The path to better health isn’t all in one number. If you often find yourself fixated on the scale, forget your daily weigh-in and opt for one of these tracking methods instead.
By Julianne Hale
Many Americans have a singular focus when it comes to their health: how much they weigh. Yet this number is far from a comprehensive fitness metric. “As you start exercising and eating right, your body improves in so many ways that have nothing to do with this one reading,” says Dr. David Castrilli with CHI Memorial Internal Medicine Associates.
Sadly, many people obsess over what they weighed yesterday versus today, or even what they weighed in the morning versus the evening. Surprised and dismayed they’ve “gained two pounds,” they may react emotionally or engage in extreme behaviors, like going on a deprivation-oriented diet or quitting healthy habits altogether.
Scale getting you down? Don’t let it continue to discourage you. It’s time to put away the scale and focus on some other ways to monitor your health. Try one of these empowering methods for monitoring your weight and your health that have nothing to do with a three-digit number.
MEASURING YOUR MIDDLE
Did you know you can lose inches around key parts of the body even when the number on the scale remains fixed? “This is especially true if you’ve started exercising,” says Aimee Dyess with Erlanger Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Center.
Plus, it’s easy to monitor—no high-tech equipment required. Just wrap some measuring tape around your waist, hips, thighs, and chest, and write the measurements down once a month.
Waist circumference also serves as an indicator for certain weight-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes and high-blood pressure. Men with a measurement of more than 40 inches and women with waists larger than 35 inches are at an increased risk for these conditions.
To get an accurate read on your waist, place the measuring tape at the halfway point between your bottom rib and hip bone and tighten the tape around your waist without pinching any skin. Unlike the scale, which we are often tempted to hop on once a day, measuring the waist more than once a month won’t yield noticeable results. So relax and monitor your progress over time for good health.
When our bodies are being fueled with the right foods and challenged with exercise, we tend to feel better both physically and emotionally. We may see improvements in our energy levels, self-esteem, and overall happiness. We may also find it easier to complete daily tasks like climbing stairs, mowing the lawn, and cleaning the house.
As you introduce healthy choices, begin writing down how your body feels at the end of each day. Review your answer after a few weeks, and again after a few months, and note the change in your responses and attitude as your weight loss journey progresses.
“Mood changes are one of the most tangible rewards of weight loss,” says Dr. Castrilli. “Exercise isn’t just about losing fat. It will make you feel better hormonally, reduce depression and anxiety, and reduce muscle aches and arthritis. Often it will be the first change you notice. I’ve never heard anyone say: I’ve lost all this weight and I eat right, but I feel pretty rotten.”
If you’re just beginning to exercise, try using your clothes to monitor your fitness goals. Clothes may fit looser sooner than the number on the scale takes a plunge.
Pick a pair of jeans or pants you love and try them on. Can you button them? Are they so tight they cut off your circulation? Are they snug in the thighs? Write down how they make you feel at the start of your weight management program. Then, try them on once every two weeks to see how the fit has changed.
Once you can ease into them and they feel good, you will know you are making significant progress. Plus, you can toss your old pair. “Once you’ve moved out of those larger sizes, it’s recommended you get rid of those clothes so you don’t have an excuse to go back,” says Dyess.
A DIFFERENT CALCULATION
Chronic Disease Risk Factors
Instead of focusing on one “ideal” weight, why not focus on how weight loss can lower numbers like cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar instead? Often, just a small amount of weight loss can lead to significant improvements in these areas.
For example, if you have prediabetes, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight could lower your blood sugar and keep you from developing type 2 diabetes. That means if you weigh 200 pounds, you only need to lose 10 pounds to start seeing results.
“Being overweight or obese is going to impact every aspect of your life and your health,” says Dr. Castrilli. “Dropping the weight will make you younger in so many ways and will play a major role in preventing diseases that can develop later in life.”
“The reason the health care community is always talking about weight loss is not so that you look good in skinny jeans but because it leads to a longer, healthier life with fewer medical complications,” says Elayna Roberts with Hamilton Diabetes and Nutrition Center.
A PICTURE SPEAKS 1,000 WORDS
When we look in the mirror twice a day, it’s easy to miss the progress we are making toward our goals. “Sometimes our minds play tricks on us and we still see the same person looking back,” says Dyess.
If this sounds like you, pictures could be a useful tool. Pictures can allow you to see a side by side comparison of your progress. When you begin your fitness routine, snap a couple of full-body photos of you in form-fitting clothes at different angles. Take similar shots in the same outfit every couple of weeks and compare them over time. While this is hardly a scientific method, it will provide you with visual proof of the changes in your body – and can give you motivation to persevere.
“Who doesn’t love a before and after photo?” says Roberts. “Healthy weight loss takes place slowly, over time. Since we see ourselves every day, sometimes we need a photo from three months ago to see the change.”
EYE ON THE PRIZE
Another great way to measure progress is to set goals based on something you’d like to achieve. For example, would you like to be able to climb the stairs without getting winded? Do you want to chase after a grandchild with ease? Do you want to be able to do more at the gym with heavier weights? Make these your goals, rather than a number on the scale.
If no immediate goal comes to mind and you’re looking for inspiration, consider signing up for a 5K walk/run. Your goals can center around increasing your mileage or decreasing your race time.
Celebrating Small Victories
The number on the scale is not irrelevant; it matters to your health and
wellness. But our tendency to obsess over numbers can become a problem and keep us feeling discouraged – even when great changes are taking place. If your weight has you down, stick your bathroom scale in your hall closet for a few months
and try some of the methods we mentioned.
The journey begins with celebrating every victory, no matter how small. “Celebrate dropping an inch, celebrate feeling great, celebrate having clearer skin or more energy. Always look to the positive. These little changes start adding up over time,” says Roberts. “My clients who are most successful with long-term weight loss are not looking for a quick fix. They understand that health means making and, importantly, wanting to make healthy choices every day.”