trend.
  • Is there an app for that? You can track the data with a pen or pencil or a spreadsheet and some custom-made graphs; you can also use a sundial, an abacus and some twigs to draw in the sand.  I don’t care what your method is – just do it consistently.
  • I know, I know…you (yes YOU) already know this stuff.  But the key question is this: are you doing it?  If not, you’d better read on.

What to measure?

So now that we have answered the ‘why’ of measurement, let’s get to the ‘what’.  While it’s possible to measure pretty much most of our body, we really don’t need to. A few simple measures will tell you all you need to know:

  1. Your weight (in kgs/lbs) – Yes I did just say it’s one of many factors, but it IS a factor, so jump on a scale and note that number. Yes, the decimals too. Use the same scale, not the one at home in the morning, gym in the afternoon and one at work in the evening – you’ll definitely be needing a drink after trying to make sense of those numbers!
  2. Chest circumference (in cms, because it’s more precise than inches) – Measure the circumference along the widest part of your chest, along the nipple line.
  3. Waist circumference (in cms) – Measure the circumference along the narrowest part of your waist, in line with the belly button.
  4. Thigh circumference (in cms) – Measure the circumference of the widest part of your thigh.
  5. Pictures – Facing the camera and a side pose. Sharing on social media is optional.
  6. Seriously – you want more? Five is fine, now write those numbers down somewhere where you won’t lose them.

A few pointers:

  • Do the measurements once a week. Why weekly? We find it’s the ‘goldilocks’ zone, not too often and not too far apart – just right!
  • Take all your measurements at the same time each week.  Pick your time but do each measurement at that time. First thing in the morning is a good time to pick.
  • Ideally wear the same clothes each time too, especially for the weight & pictures.

And finally

Changing our bodies and our health can take some time. And when we really want to see these changes quickly, it may seem like forever.  Doing these measurements is the clearest message you will get that something is working (or not!).  The more you measure, the more you track over time, the better you’ll know your body, and the better you’ll be able to change it. And if you’re serious at all about doing so, you better get measuring!

Author Note: This article was written by Kannan Raman for The Quad.

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