Weight Loss 101: Tracking with Reason
How do you measure weight loss progress?
From a young age, we are taught that a lower number on the scale is a good thing. As we navigate through the pressures of adolescence, body weight often becomes correlated with self-worth: If the number on the scale is perceived as high, you begin to think you are fat and if you are fat, you are less of a person. I’ve been there.
This is the beginning of a negative cycle that can last a lifetime: A simple measure of body weight, otherwise known as the measurement of your gravitational pull, is now determining your value. If this resonates with you, it’s time to realize that overcoming this irrational belief is the first step to gaining control over weight loss.
The truth is that daily body weight measurements do not accurately reflect changes decreases in body fat. It is not physiologically possible to gain or lose body fat at such an accelerated rate. Instead, daily body weight fluctuations are almost entirely the result of water/sodium retention, hormonal status, and stress.
To demonstrate this phenomenon, I recently measured my body weight every morning for 2 weeks.
I am a 34-year-old male and am not trying to gain or lose weight. I lift weights 3–4 days/week, walk daily and swim once or twice a week. I don’t eat the same foods every day, but my calories stay roughly the same (without precisely counting, more on that later).
Here’s what happened with my body weight over the course of two weeks:
Day 1: 176.6 (Weights day)
Day 2: 177.4 (Rest day) +0.8 lbs
Day 3: 177.2 (Weights day) -0.2 lbs
Day 4: 178.4 (Swim day) +1.2 lbs
Day 5: 177.4 (Weights day) -1.0 lbs
Day 6: 178.2 (Weights day) +0.8 lbs
Day 7: 179.4 (Swim day) +1.2 lbs
Day 8: 177.6 (Weights day) -1.8 lbs
Day 9: 180.4 (Rest day) +2.8 lbs
Day 10: 176.8 (Weights day) -3.6 lbs
Day 11: 177.6 (Weights day) +0.8 lbs
Day 12: 178.4 (Rest day) +0.8 lbs
Day 13: 178.2 (Rest day) -0.2 lbs
Day 14: 177.2 (Rest day) -1.0 lbs
Day 15: 176.0 (Bonus day for data) -1.2 lbs
On Day 9 (my heaviest day), I took an Epsom salts bath because my body felt overworked and exhausted.
I reduced sodium on the 14th to further demonstrate how salt affects body weight going into Day 15 (lower salt diet = lower body weight)
My body weight is higher the days after I stress it through workouts.
My body weight is lower after days of swimming, rest, and recovery.
Stress appears to be the factor that affects my body weight the most: I am heavy when I have put my body through stress and I’m lighter when I’m recovered and feeling good.
If you’re going to measure body weight as a way of tracking weight-loss (which is a logical idea), please do so with a firm understanding of the following:
Your body weight doesn’t define who you are. It is simply a metric that reflects the sum of your daily actions; not only regarding food but also regarding stress, sleep, self-care and more.
Body weight fluctuates daily: The only meaningful number is the average trend over weeks and months (not days), as this will reflect changes in body fat.
When you measure body weight randomly it can be misleading: Weigh yourself on a heavy day? This can lead to poor food and self-care choices (because “What’s the point if I’m just going to get fat anyway?”) Weigh yourself on a light day? This can reinforce behaviors that aren’t actually leading to fat loss.
If you’re going to use body weight as a metric to track progress, weigh yourself weekly and do so without emotion: If a number derails your mood, take a break from the scales and focus on daily habits. Remember the factors of stress/sleep/water/sodium when assessing numbers, and think critically about what behaviors led to your numbers.
Tracking with ate
How can you best track your daily behaviors? There’s an app for that!
Counting calories often causes more stress than good, and being tied to numbers takes you away from focusing on the quality of food in your diet. A better solution is to use the ate app, which acts as a photographic timeline of your daily food choices. ate helps users with mindful eating and has built-in accountability- do you really want to take a picture of something you’re not proud of eating? The app also allows users to track:
Integration with Apple Health
Being able to view an entire day’s worth of food in one snapshot is a powerful thing. If body weight is trending up, you can review ate to see where you’re overeating, and what to remove.
Losing body fat is a process that takes time and patience. If you track the things you can control- without emotion- you have the recipe for success.