Don't let the scale be your sole judge of progress. Kassandre Harper-Cotton lays out 7 effective ways to gauge your progress as you transform your body.

Weight Loss Progress ScaleTaken from my online journal beginning March 7, 2007:

  • 3/07 - Posting the [progress] pictures publicly.
  • 5/07 - Seeing my legs get firmer and stronger and actually LIKING the way they look; being consistent with the workouts (5-6 times per week); with the help of this site, finding a diet plan that works for me.
  • 6/1 - Ten pounds down and six inches off; twenty to go.
  • 6/11 - Sprinting @ 7 mph on the treadmill.
  • 6/27 - Back to pre-pregnancy weight of 173 lbs.
  • 7/18 - Hit the 160's!
  • 7/28 - Wore a swimsuit and felt good in it.
  • 9/22 - Hit the low 160's!
  • 9/24 - Got a personal trainer.
  • 10/21 - 25 pounds off!
  • 10/28 - Wearing a size 8!

Many articles have been written about the numbers either not being used as the sole measure of our progress. Yet, we can still hinge our feelings, hopes, and dreams on whether or not that digital reading climbs just a bit too high. We can walk away feeling like a champion or feeling like our efforts were for naught. Progress can, and should be measured in many ways.

As I began taken care of my body, my changes were not only physical. They were mental, emotional, and even spiritual. Improvement in one area led to improvements in others. And I would not have been able to appreciate that if I had not made the conscious decision to ‘make it all count’. I knew there were going to be times that I faltered and made mistakes. But, I also wanted to highlight the positive choices that I was determined to make outweigh those times.

The entry above was copied from a profile that I have kept for over three years. Yes, I logged when my weight changed, but I also logged changes in how I felt about myself, and I took notes of actions that I that were associated with feeling better about myself. I remember clearly wearing a simple one-piece swimsuit to the waterpark and feeling comfortable. I did not wear a shirt, I was not tugging on my suit. I did not give my body a second thought. That, in itself, was a reward.

Here are a couple of ways to monitor your progress:

1. Scale Down

The scale is definitely a helpful tool. But it does not account for changes in one’s body composition - weight, be it muscle or fat, is just weight. And if anyone can point me to a reliable digital bodyfat scale, please let me know. According to my scale, I am at around 30%, even when preparing for a figure competition. I have used my scale to identify trends. For example, I know that I weigh about 1-1.5 pounds more in the evening than in the morning. The reading is about 3 pounds more after a moderate carbohydrate day, and 5 pounds after a high carbohydrate day. While this information does not as mean much during the off-season, it is helpful to know during certain cycles in my training. I am currently using to track my average ‘off-season’ weight and compare it to last year.

2. Picture This

I have found progress pictures to be an accurate and motivating measure of change and progress. Taking photos regularly can keep you accountable. Some tips to make your progress pictures work for you are:

  • Pose in a similar fashion in each photo series. This is allows you to see, for example, if your back is getting wider or your glutes are finally rounding out like you would like.
  • Wear gymwear that reveals the parts that you are trying to improve. I took my first pictures in tights and a sports bra. I did not like the photos, at all. In fact, there were difficult to look at. But the image forced me to take serious action and responsibility. It was exciting to take pictures in the same outfit and see definitive improvement.
  • Crop off your head, if you are shy about showing your face or concerned about privacy.
  • Find a neutral, well-lit space to shoot. A blank or plain wall makes an excellent background. You can also crop out extraneous areas so the picture just focuses on your physique.
  • Use your camera’s timer feature. Set up you camera on a stable surface facing your blank or plain wall. Turn on the time and get into the position. It does take a few minutes to get the shots that you want but it is worth it. This is my kind way of saying, “Let us move away from shooting photos in the mirror.”
  • Label your photos. This makes it easier to create comparison photos later. Including information such as: what show you are prepping for, dates, weight, nutritional information, weeks out, etc. can make those photos invaluable to you in the future. You can analyze, for example, when you looked your best and become better at ‘reading’ your body.

Weight Loss Progress

3. For All Intensive Measures

Sometimes you may think you may have hit a plateau. It could seem that way if you are just taking the scale at face value. Find out where you have gained or loss, you may be surprised at your overall a progress.

4. Performance: Bravo!

If you have been keeping a blog, log, or informal notes have you noticed that you are able to increase your weights, sets, repetitions, do longer intervals, run faster, finally finish your DVD workout series? These are all indicators of improvement that can be noted.

5. Attitude

Has your attitude about changing changed in a positive way? Or are you at least willing to train even if the bed is calling your name. Have you discovered that if plans change or you have an engagement, you figure out a strategy to train at a different time or venue? You may have found that you are becoming increasingly disciplined in other areas in your life or have a newfound or renewed since of confidence and self. Now, fitness has nestled itself into your life. It is not an extraneous activity or a chore. It is what you do.

6. The ‘Eyes’ Have It

Take a look in the mirror. Give yourself a full assessment. Try not to worry about how other’s have changed in a similar period of time. Focus on what you have accomplished and what you will accomplish.

7. Crucial Conflict

Unfortunately, the adoption of new habits can come with some conflict. When doing something as drastic as a fitness overhaul you will have your cheerleaders and there will be those who are less understanding. I remember being asked why I wanted to look like a man. And I was told that I looked ‘sickly’ and ‘skinny’. I was even told that I was ‘obsessed’. My food has been snickered at and I have been told that it smells. On some occasions I cannot deny that (I will never take mashed cauliflower to work, again.). If you are able to stick to your regiment despite opposition that is progress.

The next that you feel like ‘nothing is happening’ because of what you see on the scale, try taking inventory in a different way.

1 Comment
Posted on: Mon, 12/27/2010 - 00:19

Great article, thanks for publishing it. I trained very hard as a kid in high school. I played football, I was a quarterback but wanted to play defense so I hit the gym hard. I got what I wanted and was as strong as my size allowed. I'm 5'7, small for a quarterback even smaller for a linebacker.
I graduated went on to college and quit the gym. Other things got me down and I let it all go. 25 years later I'm in the gym again. It's been a year now and I am back to the weight I was in high school, at 45.
Problem is, as you wrote in the article, I have to learn to gauge my progress not by the scale as I have gained lots of muscle and lost fat. I have also had the same saboteurs who ask me why I'm training so hard. My wife, (who is the best thing that ever happened to me) even tends to be difficult when I talk about or want to hit the gym. She really doesn't like the idea of me taking supplements and changing my diet. She is afraid I may be hurting myself.I tell her I hurt myself more by not going.
Yet my biggest problem is that I often read things that put me off. For example;I am proud of my bench press progress and believed I was doing great, then some guy writes that you aren't really getting anywhere until you can bench 1 1/2 times your own weight. I'm 200 lbs. so I have to bench 300 lbs. to be "the master of the bench" as the guy says. It's just a number, I know that, but it's really discouraging and now that number is in my head and I know I'll have to beat it. At 45 and my size, dare I try? What do you think?