You know how it feels when you’re on a diet.
You commit wholeheartedly to losing weight, use every ounce of your willpower to stay on track and for the first few weeks you see the scale drop.
You’re delighted! You’re now convinced that you’ve finally found the right diet that will give you the results you’ve been looking for, so you continue to follow the plan, even though you’re finding it hard to follow all the rules and the restrictions. However, the confidence you feel at steadily losing weight more than makes up for the inconvenience and deprivation you feel.
After a few weeks, your weight loss slows down. So you cut back your food a little more, and increase your exercise too, believing that this extra calorie deficit is what will get you over this hurdle.
But then your weight loss slows down even more until you’re no longer seeing a change in the scales. Some weeks, you even notice they go up.
Instead of feeling confident, you’re devastated. You’re worried that you’re going backwards, so you tell yourself that you need to be even stricter on yourself. You start weighing yourself daily or even several times a day just to ‘check’ that you’re on track. And you try to cram even more exercise into your week. Some weeks it works and you see a small drop in the scales, but some weeks it doesn’t and you put on what you lost the week before, plus a little bit more.
When you look back on to see how you’ve tracked your weight loss, you’re horrified to see that you’ve actually been losing and putting on the same 3kg for the past couple of months. So you stop following this weight loss plan and begin searching for a new one. Because there’s got to be a program that will work, right?
The problem with the scales
The scenario above is all too familiar for chronic dieters everywhere, who have gone from one plan to another, constantly searching for the program that will work for them.
Initially, you get seemingly quick-results, because the scales reflect weight loss. Then, when the weight loss slows, and plateaus (as it will because diets don’t work), the diet industry tells you that there’s something wrong with you. That it’s your fault you’re not continuing to lose weight because you’re not strict enough or not good enough.
But what the industry doesn’t tell you, is that scales are one of the most inaccurate ways of tracking your weight loss.
Why the scales aren’t accurate and why weight fluctuates
The truth is that your weight fluctuates regularly. It fluctuates over the course of a day, and throughout the week, with fluctuations caused by a number of different factors.
When we eat carbohydrates, our body turns them into a form of sugar called glycogen. Glycogen is the main energy source for our body, which we can draw upon when we need it. And every gram of glycogen is accompanied by 3 or 4 grams of water.
Now, imagine you go on a diet. One of the first things you’ll probably do is to cut carbs. By cutting carbs, you reduce your glycogen stores, and reduce the amount of water you have in your body, which will show up on the scales as weight loss. Hooray! But you can’t restrict food forever, and eventually you’ll start eating carbs again. Of course, the increased glycogen in your system means you’ll increase your body’s water content — which will show up as a gain on the scales. And then you panic, and cut carbs again because you believe that eating them causes you to become overweight.
A similar thing occurs with salt. When you eat salty foods, your body holds on to excess water in order to keep your electrolytes in balance. In addition, salty foods cause you to drink more water than usual, with associated increases in fluid levels equating to a ‘gain’ on the scales. This explains why you may weigh more the morning after eating out — because many take-away or restaurant meals (e.g. think of those burgers and fries) are high in salt.
What and when you ate
What you eat can cause big swings in your body weight as well. When you eat food, it isn’t digested straight away. This is particularly the case for protein and veggies — the two food groups that help you burn fat. That means that if you’re focusing on eating these types of foods, instead of weight-loss shakes, meal replacements or even fasting, the contents of your stomach will naturally weigh more. Once again, is this weight gain you should be worried about? No.
Most people are unaware of the impact stress can have on their weight. When you’re stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol has a number of effects on your weight, one of them being water-retention, which will cause you to weigh more on the scales.
Ironically, dieting by restricting food and increasing your exercise increases stress levels further, and increases the chances of you binge eating or emotional eating, which as we know, only sabotages your weight loss.
Other things that contribute to stress, and increased cortisol include lack of sleep, work and lifestyle stress, and injuries.
What happens if you focus on the scales
It’s clear then that focusing on the scales gives you an inaccurate picture of your real weight loss progress. Yet many people use that as their only tracking tool. However, this causes a host of other problems, some of which are listed below:
- You’ll end up focusing purely on diet and exercise as a way to lose weight
- You won’t address the habits that have led you to gain weight in the first place
- You won’t learn how to develop a lifestyle that will enable you to lose weight and keep it off
- You’re more likely to ignore your body’s warning signs of burnout or injury
- You’ll focus on what you look like, and ignore how your body feels and functions
- You’ll miss the importance of nutrition to create a body that will burn fat
- You’ll compromise your metabolism in favour of a smaller number on the scale
- You’ll measure your success only by a scale weight, instead of the habits that you’re changing
- You won’t understand the importance of body composition for losing weight and maintaining it
- You’ll let a scale number dictate your self-worth and confidence
- You’ll end up ignoring the 97% of the things that actually make a difference in your weight
- You’ll be more likely to trade food for exercise, so you continue to stick to a calorie intake, in order to lose weight
- You’ll create an enormous amount of psychological and emotional damage by measuring yourself on the scales.
In addition, you’ll end up attaching your self-worth to the scales. And when they don’t go down, your self-worth and self-confidence takes a dive. Every time you step on those scales and don’t see weight loss that you expect, your confidence takes a hit. And the less confident you are, the more likely you are to fall for the next quick-fix and fad diet that comes along — which only perpetuates this vicious cycle.
So if there are so many problems with the scales, should we ditch them? And if so, how should we track our weight loss progress instead?
Tracking your weight loss progress
Tracking your weight loss using the scales isn’t all bad. However, the scales are only one of the many tools that you should be gauging your success against. But scales only tell a small part of the story, so you shouldn’t be basing your relative success and progress against them.
Instead, you should be focusing on the things that will make a bigger difference long-term. Sure, we’d all love to lose weight quickly and keep it off. But it doesn’t work that way. You can either:
- Lose weight quickly and gain it all back, and continue to yo-yo diet forever because you don’t change the fundamental reasons why you are overweight,
- Lose weight gradually, changing your habits, your health and your mindset as you go, knowing that the weight you lose, you’ll keep off forever.
If you want to take the quick-fix approach and go around in circles as you have always done, you may as well stop reading now, and go back to your diet.
But if you want to lose weight for good, and are sick of feeling badly about yourself because of a number on the scale, read on to discover a new approach to tracking weight loss.
What leads to long-term weight loss
Many people mistakenly believe that dieting and increasing their exercise is the best way to lose weight. But research has proven time and time again that this approach doesn’t work for long-term weight loss.
What does work however, is changing your habits and mindset, in order for you to develop a lifestyle that will naturally support weight loss.
You see, habit change is at the heart of successful weight loss, which is why it’s at the heart of everything we do at Imani Tribe Transformations.
Unless you change the habits that continually sabotage your efforts, you’ll continue to go around in circles. A lot of people think that eating too much or drinking alcohol are the main habits that prevent them from losing weight. While these do contribute to weight gain, there are other habits that you may be unaware of, that have more influence over your weight than you would think. Some of the most common habits that keep people stuck in the hellish dieting cycle include:
- Being a perfectionist
- Comparing yourself with others
- Not believing in yourself
- Having a diet mindset
- Worrying about what other people think
- Pleasing other people so they’ll like you
- Feeling guilty about putting yourself first
- Not prioritising sleep and rest
- Lack of confidence.
Increasing your awareness of these things is the first step in changing these habits. A lot of people have difficulty identifying the habits that sabotage their progress, which is why working with a coach is vital.
But even if you’re focusing on changing your habits, instead of the number on the scale, your weight loss will slow down after a time. But don’t panic. This is absolutely normal!
Why your weight loss slows down
The diet industry would like you to believe that you’re only successful in losing weight if the scales tell you that you’ve lost weight.
It doesn’t care if you’ve compromised your metabolism or health along the way.
It doesn’t care if you become obsessed with diet-related behaviours that will take over your life.
It doesn’t care if you become afraid of food, and can no longer eat without feeling guilty.
It doesn’t care if you end up feeling worthless, hopeless, useless, depressed or riddled with anxiety.
As long as you lose the weight.
But weight loss success is more than what the scale tells you.
You see, the slowing down of weight loss is a normal, natural part of the journey, even if you’re not dieting. But it’s when most people give up because there aren’t as many visible results.
When you hit what you consider a plateau (which isn’t a plateau at all), you’ve just reached a normal stage in your weight loss journey. (To understand all the stages of transformation, be sure to read our blog The Seasons of Body Transformation) You see, when your initial weight loss slows down, you’ve reached the point where your metabolism is re-setting as your body tries to adjust to a new normal. During this phase, you may not notice any progress with your weight loss. But rest assured a lot is happening behind the scenes, and this is what you need to pay attention to.
Continuing to focus only on the scales will leave you feeling discouraged and eventually you’ll throw in the towel. But if you can turn your attention to the invisible forms of success, and use ways other than the scales to measure changes in your body shape, you’ll be able to stay the course, and keep making progress.
What the scale doesn’t show
Scales only show how much your body weighs at a particular moment in time. As we’ve already discussed, that weight can vary on a daily basis, or even from hour to hour, depending upon what you eat and drink!
What they don’t show you are some of the most important things of all — the things that will have the greatest impact on your overall weight and body shape. These are often referred to as invisible success and are so important that we wrote a blog about it and why you need to celebrate it. Be sure to read this blog to learn more. However, in a nutshell, invisible success can mean:
- Sleeping better
- Being consistent with your weekly food prep
- Having more energy
- Being able to say ‘no’ when people ask you to do things
- Developing a habit around walking
- Having better skin, nails and hair
- Feeling happier and more confident
- Improved gut issues
- Improved sex life
- Training regularly
- Progressing in your training sessions and workouts
- No longer relying on food and alcohol to deal with your emotions
- Focusing on your own journey instead of what others are doing
- Reduction in the amount of medication you take
- Thinking more clearly and being more productive
- No longer wasting time on social media
- Feeling free around food
- Focusing on consistency instead of perfection
- Being able to recognise when you need to rest
- Being able to block the noise
- Finally ditching the diet mindset
- Getting rid of toxic people and surrounding yourself with the right people
- An improved immune system
- No longer living in fear
- Not needing to control everything or freaking out when things don’t go to plan
- Better stress management techniques
- No longer parenting from the sidelines
- No longer being afraid of being seen
- More balanced hormones
- Not being afraid to have your photo taken
- Being able to be yourself
- Developing your environment to support your weight loss
- Employing the boundary strategy, instead of living by rules
Scales also don’t tell you what your body composition is either. In other words, how much muscle and how much fat you have on your body. This is an important consideration for weight loss because the higher your muscle percentage, the more fat your body will burn and the easier it becomes to lose weight.
In addition, because muscle takes up less space than fat, by replacing fat with muscle mass, you will dramatically change the way your body looks, even if the scale weight doesn’t change.
We explored this in more detail in one of our recent bogs “I don’t want to get bulky! 8 reasons why muscle is your friend”, so be sure to read this to understand why muscle is so important to fat loss. But suffice to say, if you focus on improving your body composition, and building better habits, your weight loss will take care of itself.
Of course, there are more accurate ways to track your visible progress (i.e. body shape changes) that don’t involve the scale. You can do this by:
- Trying on clothes. Regularly trying on an item of clothing that doesn’t currently fit will show you if your body shape is changing
- Taking photos of yourself, showing as much skin as possible (yes, we know it’s confronting!) can be a powerful way to track your progress, and see how your body is changing, even if you can’t see it in the mirror. Our blog, “The power of body transformation photos” will explain how to make this work for you, and give you tips on how to take your photos.
- Taking body measurements (aka girth measurements) will also provide you with accurate feedback. If your body measurements (e.g. waist, hip, chest, etc.) are changing, that means your body is changing too.
- Measuring your body composition. You can also measure the amount of body fat and muscle mass you have by having a body scan. If your muscle mass is increasing and fat mass is decreasing, then you’re definitely making progress and on the right track, regardless of what the scales may tell you.
Celebrate the building of new habits
Real, permanent weight loss will only happen if you build new habits. Instead of focusing on the scales and celebrating when they’re down, and falling into a depression when they go up, turn your focus to the lifestyle, habit and mindset changes that you’re making.
You might think that the above measures of success are unimportant if your ultimate goal is to lose weight, especially if you have lots of weight to lose. However, these are the things that will help you lose the weight, and keep it off forever. This will mean no more dieting, no more worrying about what you look like, no more dreaded shopping for clothes, and no more obsessing over food. Instead, you’ll finally have the freedom and confidence to live the life you’ve always dreamed of.
Many believe that to achieve big things their actions have to involve big things. But the most powerful are the things that most people think don’t matter. For example, going to bed an hour earlier, eating a few more vegetables, or going for a walk may not seem like they’ll make much difference to your weight loss. However, if repeated consistently over time, they will have a huge impact. Our blog “The snow ball effect : Why small things add up to big weight loss” will explain this more.
For now though, let’s just say that every time you celebrate one of your smaller ‘non-scale’ wins, you make it more likely that you’ll repeat that action again, which will lead to greater consistency, improved habits, and better results. You’ll also feel proud of yourself, instead of worthless and ashamed, which will also motivate you to keep making progress, even if the scales don’t seem to move.
Because the truth is, if you focus on your habits and changing your body composition, the weight loss will take care of itself.
Track your weight loss a better way
If you’d like to finally be free of the scales and the negative head talk that happens every time you step on them, we can help you. We can help you see the power in the small things, especially when you feel progress is slow, so you’ll never feel like you’re struggling with weight loss again.
We can show you how you can be proud of yourself no matter what the scales say. And we can guarantee that if you trust the process, and let go of the scales as a way to measure success, you’ll achieve success more easily and quickly than you would if you focused on the scales alone.
If you’re ready to change your life, we want to hear from you. We can help you understand the habits you need to work on, provide you with a structured, personalised program, and provide you the accountability in order to succeed.