The days leading up to a tour were always the worst. Rehearsals would switch from a fun time spent with band mates, to days of bickering, anxiety, and general overthinking. As the first gig loomed closer, my focus was fixed on the lights, the P.A., the tour schedule, catering, and a million other things that were being taken care of by someone else. It was distracting and a waste of energy, but I couldn’t help it.
It’s in my nature to want to know all about every last detail of something I’m part of. I don’t know if thinking about tour minutiae gave me a sense of ownership of the whole thing, or whether it was some kind of control that I needed; I just know that it was detrimental and hugely draining. People only have a capacity to worry about so much before things start slipping. In my case, the more mental energy I put into thinking about what kind of merchandise we should sell, the less willpower I’d have to concentrate on the important things like how do the songs go or what that girl in Wolverhampton is called.
I finally realised that the fix for this pre-tour shambles was to get specific. If my willpower was limited, then concentrating on the only thing that I was really there to do was the best way to survive the whole tour without mentally crashing. Basically, I had to take a step back and do my job as a drummer and nothing else. I’ve since used the exact same approach with tracking progress on my diet. The realisation that the fancy graphs, sub-scapular skin-fold measurements, and bicep circumference meant nothing if I didn’t look good in the mirror changed what I measured. For me to track my progress, I need to get specific. You might too, but the best way to measure how your diet and training is changing your body is really down to your own personality.
Tracking your fat loss goals usually starts and ends with scale weight. However, a lot of weight loss programs don’t recommend weighing too often as it’s seen as unnecessary and mentally draining. While I appreciate the sentiment, the literature paints a different picture.
- Weighing often is associated with an increase in dietary restraint, disinhibition, and depressive symptoms.
- Those who weigh themselves daily for 18 months were less likely to binge
Weighing often then, doesn’t seem like a negative straight off the bat. There are also several more reasons to do it. Not least because it helps smooth out the seeming randomness in weight loss and gain that seems to go along with dieting. You see, most of us would love fat loss or gain to be the only thing that affects body weight, but, alas, that is very far from the truth. Several factors play a part:
- When the last time you went to the loo was. Seriously, want to gain 3kg really quickly, weigh yourself after being blocked up and see what has happened.
- How many carbs are stored in your muscles and liver. The stories of going on a low carb diet and losing tonnes or weight in the first week are true, there just not to do with fat loss. Leave carbs out of your diet and you’ll deplete your stores of them causing rapid weight loss. Conversely, eat a lot of carbs and your weight might spike up by as much as 3kg. It doesn’t have anything to do with fat though, and understanding this is important if you’re an infrequent weigher.
- Water weight. Water retention is affected by sodium consumption, stress, lack of sleep, and a host of other things. It’s not entirely within our control, and it can, and will, mask fat loss at some point during a diet in most cases.
- Menstrual cycle. It depends on the individual, but some women’s bodies can go cray cray with weight ups and downs throughout their cycle. Again, this isn’t fat, it’s all down to water.
The graph below is of a very lean female client’s slow and steady weight loss over 16 weeks. The leaner you are, usually, the slower the weight loss should go. Note how she gained and lost weight at different points. Fat loss was linear, but water constantly yo-yod. Regular weighing helped smooth all the data out.
It’s worth throwing in at this point that there are roughly 7,700 Calories in a kilogram of fat. It’s very normal to wake up 2kg heavier due to any one, or a combination of the reasons detailed above. The thing to remember is that it is not fat gain. Unless you consumed 15,400 Calories, or so, over your maintenance requirements the day before, you have not gained fat. Remember this. Water has no Calories, it just makes you heavier and is generally annoying.
Although weighing frequently has a lot of backing where results are concerned, there’s a flip side to that coin. Although people may be able to manage their bodyweight better by weighing daily, Panconowski et al found that there might be negative psychological aspects of frequent weighing in Women and younger people.
In the end, what you track comes down to your personality, and what you can stick to best.
In my practice, I usually work with these methods
- Scale weight
- Tape measure
- Progress photos
- Target clothing
In order to smooth out the minor gains and losses in weight over the course of your weight loss, it can be a good idea to take an average of your weight over the week rather than tracking day to day averages.
- Weigh yourself on the same scales in the same place
- Use the scale in the morning, after using the loo and before eating or drinking anything
- Take an average weight at the end of the week and compare it to the average next week (women with long-term weight loss goals might even want to compare month to month)
I recommend weighing at least three times a week to get an average that you can actually use.
As a standalone, tape measurements are great, but they come into their own when used in conjunction with scale weight.
The first picture is of clients 12 weeks of weight loss. Starting at 88.7kg and getting to as low as 82.4kg.
Although that is great going, it’s modest progress compared to what you might get if you crash dieted for instance. However, a look at his waist measurements tells a different story. During this weight loss, his strength had been going up consistently, while his waist circumference had dropped by a massive 12cm.
This is a great sign of losing fat while gaining muscle at the same time. A dieting win-win, and not something that the scale can tell the full story of.
- Take measurements with a tape once per week
- Men take waist measurements
- Women take waist, hip, and thigh
Taking a visual record of progress is not for everyone, but if you can do it, then it’s worth doing right.
- To compare photos to one another, you should try to take the photo in the same spot, in similar lighting. There’s no point in picking bad light for the first shot, and then you’re favourite lighting for the second one
- Make sure to stand the same way. If you shrug your shoulders and stick your gut out on the first one, and then power pose on the second, you’re not being objective
- Be patient. Take progress shots every 4 weeks. Comparing weekly changes is too soon to get a real idea of what is happening
This is as simple as it sounds. You can choose clothing that doesn’t quite fit, but used to, or just something that you think intuitively you’ll rock better when you’ve reached your goals.
- Try the clothes every couple of weeks, or every month. If try something on too much, you’ll struggle to see the difference. Starting a diet with something that doesn’t fit and then making it look like it was made for you 4 weeks later is so much better than trying it on every day and willing the difference to happen every time.
Where tracking your progress is concerned, knowing what works well for you is half the battle. There might well be an optimal way to track every facet of body composition, but in reality, it’s almost certainly going to be a very limited number of extreme personality types who can manage that. A better idea is to pick one or two things that you know you can nail and stick with that. A minimum effective dose, if you like.
Tracking progress is about picking what works for you. If you know you’ll look in the mirror after losing a tonne of weight and still think you that don’t look great, then using visual records as your only source of measurement isn’t going to be the best fit. Equally, if you don’t care what the number on the scale says, and it’s all about how you feel in your own skin, or the buzz you get when you catch a glance of your reflection that puts a smile on your face, then you might not need to weigh yourself at all.
Willpower is not a finite resource. Don’t drain it by taking measurements that mean nothing to you. Save it for where it counts, like getting in your training and hitting your Calorie targets.
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