It was October 1st 2003 in a west St.Albert hotel gym where I trained my first client in my first session. I was still in college but was given the opportunity to take someone on and so there I was at our 9:30pm training time learning about my first client.
Upon my discovery questions with my client I learned that he wanted to lose weight. I was too green to probe more into it and just took his goal at face value. Once we started training he saw minimal weight loss on the scale.
We were both perplexed and frustrated since we were training so hard and even made some decent progress in his nutrition. My client had to buy smaller sized jeans, visibly had a smaller gut, was now eating veggies every day and was significantly stronger and more mobile.
But despite these great changes we both felt like it was once big fail with his lack of weight loss. As a personal trainer I made my very first mistake… and it happened on day 1. That mistake… focusing on the number on the scale and disregarding the other markers of weight loss success.
What I can tell you from that experience is even though it still feels like a spur in my butt when I think about it, I am grateful to have stumbled on that hurdle early, as I don’t like to lose and was quick to learn about my mistake and how to be better because of it. Since that first client of mine I have come across hundreds of clients and thousands of people who never trained with me fall into the same trap as my first client.
Relying on only the numbers on the scale as a source of progress or worse relying on it to measure happiness or self worth is a big mistake and it could be holding you back from reaching your goals. It’s certainly caused far too many people to quit when they were in fact on the right path. Don’t fall prey to this.
“Looking only at the number on the scale while ignoring the other markers is kind of like gardening. You plant a bed of flowers and when it comes time for them to bloom you only focus on one flower. If that flower doesn’t bloom you burn the garden failing to notice all of the other flowers that flourished with vibrant colors.” –Robin Mungall-
Now some people will ask me, “Is the scale important?”
Well in short, it depends on WHY you want the numbers on the scale to go down. You see when most people want to lose weight, it’s more than just about weight loss. It’s fat loss and more specifically it’s what that fat loss will do for you mentally, emotionally and physically. If you just wanted weight loss you could just chop a leg off and step on the scale with your one leg and the scale number would be less. But I’m guessing you didn’t want to “just lose weight”.
Now there is evidence that if you weigh yourself everyday that you are more likely to lose weight because it keeps you focused and accountable to your actions. But take this research with a grain of salt. If you are someone who is obsessed with the numbers, I suggest finding a different action that accomplishes the same thing. Take progress photo’s perhaps, or every morning try on that “too tight” pair of jeans you’ve been wanting to fit comfortably into, or better yet, review your progress from the last 5 days every morning.
Now I don’t want to leave you high and dry and tell you to forget the scale and end this article. Let’s talk about some other ways to measure if you are on the right path to a sustainably lean and fit body.
1. How Your Jeans Fit
Weight loss is a poor indicator of how much fat you lost. Most of my clients want to look more “toned” and fit into a smaller size jeans. Jeans are an easy indicator if your waistline is shrinking and if your butt is firming up. Aside from just your jeans you can take it a step farther and use a tape measure around your chest, waist, hips, arms and thighs for a more accurate reading.
2. Measure Your Habits & Actions
Much less sexy than monitoring jean size but this is likely the best way to measure success… as long as you are honest with yourself. Track and monitor your actions, and more importantly the progress of your actions. Did you make progress in your workouts this week? Did you make progress in your eating habits this week? Take the time to create a system that answers this clearly with a yes or no. “I think so” won’t cut it, you need to track your actions and be certain if you want to make changes.
3. Measure Body Fat
Weight loss is not fat loss, it could be water weight, and it could be muscle loss or even bone density loss. They are different and can effect your body differently. Lose a lot of weight from muscle and bone density and you are lighter on the scale, but you are also weaker, with an increased risk of osteo related diseases and your metabolism is slower making it harder to maintain what ever weight you lost. Lose body fat while maintain muscle and bone density and you will likely move better and have more energy.
4. Measure Your Health
There is an old saying “you don’t lose weight to get healthy, you get healthy to lose weight”. While I think both happen simultaneously, the saying is fairly true because fat loss typically happens third in the order of changes. It starts with making mental changes about yourself (being positive about you) then your health changes (as in your cells, organs and gut health improve lowering your risks of certain diseases) and finally the fat starts burning off much easier and enjoyable.
5. Measure Your Enjoyment
Permanent changes in your body come from making permanent changes to your lifestyle and not through a miserable process that you “crush” for only 12 weeks only to make no life changes other than a short stint of hardcore beat your butt into the ground workouts and ultra restrictive eating that can’t be sustained long term. You mine as well enjoy the process of making healthier changes because these changes are going to be required for life if you want to keep the body you are looking to get.
The scale can be part of what you measure, it’s the lesser of the methods to measure progress. I understand the allure, it’s quick and simple, unfortunately your body is not simple. Before your next “weigh in” Choose 1-3 of the above measuring methods first.