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Numbers Lie: The Best Methods to Measure Weight Loss Progress (Besides The Scale)

The Scale.  It’s hard not to be obsessed.  The lower the number, the better we feel about ourselves.  However, the scale is not a reliable indicator of health, our self worth, or even our weight loss progress.  

Maybe this sounds familiar:  You try losing weight, you eat well, you hit the gym on a regular schedule. The issue is that when you step on the scale, your number isn’t any lower– it may even have gone up. 

For most dieters, this is the breaking point. However, I’m here to tell you that not only are these short term fluctuations normal, but they often don’t impact your long term fat loss. 

Weight loss progress should be determined by changes in not only scale weight, but also body measurements, the fit of your clothing, and comparing progress pictures. Read on to learn more about the best methods to measure weight loss progress besides the scale.

The Chemistry of Weight Gain 

In more cases than not, short-term weight gain during a diet is due to small fluctuations in the body’s nutritional composition. 

One of these shifts occur when your sodium intake is too high. Because sodium retains water, a high-sodium diet will make your body retain water weight, sometimes up to several pounds. 

On the other hand, if you’re eating a high quantity of carbs, your body begins to store them in a compound called glycogen. These glycogen stores, similar to sodium, retain water which can increase your overall body weight.

Rule Out Biology

Another main cause of short-term weight gain is due to the natural cycles our body goes through on a regular basis.

For women, a large culprit is our menstrual cycle. During the luteal phase of our cycle (after ovulation but before menses) our bodies are prone to retain water.  Combine this with feeling tired, irritable, or craving unhealthy foods, and it’s common to see a rise in the scale number.

Alternatively, having irregular bowel movements can also contribute to intermittent weight gain. If you haven’t gone #2 recently, you might be carrying around those few extra pounds in your large intestine.

Finally, there are many neurobiological factors that can cause weight gain. High stress or lack of sleep can affect our hormones (cortisol, ghrelin and/or leptin), ultimately leading to changes in appetite. For some individuals, these appetite changes may cause overeating and cravings for junk food.

Measure Progress, Not Weight 

Now that we know a little bit about the reasons why short-term weight fluctuation is a challenge, we can start focusing on other tools to measure our progress. 

While the scale is an excellent tool to give us data, it doesn’t provide us with the full picture of our progress. This is because your progress is more than just your weight. 

For instance, if you are incorporating exercise into your weight loss plan, you may be working on building muscle and losing fat. In cases such as these, your scale number might be slow to move, but your overall tone and muscularity will change drastically. 

Below are a few suggestions on how to use alternative measurements as a way of tracking progress. 

Circumference Measurements

Taking waistline circumference measurements is a valuable tool for many reasons. 

Being aware of your waist circumference gives us valuable information about where we are in our weight loss progress. This is because for many women who begin building lean muscle, they may start to get slimmer without actually shedding any pounds. 

In addition to giving us a benchmark for success, our waistline contains valuable information about our health. Studies show that if people store most of their weight in their mid-section, they are at a higher risk for obesity-related illness. For women, try to keep your waistline below 35 inches, as recommended by experts.

When taking circumference measurements, measure using a soft tape measure. Relax your body. Don’t flex or hold your breath. Take your measurements at the same time of day each time.

How Your Clothing Fits

As you lose fat, it’s likely the fit of your clothing will change. This makes clothing fit another tool for determining your progress during times of weight stagnation. 

To make sure you are tracking your fit consistently, designate a dress or pair of pants that you will use every time you check in. Assess how differently the same garment fits you over the course of your weight loss and you will likely notice a big difference from beginning to end!

If you’ve lost weight, don’t be afraid to purchase a few new pieces of clothing. There’s nothing good or celebratory about wearing frumpy oversized clothes!  If you are feeling less than a 10/10, you don’t have to go for broke…. hit up the consignment store, Target, or Old Navy, and score a few items that fit you well and make you feel great!

And while we’re on the topic of clothing, I’m going to stand on my soapbox for a minute.  If your body has changed, regardless if it’s from gains in the gym or the quarantine-15, you deserve to look and feed good in your clothing.  

Side by Side Progress Pictures

This can be the most exhilarating… and unnerving tool for women losing weight. We might not feel comfortable with our appearances in the beginning of our weight loss, but as you retake your photos each month and see the change over time, it becomes well worth the initial discomfort. 

Just like measuring clothing fit, consistency is key. Take pictures that show your entire body with at least one photo of each side – front, back, left, and right.  Wear as little clothing as possible – a swimsuit works best–  and be sure to wear the same swimsuit each time. 

Pro Tip: take progress photos once a month while using the same pose, lighting, and background.

Want more help? Enter your name and email below and I’ll send you a free PDF with step by step instructions.

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Conclusion

While the scale is an excellent tool to provide us with data, but it doesn’t provide us with the full picture of our diet success, or define our self worth.

Weight loss progress should be determined by changes in not only scale weight, but also body measurements, the fit of your clothing, and comparing progress pictures. Progress in any one of these areas is still progress!

And if you’re not progressing the way you think you should, that’s simply more information to step back and address what we can do better.  For those moments, I have free content on how to simplify fat loss, weight loss plateaus, in addition to free educational materials through my 5-Day challenge.

Whether you chose to read up, subscribe, or even reach out, there are resources available to help you get back on track! The best news? Most of them are just a few clicks away.

Stop weighing yourself: try these better ways to measure weight loss success. | emiliehansennutrition.com

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