Why Weight is a Bad Measure of Progress - And What to Use Instead

Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S. Pn1

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“The workout is over, great job today. Congratulations On your first push up.  It’s quite the accomplishment. Most women and a large number of men can’t do a quality push up like you did today.  I’m proud of you. You’ve been consistent, done the work, and it shows.”

“Thanks Steve, I felt really good today and I’ve noticed. My dresses fit better, my friends have made comments and I just feel stronger.”

“That’s terrific to hear. We have a few minutes so let’s head to the office and take our weekly measurements”

“Do we have to? Ugh, I hate this part. What if I didn’t lose any weight” she said.

We get to the office and I ask her to take off her shoes and step on to the scale.

It reads 125lbs. Before I can check my notes to see how it compares to the week before I hear an exclamation,

“What? How is that possible, it's the same as last week.”

On the verge of hysterics I try to calm her down and explain that the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story. I show her that her belly fat has gone down, and remind her of the great workout. I tell her it’s OK that the weight didn’t change.

While her weight didn’t change her body certainly has. Her waist has shrunk and her muscle appear more shapely and defined. It’s a sign that she’s lost body fat and simultaneously added new lean muscle. The result is a leaner body despite no change on the scale.

She accepts this explanation skeptically despite  everything from how her clothes fit to how she looks in the mirror supports it.

I don’t know when, but at some point the number on the scale became the sole measurement of someone's health and attractiveness. Its significance is so prominent that the thought of going on the scale produces anxiety. Saying or asking a person's weight is taboo. In fact any reference to weight may be construed as an insult.

Weight has become the only indicator of progress that matters.

Which reminds me of a joke.

A woman is desperate to lose weight for her high school reunion so she seeks out a professional.

She visits a nutritionist and says  “I must lose 50 pounds can you help me?”

The nutritionist responds “Absolutely.  You’ll have to start eating more veggies, begin working out, and stop eating junk food. Depending how well you do with this you’ll lose your 50lbs in 30-50 weeks.”

The woman exclaims “that is much too long. I have a high school reunion next week.”

She goes down the block and visits a supplement shop and says “I need to lose 50 lbs can you help?”

The sales associate responds “Absolutely! All you have to do is take my special weight loss supplement. It may taste like poison but everyday you take it you’ll be another pound lighter.

In 7 weeks you'll be cured”

The woman exclaims “that is much too long. I have a high school reunion next week.”

Finally, frustrated and feeling hopeless she visits a surgeon and tells him “I need to lose 50 lbs but I need to lose it before the end of the week can you help?”

The surgeon responds “Absolutely, In Fact It’ll only take one day. Come in tomorrow and we'll get started”

The woman does as she's told and comes in the next day. The doctor says “I’m going to put you under anesthesia, when you wake up you’ll be 50 lbs lighter.”

Several hours pass and when the women wakes up she looks expectantly upon her body but to her dismay her gut is still their and it appears nothing has changed.

Upon further investigation she finds that her leg is missing!

She screams in horror and demands the doctor explain himself.

The doctor calmly explains “ I am a surgeon who specializes in amputation. You came in and said you wanted to lose 50lbs and so I removed your leg.”

This is  the absurdity of using weight as a sole measure of progress. Weight, while informative tells an incomplete story of how your body is changing.

Fat has weight. Muscle has weight. Water has weight. Bones, tissues, organs, stool all have weight. None of which a scale is capable of differentiating.  What really determines your health and aesthetics isn’t how much you weight but rather what that weight is made of.

Don’t fall into the weight trap.

A Better Way to Measure progress

More important than weight in determining whether someone is healthy and lean is determining what that weight is made of. This is called body composition.  The most common way of tracking body composition is by measuring the ratio of muscle to fat they have.

This ratio between muscle and fat is measured by a person's body fat percentage. The higher a person's body fat % the more fat they have relative to muscle. People with lower body fat percentages have more muscle relative to fat. These individuals are often healthier and characterize by lean, defined, and toned physiques.  

Below is an example of how bodies change as a person's body fat percentage changes.

Muscle provides shape and definition to the body as well as numerous health benefits such as burning calories, maintaining blood sugar levels, and protecting your body from injury.

Muscle is also denser than fat which means pound for pound muscle takes up less space.

This is why the woman below can weight the same but have radically different physiques.


Measuring Progress

Throughout the website you will notice the recurring theme that measuring is essential to progress. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Measurements provide feedback that informs you whether your actions are working to bring you closer or farther to your goals.

When things aren't working having reliable and consistent feedback allows you to course correct in a timely manner.

Body fat percentage - not weight -  will be the best measure of your aesthetic goals

However, unless your willing and able to go to a lab and take a DEXA scan or visit your local exercise physiology lab and submerge yourself underwater for hydrostatic weighing then it will be difficult to attain an accurate measurement.

There are other options such as skinfolds where you get pinched by calipers, or Bioelectrical impedance which runs a painless electrical current through the body (you can often find one on your scale) but both measures are prone to error.

Worry not. Unless your a bodybuilding competition, model or someone looking to lose their last few percent body fat then these measurements aren't needed.

Instead I’ll offer you 3 simple measurements you can use to ensure that you are both losing weight and getting leaner.

Over the years I have found these 3 simple measures  that when combined tell the story of how your body is changing. For better or worse.

I’ve used these 3 measurements to help hundreds of people to change their body and habits.

The 3 main measures I use are weight, belly circumference and  workout progress. When combined with a food log they tell the story of how your body is changing and inform us to what changes we should or should not be making to continue seeing progress.

I have taken the time to create the Weight Loss Action Chart.

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This guide breaks down what each of these measurements mean, and provides a guide on how to interpret the numbers and what actions you should take in each situation.

It’s our goal at Fitness Made Clear to provide quality actionable information to those that need it.

This is why we post free weekly articles.

It’s also why we will send you a free copy of our weight loss action chart if you subscribe to our newsletter today.