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So you’ve embarked on a fat loss journey and you’ve decided to weigh yourself once a week to see how you are tracking. Well, what does that number on the scale tell you? Ultimately, all it tells you is how much you weigh, and weight loss is defined by “a body’s relative mass or the quantity of matter contained by it, giving rise to a downward force; or the heaviness of a person or thing.”

What does the number on the scale mean?

The scale on the bathroom floor was designed to determine how much downward force you exert. It was not designed to tell you how healthy you are or to determine what matter that downward force is made up of. It also wasn’t designed to tell you what caused the difference between last week’s 145 pounds and this week’s 150. But for some reason when we see an increase on the scale, we assume it is bad.

The biggest misconception in weight loss

Unfortunately for most of us, when we make the decision to start exercising healthy it stems from the desire to lose weight. So we set our goals based on ‘weight loss, which is measured by – you guessed it – the scale. But herein lies the issue. When we decide to lose weight, we need to be specific. Chances are we don’t want to lose muscle or tissue, or fluid or organs or limbs to lose weight, we want to lose FAT. So what we ultimately want is FAT loss, but the scale doesn’t determine what it is that we’re losing. However, when the scale starts to fluctuate, we think a shift in fat is the culprit when in actuality there are many factors that contribute to the amount of downward force that we exert, so we cannot set our goals based on this performance matrix alone.

The science behind weight loss

There is a lot more going on in our bodies than we are aware of. For example, did you know that for every gram of glycogen (the body’s stored form of glucose) you store, you store approximately 3-4 grams of water with it? So let’s do the math – if you eat 500 grams of carbs throughout the day, it shouldn’t be a shock for you to wake up the next morning weighing 1.5 – 2 kilos more. Is this made up of fat? No. Is this made up of water and glycogen? Yes. So what else factors into weight variance? Well aside from water retention caused by carboHYDRATES (see what I did there?), water can also be stored if you consume a lot of sodium. This is especially relevant if you are stressed. If someone is really stressed, it can push more sodium into the cells, which amongst other things, results in edema (the swelling of cells). The opposite of this would obviously be dehydration. If you haven’t been drinking enough water to keep you hydrated, or if you have been following a low sodium, low carb diet, you will lose a lot of the water that those hold on to (side note – this is where you need to be careful with ‘cleanses’ or ‘detoxifications’ who are selling hopes and promises as opposed to healthy maintainable results).

Another monthly factor that contributes to temporary weight gain (not fat gain) is the female monthly cycle – women hold excess water during their cycle so the scales are bound to reflect that.

What you need to measure instead of bodyweight to track your progress:

What keeps a lot of us motivated when we’re on a health and fitness journey is positive feedback. It’s one of the most important components of long-term motivation and we usually seek it out via a performance metric that directly relates to your ultimate goal, such as a number on the scale.  Knowing you are heading in the right direction is vital to you staying on the path you’re on. So what other measures, aside from the scale, can you take to ensure that you are heading to where you want to go?

1. How your clothes fit: There is such a thing as changing the shape and size of your body without changing how much you weigh. However, that being said, be careful of the laundering of your clothes. For example, drying jeans can shrink them, giving you a false form of feedback.

2. How you feel: This is the most important measure of all. Who cares what the scale reads if you feel confident and comfortable in your own skin? You are not defined by a number. Success in training is much more than your weight loss.

3. Circumference Measurements: This is similar to how your clothes fit. It is possible for your circumference measurements to drop without affecting the scale.

4. Pictures: If you want to get leaner, this is one of the most powerful measurements you can use – visual measurements. Because we see ourselves every day, and because we can be so self-critical, it’s important to take progress photos to compare to when you started. I can guarantee you will be startled at the difference.

5. Fitness Levels: If you could do something you couldn’t do two weeks ago, that is a great achievement in itself and you’re on the right track to heading to where you want to be physical. If you learn to love the process, the results you want will come.

6. Strength: Similar to fitness levels, if your strength is improving, you are recruiting more of your muscle fibers and growing more – which means more muscle which will help turn your body into a fat-burning machine!

7. Body Fat Amount: We have seen many cases where females have lost (for example) only 3 kilos on the scale but gained 2 kilos of muscle. What that means is that they have ultimately lost 5 kilos of fat. Be careful to not go off body fat percentage as this is a ratio and dependent on other factors in your body, whereas the amount of body fat you are holding is not. DEXA scans are great for determining this.

What do you do with this information?

If you’re embarking on a ‘fat loss’ journey, we advise you not to use the scales to determine your success this. What is important is the overall trend of your weight loss journey. There are going to be ups and downs due to the factors outlined above, so the ultimate message is not to let an increase in weight deter you, demotivate you, or dishearten you. It’s going to happen and it’s not because what you are doing isn’t the right thing. If you are following a safe and smart exercise program, together with eating whole and healthy foods, you need to be assured the fact that you are doing your body nothing but good and an increase on the scales shouldn’t waiver that knowledge. Stick to it and you will get to where you want to be. It won’t happen instantly, but it WILL happen.

Contact OBF Gyms for a complimentary assessment to get started with one of our trainers today!