So you’re trying to lose weight?
I can relate: I’m nearing an end of a fat loss phase myself.
This is not my first rodeo with weight loss. I’m 41 and have been through quite a few different approaches throughout my life. Some of them have reflected a healthy mindset. Others, not so much.
I’ve written extensively on how our body composition shouldn’t define our self worth: within the greater scope of stuff that matters in life, it’s pretty small. But still, for either health or aesthetic reasons, fat loss has its place. So let’s talk about what to reasonably expect.
Today, I’m sharing with you what I instill in my own clients: the big picture of weight loss.
The big picture perspective is what takes the most time to develop and appreciate when tackling any major life change. For fat loss, the perspective emerges once we gain knowledge of how weight loss actually works and once we can also allow ourselves to trust the process.
Most of my clients seek me out because they want to improve both their overall fitness as well as their body composition. So I get them started. Many of them track their calories initially. Some of them use habit-based strategies instead. But what they all do is send me a log of their daily scale weight.
Why Daily Weight?
As you’ll see in a minute, your weight on any given day changes. I want clients to lose at a moderate pace: fat loss is more sustainable and enjoyable (with some cookies) when we choose a modest deficit. So scale weight from week to week won’t change dramatically. If I look at a weight on a “heavy” day, it might not truly reflect what’s going on.
But Isn’t Scale Weight Useless?
Maybe. Maybe not. First of all, let’s distinguish two common uses of scale weight:
1. A data tool for determining overall health (as in BMI calculations).
2. A way to measure progress for fat loss.
When we speak about scale weight, tracking that number can be useful to measure as a source of progress if a person has a fairly significant amount of weight to lose. Yet once we become leaner, scale weight isn’t as useful for determining a healthy body composition: especially if you’re athletic and muscular, utilizing statistical formulas for healthy weight can be rather useless. Charts and BMI calculations don’t factor in things such as significant muscle mass. One might argue that using something like hip to waist ratio could be a more telling indicator of obesity-related health risks.
However, let’s focus on the second use of scale weight. Using your number on the scale is a measure – but not the only or most important measure of progress for fat loss. It tells part of the story. It’s just not the whole story.
With that said, here’s what often happens a week or two into clients’ programs:
Their weight initially goes down. And then it goes up. That’s when the shit hits the fan in everyone’s heads when they’re starting a fat loss program.
I then often receive an email like this: “My weight is up! I’m going to eat 1200 calories today. (Or do extra workouts.)”
Or I hear frustration. Especially when the scale doesn’t move for an entire week. (I feel for you, by the way. It’s annoying as hell until you develop your perspective.) That’s when understanding the factors that affect scale weight become useful.
Things that Impact Your Scale Weight
1.Your actual body weight… i.e. fat, skin, bone, muscles. Duh, right?
2. How much water you’re holding. Things like big meals with a lot of salt or extra carbs can make you hold more water. But it’s not fat, so chill out.
3.What you did the day before – this is purely anecdotal, but after leg day, my scale weight usually spikes a bit.
4. How much poop you have in you.
5. Hormones – I can tell when Aunt Flo is about to arrive from the big bounce up on the scale. As soon as I’m a day or so into my cycle, my weight drops down lower than it was the week before my period.
This is why having multiple markers of progress is so important with a body composition goal. Here are things that my clients measure that help them become them less fixated on what the scale tells them.
1. Progress pictures
3. Weights lifted/running speed – performance related goals that boost our morale and make the fitness journey not just about getting leaner.
4. How our clothes fit.
Scale Weight Progress Isn’t Linear
I stayed up late last night charting my progress from mid June until now. Yeah, I lead a very exciting life of late-night reheated coffee and excel spreadsheets! I nerded out on the data though, so check this out.
I have my own coach for my strength and nutrition programming: even coaches benefit from having a coach, and it’s a huge relief to have support and fresh insight. I regularly email him my weight, and it amused me to go back through early emails and see how damn impatient I was.
Even knowing all the science behind weight loss and having a healthy mindset, I got antsy – maybe even whiny. Fortunately, my coach was able to point out the obvious on the days where I felt stuck. Perspective is grand, isn’t it?
As time went on and I accumulated more scale data, I could easily see the downward trend. But during each week, my weight would fluctuate up and down by two or three pounds on a regular basis. Here is where seeing the visual reminder helps us take a deep breath and appreciate the process.
Looking at Trends
Even though we may rationally know all those things, looking at our weight from day to day can be initially frustrating. Yet if we can see a visible display of our weight data, we will be able to more clearly determine if the trend is moving in the direction we want it too. You see it on that chart too, right?
The day to day shows ups and down, but the line is clearly moving downward. That is what normal, healthy weight loss looks like.
Here is another visual of what that progress looks like over a 6 month span.
What it required:
1. Consistency: I had very few “yolo” days. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my favorite treats or indulge in yummy dinners on special occasions. Instead of seeing the process as being either on or off the wagon, I kicked the wagon to the curb and decided that most of the time, I’d implement the same strategies I use with clients: I found ways to fit my favorite things into my life without sacking my daily nutritional goals.
2. Patience: there was no dramatic 6 week change. This is a 6 month change. I built muscle and strength, which doesn’t happen overnight. It’s crazy how fast the time went though! I also enjoyed life a lot more by not reducing calories dramatically for most of the fat loss phase.
3. Skills: I was at an advantage because I came into this last phase having an arsenal of skills and habits that encourage fat loss: tracking, knowing how to build a healthy meal, meal prep (as I share in Fat Loss on a Budget), as well as strategies for getting through tough days. These take time to master, one by one.
4. Perspective. This: what I wrote about today. It is a critical component to keep us on track and stay sane. It allowed me to understand what the process really looks like. Perspective helped prevent shame and guilt on days that were less than perfect. That bred consistency. Funny how they all feed each other, eh?
5. Support. Having a coach made all the difference in the world. This is someone who provides a space that enables you to discover more about why you’re stuck and helps you come up with your own solutions that both get you to your destination and fit your life. When I did that mental work, it transformed me on the inside too. And that is truly special.
If you have your own fitness journey to share, leave a comment below.
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