If you have ever stepped on a scale after a week of dieting and exercise, only to wonder why the scale has not budged – or worse, moved upward! – you are not alone.
Many dieters find their best efforts go unrewarded, at least in the short-term. This is why it is so important to focus on factors other than the number on the scale. This number is often not an accurate reflection of the changes your body experiences as a result of health improvements.
Here’s why I believe that what you weight is not the best way to track your progress.
1.You will weigh more after intense exercise
You might be doing all the right things in terms of exercising and eating well, but the number on the scale isn’t budging. This is completely normal and even more common after a bout of intense exercise.
There are several reasons why this happens, but the main culprits are water retention, inflammation and muscle gain.
The body often holds on to fluid during and after intense exercise to prevent dehydration and operate efficiently. Even though you lose a lot of water through sweating, the body tries to gain it back to maintain adequate sodium levels. This can result in huge fluctuations on the scale by as much as 4kg, especially if you’ve had a particularly hard training week. The key to reducing water retention during exercise is to make sure you’re drinking enough fluids, before, during and after your workout.
If you’re training for an endurance event such as a marathon or you do more than three sessions of HIIT (high intensity interval training) exercise every week, you might notice the scale going up. This is due to excessive muscle damage and repair which can also cause that feeling of muscle stiffness and pain after strenuous exercise. This type of acute inflammation is generally temporary, providing you give yourself adequate rest and time off to let the body heal and recover.
The volume of muscle in the body is denser than the volume of fat, and therefore heavier. When you start building more muscle with your workouts and decreasing body fat – your scale weight might increase, but you’ll look and feel stronger and healthier.
I love strength training (either using your own body weight or a set of dumbbells/barbell) because it’s the best way to build lean muscle, which raises your metabolism long after the session. A kilogram of muscle can burn about 10-15 calories a day, whereas a kilogram of fat burns only 2-3 calories, so the more lean muscle you have, the harder your metabolism works, with more fat being burnt as a result. Strength training also strengthens bones, alters and improves our body shape and helps to prevent injury.
No matter how your weight fluctuates from week to week, remember this – a good balance of cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training will help you lose and maintain a healthy weight over time.
2.Your weight fluctuates daily
No matter what you do, your weight is going to fluctuate all the time. You can thank hormonal changes (PMS or menopause) stress, lack of sleep and diet for this. So, why measure it on a scale and drive yourself crazy?
Even if you’ve been eating healthily, if you’ve increased your fibre intake and haven’t had a bowel movement, you’ll weigh more the next morning. Had a glass of wine? It might cause slight dehydration which will result in temporary weight gain. It’s also important to avoid weighing yourself after a late-night dinner, or night out. This is because your blood volume levels increase when your body is digesting large amounts of food. Remember this is all temporary so it’s important to stick to your healthy eating and exercise regime.
3.You’re not just weighing fat
This is another reason why your weight will fluctuate often. When you’re weighing yourself, you’re also weighing every cell in your body, as well as water, fat and muscle, so the scale isn’t an accurate measure of your progress.
Fat loss throughout the body depends on body type, sex, and age as well as your activity levels and diet.
You can use these simple steps to measure your progress:
See how your clothes fit – although this might also vary depending on the type of exercises you’re doing. Squats for example might lead to tighter, more toned legs and your jeans won’t fit like they used to. Don’t let yourself get demotivated by this! Your body shape will change
Use a measuring tape to track your progress – you only need to do this once a month. Measure your waist, hips, legs and arms to see how the centimetres are coming off.
Take progress photos – there’s nothing like a photograph to see how your body is really changing right before your eyes. My tips are to wear as little as possible – so use the same bikini or set of underwear each time. Use as much natural light as possible – fancy lighting can be deceiving. Try to take the shots at the same time of day for accurate results.
You aren’t defined by your weight
Your self-esteem shouldn’t be measured in numbers and it’s not worth obsessing over. How you feel, what you’re passionate about and your relationships in life are much more important. If you find yourself stressing about the scale, throw it away and never look back! Learn to get in touch with how you feel about yourself and your body and become more mindful about what you need – when it comes to diet and exercise. The kinder you are to yourself, the better your body will respond, and you’ll probably find that your body will find it’s ideal weight.