How To Track Weight Loss
When trying to lose weight, most people simply rely on the scale as a way to track progress. But, the scale is not a very effective way of tracking progress. Body composition (body fat vs lean body mass) is much more important that what the scale says. A reduction in body fat, not body weight, is what you should be focusing on… to track this there are several methods that will tell you if you are actually making progress. Often times the scale will not move, especially if you are working out, but you are actually changing your body composition by reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass – which is a good thing!
For the past 8 weeks I have been on a quest to get closer to my “normal” weight. My entire adult life I have hovered in the mid-130s for my weight. If I creeped up to 140ish it was because I wasn’t working out consistently, and my diet was crap. However, that has not been the case the last 2 years… my diet has been the healthiest it has ever been, and I have consistently worked out. But, despite that, the last 2 1/2 years (since my last competition) I have weighed the most I have ever weighed in my life. I believe my last competition prep, and reducing to my lowest body fat % ever, and the birth control I was on at the time threw my hormones out of whack and caused me to gain 20+ pounds very quickly. At one point I had gained 30 pounds despite watching what I eat and consistently working out… I finally quit gaining weight at an alarming rate, and lost about 8 pounds when I had my IUD removed. That was a relief to finally have some stability, even though I wasn’t back to “normal”.
I have spent the last 2 years attempting to lose the extra weight many times… I would start to make a little progress, but then I would start having low energy, feeling like crap, and massive hunger cravings… my willpower was not strong enough to continue in my weight loss efforts, so I finally decided to just be content remaining at a higher body fat % for the sake of feeling well… even though I wasn’t necessarily happy with how I looked.
My weight finally leveled out in the mid-150s after the removal of my IUD… which is a lot for a 5’3″ female. Yes, I have a lot of muscle mass, but my body fat mass is still higher than what is optimal for me. I look a lot “puffier” than normal. I did gain some muscle over the last 2 1/2 years as well… especially when I was training for a power lifting competition. (I wasn’t able to compete due to health issues) So, I don’t think I’ll be able to get back to the mid-130s and maintain it… so, I think mid-140s is probably more realistic for me now.
Then to make things worse, my endurance training for World’s Toughest Mudder made me gain even more fat this past year. My body does not respond well to endurance training… it jacks up my stress hormones, and causes me to gain body fat like crazy. I did an InBody scan, and in 4 months time I lost 4.2 pounds of muscle, and gained 10.3 pounds of fat despite exercising more and eating the same amount… so frustrating! It was necessary for me to do the endurance training for the event, but I knew I was sacrificing how I desired to look to complete that goal. If you are training for an endurance event like half marathon in an attempt to lose weight – don’t. There is a difference between training for aesthetics vs training for performance… often times you have to sacrifice one for the other. So, train for your goals.
So, after World’s was over I decided to attempt this fat loss thing again… losing muscle and gaining fat caused me to be more “jiggly” than normal, and I didn’t like it! So, I started what I call “Operation Jiggly to Bombdiggety” 1) because I wanted to be focused on my goals, and 2) because I’m a huge dork. 😉 lol So, for 2 months I have been tracking my macros, weighing and measuring all of my food, and focusing on strength training and omitting cardio completely in attempt to lose the extra fat, gain back a little bit of muscle, and hopefully get back into my clothes. This time the hunger, cravings, and my energy have been much better… so, I feel like my body may actually be ready to lose some of this weight.
Going through this process I wanted to share how to properly track progress when it comes to weight loss. Most people simply rely on the scale, which is not the best way to track. Yes, the scale can be helpful… I weigh myself almost everyday because, for me, I am able to track hormonal fluctuations… my weight will jump up 3-5 pounds in a day if I am under stress, not getting enough sleep, or during certain parts of my cycle. So, when this happens I know I need to focus more on recovery and stress reduction instead of pushing myself too hard… after a few days my weight will come back down to normal. If I don’t do this, and I just push through, my weight will continue to climb… so, I’ve learned to listen to my body and give it what it needs.
The scale should not be your only weight loss tracking tool, though. It does not show you changes in lean body mass vs fat mass… which is more important that your actual body weight.
Another tool I like to use to track progress is an InBody scan/scale. This tool will not only tell you what your weight is, but it will tell you how much body fat you have vs lean tissue, and it will show you how your lean mass is distributed on your body. It’s a good tool to track if you’re gaining muscle and losing fat. I plan on having an InBody test every 8 weeks to track progress, so I can determine if my diet and workouts are actually getting the results I want vs just relying on the scale to show weight loss. My most recent InBody scan showed in the last 8 weeks I have gained 0.9 pounds of muscle, and lost 3.9 pounds of fat… and I’m gaining the muscle in the areas I desire to gain muscle. On the scale this only equals 3 pounds total loss in 2 months – that’s only 1.5 pounds per month. Frustratingly slow, but the body composition changes are exactly what I’m aiming for, so I know I’m doing the right things for my body and my desired results. These machines can be found at many gyms, and sometimes doctor’s offices.
Another thing I always recommend to clients is to take progress pictures. No one wants to take them, but I feel they are one of the best tools to track progress. The clients that do take them are always thankful they did, because they are able to see with their own eyes all of the changes in their physique. However, most people do not know how to properly evaluate progress pictures… So, I’m going to post mine here to show you how… I’ll be honest about it, I’m very nervous to post them publicly. I am no where near competition weight, and no one likes to show themselves in an unflattering way… myself included. But, I practice what I preach, so here it goes…
Like I said… this is the heaviest I have ever been, but I feel it’s important 1) to show how to evaluate progress and 2) to show how slow progress really is. We all see these massive weight loss transformations online, but the reality is the progress is very subtle for the day to day, or week to week, or even month to month. Most people give up too soon on their weight loss efforts because they only see a small amount of changes, and think it’s not working. They expect weekly changes to look like multi-month changes. Because the progress along the way isn’t the drastic ‘before and after’ that is revealed. I’ve been guilty of this myself… I would show my ‘before and after’ competition progress pics, but I didn’t show the process progress pics… even my competition progress pics show very subtle progress each week… this progress is even more subtle, because now I am losing weight in a sustainable way.
So, sorry for the long rambling lol… here are my 8 week progress pics. The changes are subtle, but they are there if you look closely. I made notes on them to show how to evaluate progress.
For progress pics you want to take them in the same clothing, standing in the same stance, at the same time of day, in the same lighting each time. Take front, side, and back pics. Compare pics side by side… your mind won’t see the difference if you look at them separately. We are all our own worst critics, so don’t focus on the things you want to “fix”… focus on small changes such as reduced size, more definition, a more tightened and “toned” appearance, how clothing/garments fit or cover better… and things like that.
If you are unable to objectively evaluate pics, then find someone who is.
Another way to track progress is by taking measurements. I have gotten away from doing this because it’s really easy for human error to measure incorrectly. For measurements to be accurate, you have to measure in the exact same spots each time, and that’s really hard to do. If you do decide to measure the areas I recommend are neck, chest, waist, hips, both upper arms and both thighs. Compare numbers each month, and track total inches lost.
There are other methods of tracking as well, such as BodPods and calipers, but these can be time consuming, or can also have human error.
In your weight loss journey, choose 2-3 methods to track progress. Even something as simple as comparing how clothes fit can be helpful. Don’t simply rely on the scale to be your only method. Especially if you are strength training… you will get frustrated by your results, but you may actually be making progress that the scale doesn’t show.
No matter what method you choose… keep going. The key to long term success is to keep putting in the work. Don’t stop when progress plateaus, simply adjust something – either diet or exercise or both… but, keep going. THAT is how you finally get the results you desire.
I will post another update in 8 weeks on my transformation. Hopefully this information helped you to see how to track weight loss progress. Just remember… progress is progress no matter how slow. Progress is happening even if it’s not as quickly as we’d like it to be sometimes, but small changes add up to big results over time.
Keep going, my friends…