Weighing scales absolutely serve a purpose, and have been used to conveniently measure ‘fatness’ for decades. However, they are a blunt instrument for measuring body recomposition and only tell a small part of the story…
Our Obsession With the Scales
Society and media have allowed there to be such an obsession on bodyweight, because it’s straight forward and easy to grasp. And whilst things like BMI help measure the level of obesity across big demographics, on an individual level these stats do more harm than good and lead to a prickly emotional relationship with weight.
I’ve been there! The scales show a drop and you have a sense of pride and celebration. You look in the mirror and are sure you see the difference. But if the scales go up from one day to the next, it throws you off your game, frustration kicks in and you question your plan, or worse, your misbehaving body.
But here’s the thing. Weighing yourself offers a really useful metric to managing or transforming your physique. It’s key piece to the story, and if used objectively allows you to see cause and effect between your diet, exercise and bodyweight. But it’s only a small part of the story…
Moreover, the value in bodyweight measurements is NOT in the day-to-day shifts, but in the trend line over a period of weeks. Daily measurements help tell the best story if you zoom out and see the direction your body is travelling in, versus all the lefts and rights it takes.
Where Weighing Scales Drop The Ball
The reason why it’s time to decouple your sole-reliance on the bathroom scales is that your daily and monthly bodyweight fluctuations can be extreme, random and without clear reason.
The scales don’t report on how much fat has been gained or lost from day to day. Instead you get the sum of all the parts, and body fat change is usually a tiny part, if any.
Here are the things at a high level that change your body weight, in some cases by several pounds from day-to-day:
- Sodium – Potassium Ratio – These two electrolytes found throughout much of your daily food consumption control how much water is retained within your cells and outside of your cells. The shifts occur not by the volume of each, but in the changes in the ratio. Worth noting, but not worth the average person trying to manipulate for weight management purposes.
- Muscle Glycogen Storage – Your muscles store readily available glucose in the form of glycogen to help with spontaneous and sustained movement. With the glycogen, comes 4x water molecules. As you eat and work out, your stores will ebb and flow.
- Creatine Stores – Similar to the above, muscle Creatine levels support the level of stored muscle energy for hard contractile force movements and exercise. Creatine is also accompanied with water. Creatine levels ebb and flow.
- Fullness of your Gut – Simply stated, there is always going to be digested food matter in your body that hasn’t been fully processed and eliminated. So, regularity of toilet visits, stress, how much you ate, fibre intake and generally the composition of your food will cause variations in how much is within your GI tract at any given point.
- Menstrual Cycle – For menstruating women, no two days are the same in terms of hormonal balance, and this can have a major impact on water retention and body weight. The most important thing to note however, is that those changes are not body fat changes, unless of course the hormonal shifts are causing you to excessively overeat for a number of days.
- Carb Consumption – unless you keep your carb intake steady and to the same sources everyday, you will find that a big carb day will result in increased bodyweight the day after. It’s causes much of the above describes storage mechanisms. It’s not fat weight, unless you sizeably over consumed.
- Other Water Retention – The body is too complex to get into all the mechanisms here, but there are a number of other ways to signal to the body to shift its retention of water molecules from one day to the next, including things such as sleep quality.
- Muscle Growth/Loss – This needs to be factored in too. Whilst changes day-to-day will be negligible, just like body fat changes, muscle growth will contribute to the trend line in body weight over time.
- More/Less Body Fat – Yes, this is of course a component too, but you need to put in context. To gain a pound of body fat, you need to eat approximately 3,500 calories more than you burn. And unless you have been extremely glutinous and keep piling food in all day, putting on a pound of fat in a day is unheard of. Think more 0 – 0.5lbs, with the upper extreme being a major blow out.
So as you see, it’s near on impossible to get a sense of fat gain by comparing scale measurements from one day to the next. But over time, yes, the scales will help paint a rough picture of body fat increases or losses.
Instead, Track Success With These Measurements
Ok, so you’re going to weigh-in as frequently as possible, ideally every morning. Take a note of the number, tap it into your app (e.g. Happy Scale / MyNetDiary), and then forget about it. No more emotional attachment, or reading too much into it.
In addition, and more importantly, if you want to transform and recompose your body into the best shape of your life, then you’ll want to take notice of some or all of these. And remember, getting ‘the body’ in it’s own right is not going to make you happy. Feeling great and a sense of vitality will move the needle in bigger ways, so let’s observe these areas too.
How You Look
After all, changing our body shape is for you to look in the mirror and love what you see, and in turn feel great about yourself.
This is an obvious one, but look for progress in the mirror. Do you seem less puffy? Is the belly fat starting to subside? Does your stomach look flatter, or your shape changing?
How about firmness? A little less jiggle, and you can pinch a little less fat across different parts of your body.
What about muscle tone? Can you see more definition and separation of the major muscle groups? If you’re getting leaner, are you starting to see bicep definition, leg definition and the abs starting to take shape?
How are your clothes fitting? Getting a little looser?
To make this more objective, it’s worth taking underwear photos from time to time, so you can see the difference. Think about same/similar underwear, same mirror, similar time of the day, same lighting and consistent posture between shots.
SUGGESTED FREQUENCY: Once every 2-4 weeks
If you want more specific and measurable feedback, using a tape measure and some body fat callipers are really handy.
It’s your call if you want this level of measurement. For me, I personally do, but that’s mainly because I have specific goals and they involve building up proportional muscle mass. You can see my measurement logging in 2019 W5, 2018 W32 & Body Targets of my Body & Mind Progress Journals.
Which parts of your body you measure again is up to you, based on the areas you want to see the changes. You’ll see in my measurements, I cover off all the major ones – Shoulders, Chest, Arms, Waist, Hips, Thighs and Calves.
Measuring body fat percentage at home is pretty straight forward. You can buy cheap Body Fat Calliper and Measuring Tape combos, such as this one from AccuFitness that I use, and you take three skin fold measurements at chest/arms, abdomen and thigh. The electronic Callipers use a formula to give you an overall body fat percentage.
The key thing about body measurements is consistency. The callipers can throw out wildly different results based on how you use them, so some practice is needed. Same with the tapes. – if you’re going to measure your waist in a relaxed state, make sure to do that the same way every time, across the same line.
And one last thing here. Expect to not be 100% accurate. That does not matter. You are trying to measure personal progress, versus compare yourself against others. So, just be consistent with how you use these tools, and don’t fret about your numbers versus the guy on Instagram.
SUGGESTED FREQUENCY: Once every couple months
Here, we’re talking about mostly about calories. Nutrients and macronutrients absolutely matter too, but that’s more of a conscious awareness with your choices versus needing to measure to any great degree.
By managing to a calorie and protein goal, as well as maximising nutrient density – you’ll be able to track this leading indicator of physical change. Weight WILL change if you are consistent with being in a deliberate Calorie Surplus or Calorie Deficit.
You can read more on tracking, goal setting and nutrient priorities within these pieces of content:
- Losing Body Fat For Good 3-Part Article Series (part 2 & 3)
- Losing Body Fat For Good 3-Part Podcast Series (part 2 & 3)
- The Ladies Break The Mould Body Plan 5-Part Article Series (part 3)
SUGGESTED FREQUENCY: Every day, as close to consumption as possible *
* You may build up intuition in time, which is great, or you may have a very repeatable eating habit. Just know the gold standard to managing weight off is to track your intake.
If you’re working out, which is always recommended if you want to create a physique that looks good naked, then tracking your strength progress is another leading indicator. Perhaps the most important set of metrics for transforming your physique and feeling great about the function of your body.
So, you need to know your numbers, and zero in your efforts to making weekly progress. The term to get familiar with is Progressive Overload, which is the foundation from which muscles develop and grow.
This podcast is a great introduction into Progressive Overload
In terms of tools of choice, I really like the HeavySet App on iOS, as it helps track, visualise and determine how to progress across reps, sets and weight. Plus, as an awesome bonus, all the #HyperWorkouts Training Blocks can be imported into the app with just a lick of a button! You need to give it a go.
SUGGESTED FREQUENCY: Within every Weight Training session
Quality of Sleep
Sleep will impact your weight in a number of ways. Lack of sleep will amplify food cravings and limit your rational decision making when it comes to food choices. It also can impact water retention and digestion. Moreover, to develop muscles and generally recover so you can train effectively at each session, you need to be rested mentally and physically.
So, building muscle, managing stress and generally feeling awesome requires sleep to be prioritised, with no exceptions. Take some time to monitor your sleep through both your feelings and technology.
To understand the importance of sleep, the impacts of sleep deprivation, and get some great tips, here’s a couple of great resources:
From a feeling perspective, observe how you feel as soon as you wake up. Was it a forced awakening? Are you groggy or fresh? Out of 10, how much energy do you feel you have to put into your day?
It’s subjective for sure, but you cannot underestimate how you feel. It’s the ultimate metric. If you feel great and refreshed, you’ll have a great day, a brilliant workout and you’ll make better decisions with greater willpower.
If you want some data on your sleep, there are a number of ways to get a sense of your sleep quality and duration. I say sense, because unless you want to stick electrodes to your head, all the tech available today is approximating your sleep quality based on other body measurements such as heart rate, body temperature, heart rate, movement and even sound.
The tools I have used are below – there are plenty of others. I am currently using the Oura Ring as my primary sleep tracker as it’s the most elegant and effective, and I use the Sleep Cycle app to help wake me up when I’m most likely to feel refreshed (i.e. lightest sleep):
SUGGESTED FREQUENCY: Nightly, with some nights off to distance yourself from the data
How You Feel
There’s no better feedback than how you feel.
How are your mood and energy levels throughout the day? Are you more resilient, positive and fired up today versus yesterday? This is the true expression of health.
Your body will tell you if you’re in a good place. Across nutrition, exercise, sleep, your mental game, rest and internal wellbeing. We’re soo keen to get external feedback of our bodies and how we are showing up, but if we could stop and listen to what our bodies are saying we would know the answer.
It’s a skill that takes practice, but in time you’ll get a sense of how well you are performing on your diet, food choices and lifestyle.
If you feel great and have had an awesome day, take some time to reflect on your actions that created that outcome. What did you eat? How much? What exercise routine did you do? What were your focussed on? How were your interactions and relationships?
I’m sure there are tools to track your sense of wellbeing and happiness, but I personally don’t have any familiarity with them. Take a look on the App Store and Google to see if any systems resonate with you.
Some people swear by simple journalling, either first thing in the morning, or before going to bed. I personally get so much value in journalling, but my reasons are different – in part fueling the AdapNation mission.
SUGGESTED FREQUENCY: Daily, Morning and night. Perhaps jot them down – your call
Do you regularly suffer with symptoms associated with conditions of fatigue, disease or sensitivities?
For example, is gas and bloating a common occurrence? Or, are you chronically tired and lethargic? Or, do you fatigues muscles, ongoing aches and pains, libido issues or raging hanger?
Without realising, you may have accepted a bunch of symptoms as normal and part of life, when in actual fact it was your body giving you feedback that something needs to change in your lifestyle.
I’ve been there, with much of the above. Not realising that I was beating myself into the ground and thinking that how I felt was normal for my age. Now I know better, and the contrast is like night and day!
Here are a couple of resources that help you reflect on whether you may be less than optimal, without realising:
The guidance is to expect to feel energised, pain free, symptom free and raring to go. That’s the state that you can absolutely be in, but it takes time to right some wrongs, especially if those habits have been happening over a long period of time.
When you change your diet, for example, how does it feel? A little less gas perhaps? Is your hanger starting to subside? Are you feeling more energetic even though you are eating less food?
How about your skin, hair and general vibrancy? What about the bags under your eyes? How about your regularity of going to the toilet, or even your libido?
It’s definitely worth being mindful of how you feel. More often than not, these issues are self induced through lifestyle, diet and exercise. If you change aspects of nutrition and exercise, don’t just think about the weighing scale and body shape, but also observe if you are inching towards thriving, vs surviving.
For some, especially those who are acutely aware of chronic symptoms such as digestion issues, it can productive to jot down symptom severity from one day to the next. This can be powerful, as it helps identify what factors improve or worsen the condition(s).
SUGGESTED FREQUENCY: Daily, or as often as you notice an obvious decline / improvement
With Measurement, You Can Manage & Optimise
Transforming your body and your life is a process. Incremental daily change. The changes can be extreme and incredible, but unless you take time to acknowledge the changes, you may be oblivious to progress you’re making.
What I’m not saying is that you must become a data scientist and live in spreadsheets. Far from it. That’s no fun, and ultimately life is for living in the now, versus always planning for another day when things will be ‘better’.
The point is that there is much much more than the weighing scale weight to determine your progress as you transition into your best version of yourself.
Use what makes sense for your personality, circumstance and goals. But whatever you do, pay attention to the daily, weekly and monthly wins. These wins are like rocket fuel that keep you going and reaching for greater heights.
We all need messages of reinforcement as we pursue challenging goals that require hard work over a long period of time. So, take the wins when you can and celebrate!
Follow this and other topic areas in our PT Corner as they unfold, as well as the AdapNation Food Diary for healthy meal inspiration and AdapNation’s #HyperWorkouts for free training plans. Comment if you have questions or ideas.