Whatever your long-term health goals may be – fat loss, improving your waist-hip ratio, getting better at the overhead press – tracking your progress is a must. Following a systematic plan gives you a road map and data points. By tracking your progress through it, you get a more accurate view of where you are at and what to do to course correct if things don’t go according to plan.
Does this sound familiar to you? You get an inspirational ‘aha moment’ and decide you want to get in shape. Awesome! You go for walks and runs, exercise most days for a full week, and try to eat less food. Eat less, move more, right? You step on the scale multiple times a day and the numbers seem to go down. Things are going in the right direction. Yay!
Then comes a fun weekend which includes eating out on a couple of occasions. No harm, no foul. But. You step on the scale on Monday morning, and it has gone up! What the hell?!
All that hard work scuppered over one lousy evening? You decide this ‘dieting thing’ is not worth it and throw in the towel. Life is for living, after all.
A few months pass. Anita in Accounting is heard raving about this new gym she signed up for and the word around the water cooler is that she is looking fit & fabulous! You decide you want some of that awesome feeling too and start another round of your fat loss journey.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
Where did it all go wrong?! Did it go wrong? How to make it work the next time?
Albert Einstein famously said that insanity was “…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
So, before getting back on this hamster wheel, let’s stop to consider the road ahead. The two big questions are
(1) What do we want, and
(2) How do we know if we are making progress?
What is goal setting?
Let’s say you are off to embark on a health-related endeavor with a lot of energy but without stopping to think ‘What do I want out of this?’. Haring off into the great unknown without a proper goal and means to get there is just setting yourself up for failure. How to set yourself up for success? Set a goal!
We can fine-tune this a bit more into outcome goals and behavior goals. ‘I need to lose 20 kgs by my birthday’ is the perfect example of an outcome-based goal. Behavior goals are a bit more nuanced – think ‘I will eat 3 extra servings of veg daily’. In our view, behavior-based goals tend to work much better in the long term, whereas outcome-based goals are more suited to the short term.
Now that you have a goal, stop to check if it is SMART– Specific, Measurable, 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 cm, and not weight in kilos!
What are some ‘good’ goals?
When most of us think of getting healthy, what we really mean is to lose the extra pounds we might be packing. How to measure weight loss progress? By ensuring a few things go down – weight AND body measurements – namely, chest/ hip/ thigh/ waist measurement.
At the same time, some things should ideally 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 circumference 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 tracking your progress. If you’re not measuring, you’re guessing.
To quote the infinite wisdom of Shakira “Hips don’t lie”! So the best way is to get that tape measure out. Without that basic starting point, everything you do is a shot in the dark.
Why do we track?
It is not okay to track blindly. We need to measure that which can give us a more accurate picture of your body composition. Before we get down to specifics, let’s be clear on a few things:
First things first – your bathroom scale will NOT 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 the course of a single day! If you are on your period, your water retention might cause a jump in your scale weight. It’s how the body works, so face it and stop fretting over where the few grams came from since your last measurement an hour back!
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, and look for a trend.
Is there an app for that? You can track the data with the plethora of weight loss apps on the app store available. Or you fancy new Apple watch. Or a pen or pencil or a spreadsheet and some custom-made graphs…. Doesn’t matter what your method is – just do it consistently.
What to track?
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, yet effective ways will tell you all you need to know:
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 your total body weight. Yes, the decimals too. Why? So you have a starting point. Use the same scale every time – not the one at home in the morning, the fancy bioelectrical impedance scales at the gym in the afternoon, and one at work at the end of the day – you’ll definitely be needing a drink after trying to make sense of those numbers!
- Chest circumference (in cm, because it’s more precise than inches) – Measure the circumference along the widest part of your chest, along the nipple line.
- Waist circumference (in cms) – Measure the circumference along the narrowest part of your waist, in line with the belly button.
- Hip circumference (in cms) – Measure the circumference of the widest part of your hips. Now write those numbers down somewhere where you won’t lose them!
- Progress Pictures – taking weekly progress photos is a great way to track your progress. Take two photos – one facing the camera and a side pose. Sharing on social media is optional.
A few pointers:
- Get out the measuring tape 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. This way, you will be able to notice the positive changes immediately.
Remember, your weight loss journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Changing our bodies and our overall health can take some time. And when we really want to see these changes quickly, it may seem like forever. Keeping track of your progress is the clearest message you will get that something is working (or not!).
The best results take time. Your fat loss progress will be sustainable when coupled with healthy food intake and strength training. So develop good eating habits, keep drinking a good amount of water daily, and ensure you have sound fitness goals to aim at – pretty soon, you will see significant changes!
If you want to reduce your body fat, improve your lean muscle mass or experience the health benefits of following a healthy lifestyle, we can help show you how.
Author Note: This post was written by Kannan Raman for The Quad.