There are better ways to track the progress of your diet and workout plan than busting out the bathroom scale
We've learned so much about our bodies over the years. We know that weight fluctuates, that we retain more water after workouts, and that a pound of fat certainly does not equal a pound of muscle. So why is it that we still allow ourselves to be slaves to the scale?
Truth is, those numbers peering up at you from the cold bathroom floor are pretty much the worst indicators of health and fitness success. It doesn't matter if you're trying to lose weight, gain weight, tone existing muscles, or discover new ones—experts agree the following methods are much better ways to determine when you're on the path to fitness nirvana.
Listening to Your Body
Practice becoming more in-tune with your body, because if you listen, it will tell you much more than the scale ever will. "I often have clients come in and say, 'I don't know if the scale moved, but I feel so great,'" says Stephanie Middleberg, R.D., of New York City–based Middleberg Nutrition. "This means their energy is up, their skin is clear, they are going to the bathroom consistently, and their cravings are way down."
Beating Personal Records
This is a great method for those who feel numbers are crucial to measuring success. "If you are going to focus on numbers, focus on something that you have control over, something that can only motivate you in a positive way," recommends Boston-based fitness competitor and vlogger Taryn Gilligan. We're talking about personal goals and records. Whether that's adding an extra plate on the bar during your most recent trip to the gym, holding your plank for an extra 10 seconds, or running another mile, simply altering your quantitative-focused mindset can do wonders for your fitness journey going forward.
Tackling Everyday Tasks
Perhaps the simplest way to gauge how far you've come in your fitness journey is to pay attention to how you feel doing everyday tasks. Whether its carrying laundry up and down the stairs or cleaning up after the kids, mundane chores will typically become easier as you become stronger. These methods of measuring health and fitness success can be the most important of all because, as fitness expert and Get Healthy U founder Chris Freytag says, "they are real life."
How You Reward Yourself
There's no denying we live in a world that automatically associates celebrations with food. A sign that you've reached a new level of health and fitness success is realizing you don't need that chocolate cake or French fries to celebrate a major accomplishment or milestone, whether it's being promoted, moving in with your boyfriend, or going down a dress size. "To celebrate, go dancing. You'll have fun and you'll get a great workout," says Pamela Graham, a personal trainer and founder of Healthy Bod Fitness in New York City. "If dancing isn't your thing, go to a play or a concert, or buy yourself a new pair of shoes—better yet, a new pair of sneakers or a cute new outfit for the gym that will keep you motivated." (Here, some inspiration: The Best Sneakers to Crush Your Workout Routines.)
Zipping Your Jeans
Freytag believes so much in this method, she even has a saying for it: "Zip it up once a week for weight loss." Grab your favorite pair of jeans and see where you fall on her denim spectrum: baggy (great!), fit as they always have (good!), suddenly snug (red flag!), or can't even get into them (sound the alarm!). "Your scale is going to fluctuate," she says. "But if your jeans are starting to get tight," it might signal a change is needed in your health and fitness routine.
Acknowledging Your Power
It's incredibly empowering when you're not intimidated by food choices. When you reach this level of success, not only will the foods you used to consider diet staples become unappetizing, but formerly paralyzing food situations—traveling, a business meeting, a date—will become effortless. "There is no better marker for success than knowing you made the best possible choice you could in each situation," says Middleberg.
Finding New Purpose
If you're in the camp of people who started their health and fitness journey for appearance reasons, you are not alone. But as you continue on your healthy path, you may begin to uncover real intent behind your new lifestyle. "What's your purpose? Do you want to feel strong? Do more things? Have more energy?" asks Freytag. "None of those things are tied to the scale. Have goals beyond your weight." (What's on Your Fitness Bucket List?)
This isn't to say that your nightly coffee habit or an underlying sleep disorder isn't what's really keeping you up at night, but if you're tossing and turning, first look to your diet and exercise routine, says Freytag. A solid seven to nine hours of sleep, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation, is a great indicator that your health and fitness needs are being met.
Sexting and duck-face jokes aside, taking photos of yourself is a very effective way to measure health and fitness success. "The scale doesn't tell you what's water, what's fat, and what's muscle. It doesn't know that you're PMS-ing or that you had a killer leg workout the previous day," says Gilligan. "Progress pictures, however, are instrumental in helping you see the changes in your body from one day to the next, one month to the next, or even from where you started years ago." Ali Holman, co-owner of online workout website CoreCamper.com, recommends breaking out the measuring tape every four to six weeks along with the camera. "When we live in our bodies, we don't really see the daily progress," she says.
Sometimes, the ultimate indicator of health and fitness success is that you've simply found balance. If you're starving yourself, working out incessantly, constantly punishing yourself for poor food choices, or stepping on the scale multiple times per day, that's unhealthy. "Getting into health and fitness can make a lot of people feel like they're chasing their tail," says Gilligan. "Either it consumes them, or they feel like they can never find their groove and fall off the wagon." But when you can enjoy an indulgent dinner or skip a workout without feeling guilty—because you know you're being healthy the majority of the time—that's the most important thing.(For a jumpstart on your health journey, begin with an easy-to-follow schedule, like this Monday-Sunday Diet Plan to Lose Weight in a Week.)