How are you tracking your progress? Do you solely rely on the number on the scale as an indicator of your success? Weight loss is unpredictable and can fluctuate daily depending on various factors such as hormones, salt intake, fluid intake and digestion. Fat loss is a lot more predictable however it is not as easy to accurately track yourself.
I know how dis-heartening it can be to do everything perfectly one week only to step on the scales and see no change or worse - your weight has gone up! Look at the graph below; point 3 on the weight loss line is where a lot of us would claim the diet wasn’t working and give up.
Yes, the scales are important however they should never be the only indicator of progress on your fat loss or muscle gain journey! It is essential that we use other methods in addition to the scales in order to track progress. I recommend tracking the following alongside weight:
1. Body composition - Pound for pound muscle weighs more than fat. Weight may therefore increase even though aesthetically you will look leaner. Take weekly progress pictures and compare them when weight-loss plateaus. You may be astonished at the changes!
2. Mood - The saying “eat crap feel crap” is true. We all have days where our mood is low, and we lack motivation however eating a shed load of cake and biscuits isn’t going to make us feel any better! Instead, think about why you are feeling the way you are and address the issue instead of turning to food.
For females, your menstrual cycle can affect the number on the scale. My weight canfluctuate between 1-3kg! This is not fat gain but a result of fluctuations in hormones and subsequent water retention. My advice is to anticipate this and not to stress when it happens.
3. Sleep - Nutrition and sleep are closely related. We all know what it feels like to have a poor night’s sleep. When we sleep our body secretes hormones, which facilitate growth and repair. If we get a poor night’s sleep it can affect recovery (Dattilo et al., 2011) and undermine weight loss effort (Nedeltcheva et al., 2010). When we are tired our body instinctively seeks energy through food, and foods which provide instant energy tend to be high in sugar. We also tend to move around less to save energy when tired. Try tracking your sleep using an app like ‘Sleep Cycle’ or keep a sleep journal noting what affects your sleep.
4. Performance in the gym - Are your lifts going up and your metcon times going down? This is progress! Track your performance using either your gym’s programming software (e.g Wodfiy) or keep a training diary.
5. Recovery from exercise - A diet containing adequate protein comprising a variety of sources, e.g. chicken, eggs, fish, red meat, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds aids in recovery and helps to facilitate muscle growth / repair following exercise.
Are your DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) reducing? Do you feel like you can push harder through workouts even after a gruelling session? You may not have considered this as progress, but it is!
6. Confidence - Putting on an item of clothing on that was once too tight or receiving compliments from a friend is a testament to progress! We all know the difference a compliment can make to our day therefore accept compliments graciously as evidence of your excellent progress, and don’t be afraid to give them out to other people to let them know their hard work and consistency is paying off!
7. Skin - Maintaining hydration and having a well-balanced diet full of micronutrients (fruit and vegetables) can potentially improve skin quality and complexion. Look back on progress pictures to pick up on subtle changes in complexion.
The list speaks for itself; don’t get hung up on a number and let it ruin all of your hard work! If weight loss plateaus then don’t panic - stay consistent with your nutrition and look at some of the other markers to help monitor the progress you are making. The seven factors listed are also far more than just indicators for weight loss / gain – they are markers for improvement in overall health and general well-being.