A lot of people who start a diet are obsessed by the scale. However, the scale is not the most effective way to monitor your progress.
I will prove during this article that the scale can be one of the bigger obstacles you face while trying to sculpt your body. I will also explain how to keep your motivation high by providing you with some examples that will prove my point.
Be careful with the scale and trust your eyes.
Progress Pictures and Motivation
How to keep your motivation high during a diet by using progress pictures:
Scale Losses Start Fast, Then Slow
When we start a diet, we see immediate improvements on the scale just by changing our food habits. Every beginning of a diet and training program is very motivating. We are so happy to see the pounds going down that we don't really try to understand the why behind it.
The first weeks of our new diet and exercise program, we can usually see our bodyweight dropping tremendously. Often, we start our programs by immediately eliminating all bad fats and sugar, feeding the body more properly with the right foods (and drinking more water), and we increase our activity by going to the gym. Our metabolism quickly begins to adapt to the new food, lowered caloric intake and our new exercise habits. All of these factors forces the body to start losing weight in the form of fat and excess water.
However, weight training (yes, you should be weight training if you are looking to lose fat) will also make you gain muscle. In addition, because a large part of your initial weight loss comes from losing excess water weight and glycogen (excess carbohydrates), eventually you will start to lose only 1-2 lbs a week, and at times the scale might even stay the same. And this is when we start losing our motivation...
Be Psychologically Ready For A Plateau
Like I was saying, after the first few weeks of a diet, weight loss slows down, and at times it looks like it is going nowhere. We start to think that our body has stopped responding to the diet, and that something is wrong. So logically, if the diet isn't working anymore, why continue?
This is the thought process that makes us give up. We start eating crap again and kill all our progress, usually gaining back twice the amount of weight. But things do not need to be this way!
Here is the trick that will help you succeed. When you reach a plateau, stop using the scale. The scale is a very good motivator at first, but it becomes a big psychological obstacle after the weeks go by.
What I want you to do instead is to use progress pictures. Start from the first day of your diet. Take these progress pictures every 2 or 3 weeks with the same position and the same clothes.
If you want to, you can also take some measurements with a tape measure and write them down on your progress pictures. Measure your hips and your waist at the very minimum. You can also add to that some thigh measurements and some arm measurements as well.
When the weight loss stops because you are gaining muscle at the same time that you are losing fat, pictures will help prevent you from getting discouraged. You will not only have not only a visual aid to show you your real progress, but also concrete data in the form of body measurements.
Body Sculpting After a Weight Loss Plateau
When your bodyweight stops decreasing, this is where you will have the most progress. The scale might even maybe go up a little. The reason for this is because we start to build muscle. Ladies, there is no need to fear muscles! Here's why:
- Women don’t produce the amount of testosterone that guys do. Because of this you will not get manly looking muscles. Thus, do not be afraid of lifting those weights.
- Muscles will give you the nice curves you are looking for.
- Every pound of muscle burns up to an additional 50 calories. So ten pounds of extra muscle not only will give you some killer curves, but the ability to burn up to an additional 500 calories a day! Building muscle is the key to not only permanent weight loss, but also to the fit curves you are looking for.
Muscle Weighs More Than Fat
Something that you need to know about muscle is that it is heavier that fat. Never forget that.
Compare the difference of densities. The density of muscle is 1.7 kg/liter (3.74 lbs/liter) while the density of fat is 0.92 kg/liter (2lbs /liter). Note: 1 liter equal 1 cubic decimeter.
This means that 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of muscle occupies a volume of 0.59 liter while 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of fat occupies a volume of 1.1 liter. At the same weight, fat occupies a volume that is almost 2 times higher than that of muscle. That explain why a fit person who weighs 130lbs can seem much thinner than the average person who weighs 120lbs.
So don't be frustrated if your bodyweight is not going down. Using the scale as your only tool for tracking progress is not effective. Just look at your progress pics, take your measurements and see the curves coming.
Oh my lands, this is the most perfect thing I've read in a while. I've been active all my life and haven't thought about "weight loss" and eating right until a couple of years ago, and I always go back to old habits because of the scale discouraging me. I'm going to try my hardest to remember this article next time I feel like quitting, and I'm going to start incorporating progress pics into this journey of mine. I can't wait to actually see results instead of seeing the dreaded plateau. Thanks Cecile!
Cecile --This is the most encouraging article I have read to date. I started strength training and dieting 3 months ago at 280 pounds, 63 y/o male, 5'7"--obviously severely obese. I lost 5 pounds during the second 2 weeks of the first month and nothing since. I thought because of my size, i should be losing faster or at least see a pound a week lost on the scale. But I also have hypothyroidism which is adding even more challenge to my progress. My test resuylts have been normal the past year or so with my Synthroid medication, but it's really discouraing to progress so slowly. I take in about 1800 calories a day, and strength train M-W-F. On the off days I walk a mile or so outdoors. People tell methey see a different in my weight and body proportions, but the scale isn't moving. I'm just going to stay off the scale, keep up my routine and enjoy the numerous other benefits I have earned like more energy, better breathing and sleeping, etc. Any other ideas?
Thanks so much for this article, I was feeling so despondent but I realize now I am just on that plateau! Thanks for the advice!!
Muscle does not weigh more than fat!!!!! 5 pounds is equal to 5 pounds. However fat takes up more room than muscle. This is called volume (nursing school 101). Also, you do not all of a sudden start gaining muscle and become heavier after a few weeks. A heavier person should loose more body fat (pounds) faster than they are gaining weight from muscle. Please stop the myths.
I get frequent BodPod measurements, which is the gold standard body composition measurement. It distinguishes between you muscle and fat levels so you don't have to guess if you are gaining muscle and losing fat - it will tell you. It's used in university research, hospitals and elite sports teams.
I get measured every 12 weeks depending on if I am in a bulking phase or leaning phase to see if I am changing the way I want - and if not, I change my approach.
Most people are not aware of the fact that even when they are getting fitter and leaner, their weight may still remain the same. Such people should be taking a note of their waist, thighs, calf and bicep measurements before starting the workout regimen and again after about 4-5 months of regular exercising.
Then they'll notice that even though they may have lost comparatively lesser weight but have significantly lost inches from their waist, legs and arms.
I completely agree with you Katie !! :-)
All My Best ! :-)
Great Advice here Cécile :)
I am in week six of a 12 week diet plan and in the first two weeks I lost the majority of my weight. I'm now hovering at around 108kg and it's not moving - however - with each week that goes by I seem to be stacking on muscle, seeing improved definition. It's hard at this point because the results slow down, but any result is a result, and although slow, they are still coming.
I've never taken scales (especially those electronic fat percentage readers) because weight is never an accurate measure of results. Pictures and measurements (and clothes) as you say are the best way - but also don't forget comments from those that haven't seen you in a few weeks!
I do however think there is a time that the diet needs changing, but not when you hit a plateau with weight.
Great article, keep up the great work!
Thank you so much for your comments Andy !! I think that the diet needs changing the minute that a guy hits 10% body fat and a girl hits 14%. At that moment, a carb cycling diet works better if the person wishes to get down to lower levels.
Keep up the wonderful work and remember that instead of focusing on dramatic changes, focus on steady changes as it is this steadiness the one that will take you to the FINAL DESTINATION !!!
Keep your eye on the GOAL Andy !!!
All My Best ! :-)