How to Measure Progress Without the Scale
Raise your hand if you love stepping on the scale first thing in the morning, every morning!
*insert 30 seconds of awkward silence and avoid eye contact*
If you are not a fan of weighing yourself every day, you are most definitely not alone. The scale can be a powerful tool to track and measure weight loss progress. But it can also get the best of you.
You may even get to the point where the number on the dial becomes more than a number (data) and starts having a little too much power... too much of a say in how you view yourself and what kind of progress you are making.
“Oh my gosh - the scale went down today! It’s a great day! I’m on the right track!”
“Ughhhhh - the scale went up today - I don’t get it! I stuck with the plan yesterday! I’m not making any progress, I must be doing something wrong :( !”
Sound a bit like you? Not to worry, it actually sounds like a lot of us!
Using The Scale to Measure Progress
Good news first.
You are in luck! The scale is only one measure of progress. There are many alternative ways to measure progress that do not involve your weight. In fact, focusing on more than one method to measure your progress can be very helpful in assessing your progress accurately. After all, the more puzzle pieces you have, the easier it is to put the whole picture together, right?
The not-so-good news...
The scale can be picky and sensitive!
When it is doing exactly what you want it to do, the scale can feel like a helpful friend on a weight loss journey. Other times (when it is doing the opposite of what you want it to do) it can feel like your worst enemy.
Remember that the scale is just a single data point measured at a specific moment in time during your day - and that is it. It is not the end all be all, and it certainly does not have power over how your day plays out. Progress can look like so many different things and not just the number that shows up when you step on the scale.
When Can The Scale Be Helpful?
Your journey is always changing, your goals are always evolving, and this can play a role in whether the scale can be helpful to you right now or not. The scale can be a very important piece of data, but it does not have to be.
Let’s break down different reasons why the scale could be worth paying a little extra attention.
- Do you have a VERY specific goal you are trying to reach?
Do you have a very specific weight goal for a specific reason? If so, this might require you to pay a little more attention to the number on the scale so you and your coach can monitor changes and make nutritional adjustments to help you reach your goal within your timeframe. It all depends on YOU and what YOUR goals are.
- Are you an athlete who requires weigh-ins (e.g., weightlifting, wrestling, or strength competitions)?
If you have a specific event coming up that requires you to compete in a certain weight class, it often requires more emphasis on the scale. The scale becomes much more important when you HAVE to be an exact weight on a particular day. You need to take the data a bit more seriously and might need to adjust your nutrition and lifestyle plan if you aren’t seeing the results you want.
- Do you need to maintain or put on weight?
If this is the case for you, paying closer attention to what the data on the scale is showing you could be important to ensure you are trending in the right direction. An example could be a woman working on getting her menstrual cycle back. Part of your approach may require an emphasis to maintain or even gain weight.
- Are you trying to get stronger?
If you’re an athlete trying to increase strength, you may need to pay closer attention to weight trends to ensure you’re eating enough to put on muscle. If your weight goes down or stays steady, calorie intake may need to increase to help you reach this goal.
There is a time and a place when the scale may be necessary. But even in those situations, having alternative measures of progress is very important.
Progress is not linear.
Over-reliance on the scale number can be deceiving and give you a false sense that you are not making progress when you very well may be. Luckily, you can measure progress in many other ways that are just as, if not more important than the number that pops on the scale on any given morning.
Non-Scale Related Measures of Progress
At WAG we assess at least 15 Markers of Progress while working with our clients. Often, our coaches find even more markers based on their clients’ unique goals, struggles and opportunities.
As mentioned in the podcast linked above, you can use an elevator analogy to hone in on why having more than one marker of progress is key to continued progress.
Imagine your elevator is being held by a single cable - the number that shows up on the scale. What happens when that number is not the number that you want to see?! Oh NO!
Your elevator plummets to the bottom - as does your self-confidence. You have nothing else to rely on, no other cables to hold you in place and no other alternative measures of progress to rely on for feedback.
On the flip side if you have multiple cables supporting you, when one breaks (which it is bound to happen), you have another handful holding you in place and helping take on more of the load.
The best part is that the elevator can continue to move up while one of the cables is being repaired - because you have the support of additional cables to rely on.
Let’s take a peek at these 15 measures of progress!
Your daily weight depends on a variety of factors like sodium consumption, muscle soreness, sleep quantity, alcohol consumption, hydration, training intensity/recovery status, meal timing and so much more. So, use these markers of progress when you need somewhere to focus besides the number on the scale.
These additional markers as part of your toolkit can give you some perspective when it is very needed!
With these 15 markers of progress in mind, here are some questions to ask yourself and reflect on next time that three-digit number starts playing tricks on you:
- Have your body measurements changed since you started this journey?
- Has your body composition changed? (This is why taking pictures can be helpful. There can be body composition changes happening while the scale remains relatively the same.)
- Has your energy increased? Are you no longer getting those 2 p.m. blues?
- Do you notice yourself in a better mood overall?
- Has your appetite improved? Are you craving different foods?
- Have your stress levels improved?
- Are you becoming more consistent to your diet adherence?
- Are you getting more sleep? Has the quality of your sleep improved?
- Are you having more water? Is this slowly becoming a new habit in your life?
- Are you having more fiber on a daily basis?
- Has your performance improved (e.g., gym PR’s, faster 5K, stringing more pull-ups together)?
- Has your frequency of exercise increased?
- Are you noticing new habits (e.g., stretching, logging before you eat, prepping veggies for the week)?
- Has your mindset shifted? Are you noticing you are not using an event or party as an excuse to forget about your goals?
It is important to ask yourself these questions and focus on these wins out because they are PROGRESS as well.
It is very common to get caught up in the number on the scale as the only measure of progress. Which is why relying on the scale as your only source of feedback can become problematic in a healthy, long-term and sustainable nutrition journey.
Defining Your Version of Progress
If you have multiple measures of progress - you can zone in on those to identify where progress is happening when the scale feels stuck. Having someone in your corner to point out what is going well and what is improving, besides the scale, can be a game-changer. This is why working with a nutrition coach can be so beneficial.
How you use the scale can and should change depending on your circumstances, your goals, and your journey. Regardless, having alternative markers of progress and relying on more than one area to help you see your gains will make a big difference.
Maybe the scale is staying the same but you are performing way better in the gym! Maybe the scale is not cooperating but your stress levels have decreased significantly. Maybe the scale is not budging but you have gotten more workouts in this month than you have in the past five years.
THAT IS PROGRESS!
Progress is SO much more than what pops up on the scale. Remember those 15 markers of progress and make a promise to yourself to rely on multiple cables to hold that elevator steady on its way up!
Emily is a Certified WAG Nutrition Coach and part of the WAG Writing Team. As a teacher and a nutrition coach, Emily found her calling to help people through their journey to find a nutrition approach that works for them and their lifestyle.
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