Scale Got You Down? 4 Motivating Ways to Measure Your Progress

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Scale Got You Down? 4 Motivating Ways to Measure Your Progress

I was at a bar with a fellow coach once, and a man asked us, “What’s the fastest way to lose 15 pounds?” My colleague replied, “A hacksaw.”

Feedback is vital on any health and fitness journey, and, according to 50 years of psychology research, feedback is one of the most important components of long-term motivation. A performance metric, such as the number you see when you step on the scale, is a kind of feedback—it provides an objective way of seeing how you’re doing, let’s you know if you are headed in the right direction, and can help to keep you motivated.

However, even performance metrics that seem to provide the right kind of feedback for a specific goal can fail. The best performance metrics are relevant, reliable, and trackable, and, much like using a hacksaw to lose weight, scales don’t always make sense.

That scale on your bathroom floor is a tool that was designed to guess how many atoms you have. That’s all it does. It uses a spring or a coil of wire to estimate how many atoms make up your body based on how the Earth’s gravity affects that spring when you stand on it. It can swing 8 pounds in a day, remain completely fixed for months, and—most detrimental of all—it can leave you feeling frustrated when you’ve been doing everything right to get to your real goals!


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But what are your “real goals?” I start my client assessments by asking a simple, but often-hard question: “What do you want?” Not “What have you been told to want,” not “What do you want from me,” but “What do you want from you—your body, your time, your effort, and your focus?” The answers to this question vary. I’ve heard everything from “I want to play with my kids” and “I want to feel better,” to “I want to look better naked.” But not a single person has ever said anything about atoms.

A scale doesn’t measure how strong you’re getting, how much better you feel, or if you can play hide-and-seek for hours. The number of atoms we have in our body usually has nothing to do with what we actually want, making your weight on that scale a terrible performance metric. Here are some better ones:

Take pictures If what you want is to look better in a swimsuit, in a pair of jeans, or even naked, take before and after pictures. The number on your scale can remain stubbornly fixed due to water retention and hormone fluctuations—even as your clothes begin to hang better on your body and you start to look slimmer in the mirror. Rather than hopping on the scale every Monday, whip out a camera phone and take a selfie instead.

Use a tape measure I’ve had clients come to me after consistently losing weight for a year and says, verbatim, “I need a new plan. I stopped losing weight, even though my waist is getting smaller.” If your waist or hip measurements, the circumference at the widest points, are going down, you are losing fat—which is usually someone’s actual goal, and possibly replacing it with muscle weight. Just keep doing what you’re doing and throw away your scale.

Play with your kids (or grandkids!) If your goal is to be able to play with your little ones without getting tired, set a time to play with them every week. If it’s getting easier to do week after week, then you’re making progress! You can even keep track of how easy it is in MyFitnessPal by writing yourself a note like, “Played with grandkids today. Was a 2 on a scale of 10, with 10 being the hardest!”

Keep track of what you’re doing When it comes to the human body, only bad things happen quickly (like injuries). Good things take time, and always more time than we think they should. Keeping track of healthy things you are doing, like eating colorful vegetables at every meal and walking daily, is the best way to see if you’re doing what you actually need to be to reach your goals. Every great athlete keeps a training log. Every pilot keeps a flight log. When you start doubting yourself, just look at all the little things you’re doing and remind yourself you’re on the right track! You just have to keep moving forward!

Give some thought to what you actually want and then figure out the best way to track your progress. I doubt you’ll care too much about how many atoms you have, and I bet you’ll find there are better tools for reaching your goals than a scale or a hacksaw.

What’s your goal and what are you using to measure your progress? Share in the comments below!


ResolutionResetSquareMORE TO HELP YOUR #RESOLUTIONRESET

Reset Your Resolution
The Simplest Plan for Successful Weight Loss
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  • guest1

    I want to lose the weight I have gained (24lb), since Christmas.. not because of over-eating but because of all the pain relief medication I am now taking due to just being diagnosed with brain lesions. I have to keep taking them or I can’t function, let alone work, but now my clothes are tight and uncomfortable.this thing is not going to beat me so I’ve decided I have to get as fit as possible whilst waiting to find out what treatment I shall be needing. 12 days in and I’m 3lb lighter. Hope I can keep it going in the right direction.

    • Suzi True

      I also take lots of pain meds n stuff to keep me alive but have decided to loose weight to feel as healthy as I can. Hope you get good news. Take care n keep at it. You’ll look better than ever by next Christmas x

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  • Jocelyn Mendriski Proto

    This is perfect timing. I’ve been watching my diet and working out, harder than I have in the past, for 5 weeks now. The scale has hardly moved. It’s so frustrating. But I’m seeing clothes fit better, and my husband says he sees a difference. I’m trying to focus on that, because that’s what really matters, not a number on a scale.

  • guest

    Thank you so much for this. It’s easy to get frustrated by a number that doesn’t move on the scale, since society focuses so much on weight. It’s good to hear a reminder to pay attention to other indicators that are just as meaningful.

  • Stan

    This is a great help thanks, was just chatting to my daughters about how I have ‘hit a wall’ after losing over 10kg, despite following, and in some cases improving on, the same regime! I won’t worry so much about the scales (should never have bought the darn things anyway, first time in 60 years I have owned scales!!), cheers

  • tabbitha1968

    This article was just what I needed to read. In the past year I have lost 77lbs, but due to faulty thinking I tend to focus on where Im going instead of where I am and what I have accomplished. Thanks for reminding me that its not all about the numbers, they are just atoms!!!

    • Coach Stevo

      Congrats on all your success! All you have to do is keep moving forward!

    • Coach Stevo

      Congrats on all your success! All you have to do is keep moving forward!

  • shirleygra

    6 stone loss in last 18 months:
    1. Faith: need for those months when scale doesn’t move and that in the long term weight loss will average out at 1/2 – 2lbs a week if you do it sensibly.
    2. MFP progress tracker – if you feel stuck look back where you have come from and do some calculations to see what your average weekly weight loss has been.
    3. google calender – to plan ahead weight loss @ 1/2 lb per week – i put in new weight each Sunday up to achieving end goal. This gets you looking forward rather than focussing on being stuck. If you lose more then you have the fun, which also focusses your determination, of moving the future weights forward.
    4. tape measure – very useful to see where weight is coming off more quickly.
    5. online shop brands size guides to see where your new measurements put you size wise.
    6. some cheap skinny jeans at the next, or 2 next sizes you want to be. Try on monthly and see how closer the zip gets to closing. Take picture.
    7. selfies – take a selfie pic each time you put on smaller outfit. Is important to be able to look back on your progress and to also see how something you thought looked good, looks even better a little looser.
    8. Track body fat percentage loss. I have a scale that does this. I do monthly.

    • Coach Stevo

      Great advice! Would you mind if I quoted you for a followup article to this post that I am writing for next week?

    • Coach Stevo

      Great advice! Would you mind if I quoted you for a followup article to this post that I am writing for next week?

      • shirleygra

        Yes you are welcome.
        You could add to point six – You don’t have to buy the smaller size as you can have a lot of fun window shopping – ie just trying small sizes. You will learn what sizes in each brand is best for your new shape. If like me you lose masses of your biggest bit – for me this was my hips, you msy be surprised like me that where in the past my bottom half was a size bigger than my top, this has now reversed.

        You could add extra point – in your own shortened version if you wish -Incorporate unhealthy . Few weeks ago I had sugar cravings. I had a jam donut nearly everyday for breakfast. Not healthy, not satisfying for as long as oats or eggs/protein are but because I logged them into MFP I was able to keep within my calories and continue to lose weight. In the old days, I may have felt this was the end of my diet because of guilt, now it is important to never feel guilty about food. It’s all calories. You don’t have to eat healthily to lose weight, it’s just better for you and more satisfying in the long run.

        • Coach Stevo

          Thanks! I actually wrote a whole article on your Point 7 last week!

  • darlene

    I’ve been increasing my weight slowly since winter, and ever since I’ve started lifting heavier weights. I lamented to my husband how my jeans aren’t tighter, but my weight is up. I’m thankful to hear that it is most likely my muscle mass which has increased quite a bit since simply upping the weight i lift (mainly only by 5-10lbs as I can). My muscles are more defined (in a good way not she man-like) so Its not fat I’m gaining;).

  • darlene

    I’ve been increasing my weight slowly since winter, and ever since I’ve started lifting heavier weights. I lamented to my husband how my jeans aren’t tighter, but my weight is up. I’m thankful to hear that it is most likely my muscle mass which has increased quite a bit since simply upping the weight i lift (mainly only by 5-10lbs as I can). My muscles are more defined (in a good way not she man-like) so Its not fat I’m gaining;).

  • Lydia

    This quote struck a chord with me: “When it comes to the human body, only bad things happen quickly (like injuries). Good things take time, and always more time than we think they should.” I’ll remember that one!

  • Lydia

    This quote struck a chord with me: “When it comes to the human body, only bad things happen quickly (like injuries). Good things take time, and always more time than we think they should.” I’ll remember that one!

  • jwrnrf

    Myfitnesspal, please consider adding more measurements to your app so that relying on weight isn’t as necessary. Neck, waist, & hips seems awfully limited to me. It would be nice to be able to put in measurements for arms, bust, and upper & lower legs. Thanks!

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      • Queen2day

        You can add additional measurements on My fitness Pal. Go to Check in and click the link to track additional measurements. You can add all you want to track. 🙂

      • Queen2day

        You can add additional measurements on My fitness Pal. Go to Check in and click the link to track additional measurements. You can add all you want to track. 🙂

      • Queen2day

        You can add additional measurements on My fitness Pal. Go to Check in and click the link to track additional measurements. You can add all you want to track. 🙂

      • Lea

        It is already possible to add new measurements. Mine has arms, bust and thighs added 🙂 Not sure if it can be done on the mobile app, but definitely on a desktop computer.

  • be

    I want that belt!!!!

  • Pingback: The Scale Debate: Is Your Metric Tacking Progress or Is It a Distraction? | Hello Healthy()

  • Nicole A

    Makes perfect sense. I will try this and update you guys on my progress. I am the type of person that goes hard when I work out but once I relax on a day off or if I cannot sleep I snack a lot at nighttime. Any suggestions on how to curb your appetite on those sleepless nights?

    • Tivvybrown

      Have a notepad and pen by the bed to write down the nagging thoughts that are going through your restless brain. It effectively “dumps” them onto the paper. And in the morning it reminds you of the things you realised you have to do, when you were lying awake in the middle of the night. Once your sleep patterns are better, go to bed earlier. It’s easy to get “the munchies” if you stay up for no good reason.

  • Linda

    my trainer is saying: instead of eating breakfast
    I should: 1 cup of coffee with 10 grams whey protein and coconut oil and eat the
    carbs the night before?

    What do you all think??? I always heard you should eat a healthy breakfast and
    eat light at night

    • Lea

      That doesn’t sound like healthy advice at all. I would find a new trainer, personally…

  • Pingback: Track New Goals by Adding Custom Measurements in MyFitnessPal! ‹ Hello Healthy()

  • Priscilla Jo

    I am one of those that gets super depressed from scale but I have definitely been taking pictures of my before and after and my clothes are fitting way better. I also have cut back on eating and going by serving sizes. Ultimately my goal is to be 125lbs and continue this lifestyle for the rest of my life . I want to be healthy and fit

  • Susan Casteel

    I had lost almost 5 lbs and continued to do what I had been doing, now I am back up and it looks like I have lost nothing. I have changed nothing and if anything have increased my activity. I dont know why this happens to me. I eat right, track everything, stay active and mix up my activities so I dont get in a routine of always doing the same thing. I walk a lot at work. I walk from building to building and drink a lot of water because I am outside most of the day. I am ready to just give up!!!! I have tracked my food and activity for almost three months with the only change being I have gained almost all of the 5 lbs back!!! I am shy of it by .4 lbs. So done!

    • nadine

      Don’t give up. Have you talked to a Dr about maybe something else going on? Keep at it. Keep eating right and exercising and you will see results. Wether its weight loss, more energy, or better fitting clothes. Just dont give up!

      • Susan Casteel

        Thanks. Yes I have talked with my Dr. She did several different tests to rule out any issues that would cause me to cling tightly to the weight. I measured myself, in the evening, not good I know. I put on inches!!! UGH!!! This has been so discouraging. I plan to take my measurements in the morning the next time. I run, walk bicycle and do yoga. I plan to put weights back into my plan. I hope that will help.

  • GK85

    This post is so funny, cause yesterday i was logging in on the scale and it said i was up 4 kg compared to the week before. Was really depressed about it, altough i knew it was water weight mainly. I have lost over 40 kg in last 5 years, being up and down the first 3, and consistenly down last 2. I have started taking pictures last 2 years as well and i can definatly see difference and that is was makes me happy. Also measuring from time to time (mainly 10 week progress) It helps a lot

  • Elaine

    Four motivating ways to measure your progress was just what I need to hear. I got on the scale this morning and no progress…. But actually I feel fantastic since I started my goal of getting healthier and losing weight. So I will need your words! Thanks

  • Cameron cuevas

    I think it is about the scale as well. Every day I check the scale and when it drops its the biggest motivation I can possibly not anyone telling me anything but seeing actual progress everyday. It really does keep me going. Things like waste size and stuff takes much longer to see progress while the scale brings keeps me going everyday.

  • LeQuita NewandImproved Jones

    I been trying to lose weight, I decrease my food portion and walk twice a day and I’m still my weight going up. I’m so frustrated.

  • LeeseeBC

    I lost 1 1/2″ off my hips and another 1″ off my waist over the last 8 weeks following an intensive fitness program. However, the numbers on the scale went up by 5 lbs. Thank you for this article. I needed to hear that what I’m doing is sending me in the right direction.

  • Jennifer Fullerton

    I have a serious problem with the stock image you’ve used here. You’ve managed to completely turn me off and I haven’t even read the article yet. An 18 CM waist? That’s less that 8″!! You know what I get from that? You can always be skinnier.

    I’m all for non-scale victories and finding other ways to measure your success, as I’m sure you outline in this article. But next time, find a better stock image.