Ditch the Scale – New Ways to Measure Your Weight Loss and Fitness Progress

(Guest post by Jessica Covington)

I have a new scale, and it’s a crazy-maker.

Deciding to go kinda fancy, I bought a model that measures (and tracks in memory) weight, BMI, percentages of both lean muscle and fat, hydration level, visceral fat, and body age. It’s a pretty amazing piece of technology.

It’s a little TOO amazing. Scales aren’t really even my cup of tea; I got it mostly for my husband and his weight-loss goals. But I got hooked on it in just a few days’ time. At first, I weighed once a day. Then it was twice. My record-high number of weigh-ins in a single day was 5. My trigger was the “body age” reading — I started at body age 32 (even though I’m actually 41). I felt pretty good about that, but the next day I was at 30.

Hell, who doesn’t want to age in reverse?

I decided to push the envelope, dropping weight to see that number tick down. I got to body age 23, but I was miserable from eating nothing but celery for a week. THAT is crazy. (See, even fitness professionals can fall prey to the seduction of the scale.)

Weight can have completely normal fluctuations of several pounds over the course of a week and even within just one day!

It’s foolish to get hung up on it and pin your mood, behavior, and diet on a number — but I did it, for a couple of weeks, actually. Finally, I got tired of feeling obligated to a bad mood just because the number went up a tick.

That’s when it hit me: there is entirely too much emphasis on scales and measures in this world of fitness and weight loss. I have known this in my head (and even counseled others on it) for a while, but had not encountered the feeling first-hand until this wake-up.

I started thinking about different, saner, more meaningful ways to measure what we really want – methods of measuring the progress made while eating right and getting good exercise. Here’s a start:

1. Benchmark by your best clothes. Find an outfit — any top and bottom that you love — and put them on. Take photos, if you like. Note where they’re tight or loose, and how that measures up with your overall loss or toning goals. Get to your calendar, and schedule a time once a week (no more and no less) to try on the exact same outfit and note your results.

2. Take the stairs. If you have stairs at home or at work (or any place nearby and easily accessible), get on ‘em. Run or walk them at top speed without skipping stairs — do it once if that’s what you can manage, or several times if you’re already a rockstar. Go to your max and make a note of it. How many flights did you run? How long did it take you (a stopwatch or an app will be handy here)? Most importantly, how do you feel? (On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is lying in bed and 10 is at the brink of death, where do you rank?) Repeat this exercise once every 2 weeks — weekly wouldn’t be bad, if you’re the type who’s patient with seeing results. But don’t “practice” the drill in between measurements to better your results — focus on your other regular exercise and just observe how this benchmark changes over time.

3. Sprint to the corner. Similar to the stair method, you can do this on any measured distance. Choose a running track or just the block you live on — it doesn’t matter as long as it’s consistently the same space. If you’re dealing with a short distance, run (or walk) your top speed as many times as you can. Track your time, repetitions, and perceived exertion on the 1-10 scale above — and avoid practice drills. Another useful measure: the time it takes you to return to a feeling of rest. Once you finish the sprint and you’re gasping for air, start the timer and let it run until you feel your breath is back to a normal pace and you no longer feel tired from the exertion. (The logic here is that the faster your cardiorespiratory system recovers, the fitter you are.)

4. The good old President’s Test. Remember that semi-annual routine your PE teacher put you through in grade school? Dig it out and try it again. It may seem antiquated, but it’s actually a really solid indicator of overall fitness for kids and adults alike. Their website explains it much better than I can – check it out

When you’re tempted to hop on the scale for the 5th time this week (or heaven forbid, in one DAY), take a breath and think about what you’re really measuring.

Does your life really hang on a number? Or are you in this fitness game to feel better, live longer, enjoy more while you’re here?

The 4 benchmarks above do a far better job of measuring these things than a scale ever will.

If you’re looking for a few ways to move the proverbial needle, though, even though you’re not testing with it, see some of my prior posts on interval training, including Tabata intervals, sneaking toning into a regular day, and starting your own walking group. You can also find some great DVDs and books via Amazon.

Now, let’s hear it — what are YOUR ideas about different ways to measure health progress without stepping on a scale?

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Jessica Covington is a dance and yoga enthusiast whose life went from spontaneous freedom filled days when she could dance and do yoga to her heart's content to becoming a busy mom and discovering the difficulty that comes with finding a class at the moment she was available to take one.  

Determined to find a solution to her problem of finding the time to fit in what she loves to do, Jessica created www.ClickAClass.com, a site that provides an easy way to find out what class she can take at the moment she has free time.  You can check Jessica out at at www.ClickAClass.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.  Check out her entry on ways to measure your weight loss WITHOUT getting on the scale, a philosophy I wholeheartedly believe in.

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