Part 1: Issues And Strategies
If you have attempted to lose weight, you can relate to the frustration of watching your hard work fail to yield the desired results at weigh in or worse yet, watch your weight go up a few pounds. Along the way, I had to learn strategies to cope with this and the many other frustrations that I encountered. Some of those strategies involve understanding what the scale is telling you, what it is not telling you, and how to get the “big picture” when it comes to overall health and fitness.
Issue: Frustration Over Lack Of Weekly Results
I had to get past the “Paycheck Mentality”. The “Paycheck Mentality” is the idea that when you work hard in the kitchen and in the gym all week, there should be a “scale-payday” on the 7th day. Sometimes there is, sometimes there is not. One thing I learned was that my progress was not going to be an even, steady 1-2 pounds per week, every week. As I weighed in, I began to notice trends. Rather than a consistent number, it fluctuated, not unlike a stock market chart.
Strategy: Dump The Paycheck Mentality, Adopt A New Paradigm
It was then that I began to get the big picture. My weight loss journey is less of a paycheck and more like an investment. My results were not the weekly payoff that I was expecting, but rather, the cumulative result of months of investment and commitment. The payoff is measured by value over time. We are not talking about the quick turn around of day trading. We are talking about a steady, consistent commitment of weekly investment over a long period of time. Like any investment advisor will tell you, a stocks value is measured by performance over time, not by weekly dips and spikes. That’s why when considering an investment, the client is always shown a long term performance chart to show overall value over several years. Adopting a fitness lifestyle is like investing in your retirement, you invest week by week over a long period of time while ignoring the short-term fluctuations with a focus on overall value. Successful people most often define their weight by a range rather than a set number. Rather than scrutinizing your efforts on a weekly basis, look at how you have done over much longer period of time. If the overall result is a loss over several months, then you are headed in the right direction. It takes time to hone your routine, be patient.
The Take Home Lesson: View your weight loss efforts as part of a bigger picture of investing in your health for the long term rather than expecting quick results.
Issue: Losing Motivation When Your Weight Suddenly Spikes Up.
It is totally normal for someone to feel a sense of helpless frustration when they see their weight go in the opposite direction after a period of hard work. Few people are immune to the sinking feeling that their efforts are fruitless. Neither was I. I have ridden that roller coaster many times, and every time, it was an emotionally draining experience. Sadly, it is times like these that many people get discouraged.
Strategy: Be A “Weight Detective”, Read The Clues, And Get Off The Roller Coaster.
I realized that the scale only gave me a “moment in time” snapshot of my weight. It does not tell me what is behind those gains or losses. However, I put on my super sleuth detective hat and went to work. What I have found is that gains have a “fingerprint” and leave tell tale clues.
A) The Sudden Appearance: A non-fat related weight fluctuation is most often characterized by coming out of nowhere within a matter of days. It is then followed by a slow “feathering down” process over a week or two until weight returns to a normal range.
For example, it’s Friday morning and Joe weighs in at 250lbs. Friday night, Joe decides to blow off a little steam and takes his wife out for a date. Next night, Joe takes the whole family out for pizza. Sunday morning Joe weighs in and almost falls over from horror. 260!! After hearing faint voices telling him “we love you, come back to us”, Joe regains consciousness and feels the panic set in. If I was to try to help Joe, what would I tell him?
Answer: Let’s play the numbers game. One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. 10 pounds would equal 35,000 calories, agreed? To truly gain 10 lbs of fat, I would have to consumed 35,000 calories over my daily calorie goal and negate ALL exercise and deficits. A typical drive-thru, full sized burger is approximately 600-700 calories so we’ll settle for 650. Joe, are you telling me that since weigh in on Friday, you have consumed the caloric equivalent of almost 54 burgers (35,000 calories / 650 calories per burger) over the last 48 hours assuming your body is metabolically capable of generating 10 pounds of fat in 48 hours? Joe would shake his head and say no.
That example is a little extreme but at one time I was Joe, and more than once I had to talk myself “off the ledge” after what appeared to be an epic diet failure. After having been through it a few times and using the above logic to reason myself out of a full-blown panic, I began to notice that such dietary deviations and subsequent weight spikes were of no lasting consequence.
When you struggle with emotional eating, it is even worse because of the guilt that follows the weight spike. My emotional eating has, at times, created the perfect storm. There have been an innumerable number of times where I have been staring at an empty bag that used to be full, the wrapper that contained a fast food yummy, or the grease stains left behind by the pile of pizza I just decimated. I have sat in stunned silence at what just happened, trying to process the swirl of emotions, the self-doubt, the betrayal of everything I held important. Unless you have been there, it is hard to fathom how dark those times really are.
It was during those times that I reached within and found the courage to go on. It was only after having been through a few of those that I began to realize that, after a few days of getting back to work, the clouds went away and there was really no lasting damage.
"Nutritional status is influenced by intake over a relatively long period of time. Short term dietary inadequacies or excesses will minimally influence long term status" NSCA Essentials Of Personal Training pg. 137, a training manual published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association for personal trainer certification test preparation. Translated into English... you are what you repeatedly do. A short-term "indiscretion" or dietary misstep does minimal damage if you pick yourself up and get back to your routine.
B) The Weight That Slowly Came….And Stayed: Fat gain also has a fingerprint. It is often a slow, imperceptible process. Generally this most often happens to people who are NOT trying to consistently exercise and be careful with their nutrition. People who are vigilant about their health are not the ones who magically wind up 10-20 pounds overweight. While there are exceptions to everything, such weight gains are commonly accompanied by long bouts of carelessness toward diet and fitness. If you find yourself in this category, beating yourself up will only make it worse. Just like being lost in the woods, the first order of business is to stop and assess your situation calmly before taking action. A gain-induced mental meltdown is more dangerous that the gain itself. The gain affects the waistline, the meltdown affects the motivation and ultimately, your ability to regain control. As hard as it is to do, remember that a number does not define you. You are STILL the same worthy, strong, capable person you were 10 pounds ago. Pick up your sword, for your victory is calling.
The Take Home Lesson: Not All Gains Are Fat. Take the time to examine the clues and if it isn’t fat, it isn’t worth one more ounce of your emotional energy. If it is fat, dust yourself off, put it behind you, and move forward. Either way, a gain is NOT worth the drain. Save your energy for the gym.
Part 2: So What Is Up With These Fluctuations?
While there are always exceptions to the rule, one of the most common culprits is water. While this is no surprise, there are some interesting points about water to keep in mind that may prove useful.
The percentage of water present in the human body is staggering. Our body runs on water to perform millions of processes every day and is crucial to our health. Just a 2% loss in our fluids is enough to trigger fatigue.
"The human body consists of...
-Up to 60% of the human body is water
-The brain is composed of 70% water.
-Lungs are nearly 90% water.
-Lean muscle tissue contains about 75% water by weight.
-Body fat contains 10% water.
-Bone has 22% water.
-About 83% of our blood is water.
-Helps digest our food, transport waste, and control body temperature.
-Each day humans must replace 2.4 liters of water, some through drinking and the rest taken by the body from the foods eaten. “
Quoted from ga.water.usgs.gov
With such high percentages in mind, let me ask you a question.
Is it conceivable that with such a high percentage of water in our bodies that a 1/2 of 1% fluctuation is possible?
Just a quick examination of the percentages, my first reaction is an overwhelming YES. I mean that with some parts of our body being up to 90% water and the body as a whole being approximately 60%, I would say that the possibility is VERY HIGH. Now time for some math so bear with me....
I am going to take an average weight of someone on a "diet" as being around 200 lbs. I know that is not representative but I am taking an average, gender neutral, cross section, but the formula can be applied across the board but 200 is for example only.
1/2 of 1% is .005
200lbs x .005= 1 lb
According to the math we see that 1/2 of 1% isn't much but yet a tiny percentage yields a very familiar number. Here is something else to consider. We can experience up to 2% water loss before we begin to feel thirst or notice at all. With this being true, what about the opposite? Is it possible to gain 2% and not really notice it either? If that is so, do the math for an even more familiar number.
2% is .02
200lbs x .02 = 4lbs.
Common Sources Of Water Gain:
1) Higher Carbohydrate consumption - “there is a relationship between a high-carb diet and water retention. In "Good Calories, Bad Calories," author Gary Taubes writes that carbohydrates cause your kidneys to hoard salt instead of excrete it. Once your body's salt content rises, your water content must also rise to keep the ratio of salt to bodily fluid steady. When you cut carbs, your body can let go of both the salt and the water it was retaining. This is why low-carb diets often produce a quick initial weight loss --- the dieter isn't losing any body fat, but he is losing several pounds of retained salt and water.”
Quoted From: www.livestrong.co
2) Muscular Inflammation – Inflammation from hard workouts or endurance events. As much as a 4 pound gain from muscular inflammation is not uncommon.
3) Training For Endurance Events – Training for endurance sports such as a marathon. As you train for the distance, your body gradually becomes more efficient and will actually increase glycogen storage in your muscles as an adaptation to the training load. Glycogen is storage carbohydrate or glucose that is stored in the muscles for energy. It is generally accepted that for every gram of glycogen there can be as much as 4 grams of water stored with it.
4) Sedentary Lifestyle / Travel – “Lack of exercise or immobility can lead to fluid retention. The lymphatic system may not work efficiently to remove excess fluids when the body is sedentary for very long periods. The Mayo Clinic's website cites that standing or staying in one position for too long can also lead to mild cases of edema or water retention.”
Quoted from: www.livestrong.co
In short, if you are sitting for long periods at home, work, or travel, you are a prime candidate for problems.
Part3: So How Do We Measure Progress?
Answer: The bottom line is that a paradigm shift has to occur. In order to really see our progress, we need to shift from the media driven numbers and appearance mindset, and adopt a “whole person” perspective. Only a casual examination of most “vision collages” filled with air brushed images will reveal the fact that we to often focus on externals.
The “Whole Person” Paradigm: Unfortunately, when approaching fitness and weight loss, many sadly adopt the same mindset as a new car buyer. When buying a new or new-to-us car, we are often lured in with the polish, the sizzle, the new car smell, and all of the bells and whistles. How many ever ask for a maintenance history? How many ever get it checked out to know what is really happening under the hood? The external trappings will only go so far, it’s what is going on inside that matters. We ALL like the six pack and the trim physique but in the end, it’s what is going on with the whole person that will determine ultimate quality of life.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a short list of some of those indicators of progress…
Measurements And Clothes- Clothes are typically the first indicator of body composition change. Even if the scale doesn't move, better fitting clothes is the harbinger of great things to come. Changes in your measurements indicate that things are happening, just let it unfold.
Fitness Baseline – A baseline assessment includes physical measurements and a fitness test of some sort that will evaluate speed, strength, agility, and flexibility. Documenting the results of your initial assessment then comparing them against your final assessment can show real world progress like nothing else can. Those numbers don’t lie.
Resting Heart Rate – A long accepted standard of cardiovascular health, the resting heart rate tells a lot about an individual’s current condition. Generally, the lower the RHR, the more fit and healthy you are. Normal adult range is 60-80 bpm (beats per minute) while an athlete can range as low as 35-50bpm. “Higher Resting Heart Rates can indicate atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and also restrictions in the diameter of your blood vessels. When your heart is forced to work harder because of these two conditions it can wear out faster”
Quote from www.healthstatus.
Also how quickly your heart rate comes back down after an exercise session is very telling. The stronger and more efficient your heart becomes, the less it has to work to meet the demands of exercise and life. Now that’s a number I can learn to love!
Blood Work - Many times, blood work separates those who are truly healthy from those who are “skinny fat.” Most of us know of that one “gifted” individual that eats gallons of ice cream and greasy burgers but never seems to have a weight problem. I may wish I could fit into his jeans but I wouldn’t give you a wooden nickel for his blood work. Want to see what real results look like? If you can, get a blood test that will show your “before” status. Your total cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar, are among many true indicators of overall health. Get another one done in 6 months or a year after a consistent diet and exercise program and you will see for yourself what true progress really is.
How Do You Feel? – This is the most important one of all. When most of us start feeling the need to change our lifestyle, it isn’t because we think we are doing great. Most of the time it is because our clothes are tight, the scale alarmed us, or we don’t like what we see in the mirror. All of that can add up to some pretty negative emotions to start with. Now that you have been at it for a while, how do you feel? How does it feel to be able to climb that flight of stairs without being out of breath? To be able to chase your children around and not feel like you are going to fall over? Think about how you felt when you first started using the treadmill and now.
When I first started, I couldn’t go more than a block without wheezing and being short of breath. Last fall, I finished Half Marathon #7 with a finish time of 2:59. Those fitness accomplishments are something money cannot buy and those trophies will always be YOURS. It’s those accomplishments that make us empowered and they remind us everyday that we are getting stronger.
Recognize those Non Scale Victories as the benchmarks they are on the road to a better you. Hopefully this short list was enough to get the gears turning and helps you to take a whole person approach when measuring your overall success. I wish you the very best in your endeavors.
Water Retention Sources:
Exercise and water retention -
Travel And Sedentary lifestyle -
Body Measurements -
Resting Heart Rate -