If weight loss is your goal, you probably know your scale quite well. It’s obvious weighing in can help track your progress, but it’s not the end-all, be-all method to reach your goal. It’s important to find other ways to gauge your success.
“I don’t track weight at all with my clients, I don’t find it helpful,” says Jessi Haggerty, RD. “The scale makes you so driven by external factors that you’re unable to listen to your body’s internal signals.” To lose weight and keep it off, it’s important to tap into that intuition.
The scale also doesn’t know muscle from fat. “Fairly big changes in body composition can happen with very slight changes on the scale,” explains Cassandra Forsythe, PhD, RD, and professor of exercise science at Central Connecticut State University. “You may see no change on the scale but look different when you see photos — and feel different.”
You don’t need to ditch the scale altogether, but consider tracking one or a few of the indicators below. Not everything works for everyone, so try one at a time and see what helps you stay on track and recognize all the weight-loss benefits you’re experiencing that aren’t tied to a number.
1. THOUGHTS AROUND FOOD
When you start your weight-loss journey, be a food anthropologist for a week or a few weeks, Haggerty says. Journal your thoughts about food and your actions around your food choices. Do this as if you were observing — not judging — yourself. “People often discover they feel anxious around certain foods because they think they’re not allowed to have them, or they feel really deprived of certain foods and experience shame or guilt after they eat them,” Haggerty says.
Digging into those feelings with a registered dietitian or nutritionist can help you recognize where those behaviors originated and find ways to change them. As you work toward your weight goal, these thoughts should become less frequent and intense.
Most of us know first hand how mood affects what you eat and how much (or little) you eat. But jotting it down (or typing it out) in black and white can bring to light how you get hangry when you have a small breakfast or how you feel anxious after sweets. This can help you improve your meal plan so you have a sufficient morning meal or think twice before that afternoon candy bar.
“Sleep is just as important for weight loss as eating well and exercising,” Forsythe says. “A lack of sleep is linked with increased hunger levels and a decreased ability to lose weight.” And poor sleep could be a sign you’re not eating enough. “You stop sleeping well on crash diets because your body is stressed,” she explains.
READ MORE > HOW BAD SLEEP SABOTAGES YOUR FITNESS GOALS
4. ENERGY LEVEL
Although it’s normal for your energy to dip right after a meal as your body digests your food, check in between meals to see if what you ate gave you energy or made you tired or lethargic, Haggerty says. You may find low-carb meals make you feel brain dead, they could be the ticket to mental clarity and pep in your step or perhaps you need to eat more often.
Forsythe recommends taking a photo on Day 1, then new photos every eight weeks. Wear the same close-fitting clothing each time so you will be able to see the changes. “This gives you motivation and you will feel better about yourself when you see the changes,” she says. The MyFitnessPal Progress Photos feature makes it easy to take weight-loss selfies.
Whatever you choose to track, be flexible and gentle with yourself. “These are guidelines, but life happens — it’s not follow to a T or you’re a failure,” Haggerty says. Do what works for you.