- You make a new year’s resolution (or Monday morning promise) to lose weight.
- You start exercising and set a goal to cut out sweets .
- You step on the scale after a week or so and celebrate the loss of your first few pounds.
- Then you go out with friends to the new place that just opened, eating “just a little off course” and having a few “adult beverages”.
- The next Monday, you step on the scale again in disappointment to see that your weight didn’t budge – or worse, it went up!
- Bummed out and frustrated, you chalk it up to hormones, getting older, or whatever.. You’ll try again next week/month/next school break. Ugh.
Such is the story of many people who have tried to get in better shape and aren’t seeing the results they had hoped for. Fortunately, one missing piece might just be the element that will make a difference, and studies have confirmed its correlation with seeing better results – tracking your progress.
Tracking Works (What Gets Measured Gets Done)
Let’s say you are budgeting for a family trip. You’re probably making plans for things like…
- An end target: How much do you need to save?
- A timeline: By when will you need to save it?
- A process: What will you do to reach your goals along the way?
- A measure of success: What does accomplishing the goal look (and feel) like?
The more crystal clear your plan is laid out (AND monitored), the better the chances are that you will have saved enough to take the trip at the end of your timeline.
On the other hand, just “winging it” with no process, or measure of how you’ll monitor yourself, may or may not help you achieve your goal, or at least not in the time you hoped you would.
It’s the same with teaching. It’s the same with weight loss. Winging it may work for a while, but if you want to hit your targets consistently, tracking progress at incremental steps is a more direct path to the end result. Not only do you increase your chances of reaching the goal, but getting their faster, too!
Several studies have shown significant associations between self-monitoring and meeting weight loss goals. In school, we call this self-assessment and we teach our students this important skill of monitoring their own progress (or lack of it) all the time.
Tracking your weight loss progress will reveal just how well you are doing on your road to a fitter you, but keep in mind it’s not a magic bullet. You’re still gonna have to put out some effort (shucks, I know). But if you do that, in conjunction with a proper plan of nutrition and exercise, tracking your progress has so many benefits:
- It gives immediate, tangible feedback
- It helps break down the larger goal into incremental benchmarks
- It shows how far away you are to your desired outcome, so you can course correct if needed
- It reveals when you are in a plateau, so you can change up your workout or nutrition
- It lets you see an objective record of your progress, removing emotion from the process
What to Track
Without getting too crazy-obsessed about things, tracking can actually be simple.
The three main things you want to track are:
Track your end target
(1) weight and/or inches lost
and the two things that contribute to getting you there.
Track all three for a complete picture of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going.
How to Track
Track Your Body
As far as your body measurements and weight, I created a printable tracking sheet that you might want to use (you can download it here), or you can come up with your own. You can make one using excel, a pen & paper diary, or with an app on your phone.
When taking measurements follow these 3 tips:
- Be consistent with your method (where you place the tape measure, how tight you pull it, etc.)
- Take measurements at the same time of day
- Take measurements in multiple places on your body
On my tracking sheet, I added some things beyond the usual “chest, waist, hips”. My problem area after a hysterectomy has been my “pooch”, so I added that to my list (Yup, I track that!).
Anyway, that’s just how I measure me, so you do you, and measure what you want. The more info you have, the better. You never know where your changes will start to show up!
Watch this quick video to see how to be as accurate as possible when taking your body measurements.
Track Your Weight
While I’m not a huge scale-worshiper, I do still step on that thing once in a while. Some people weigh in every day, which I used to do, but I don’t recommend that.
When I used to weigh myself daily, I noticed I started becoming fixated on the number, ignoring all the little things that can make weight fluctuate day in and day out, instead of looking at the overall trend. It wasn’t a positive start to my day. I figured I already had enough stress in life, so I switched to once a week. :)
In general, follow these 3 tips for weighing in:
- Weigh yourself in the morning, after emptying your bladder
- Wear the same clothing
- Use the same scale in the same position
Does muscle really weigh more than fat?
The answer to that is, no, a pound is a pound. But what is true is that muscle is more dense than fat. For that reason, muscle takes up less physical space than fat does, so while the scale may fluctuate (and even go up a bit), be sure to remember that how your clothes fit, your body measurements, and your overall wellness tell you much more than a number on a scale does.
Keep that in perspective and I have no problem with tracking the pounds, too.
Take Photos every 30 days
You know what else reveals a lot about your progress? Photos.
YES, photos, my friend.
If this makes you cringe, don’t worry, NO ONE has to see them but you.
Trust me, you will be so happy with yourself when you start seeing some progress and you look back at your old self and celebrate your accomplishments.
For a lot of people, especially with only a few pounds to lose, the scale doesn’t budge much, but they do see definite reshaping going on when they look at their body in photos over time.
Photographs help you visually document your journey. When you reach your goals and realize you never let a camera near the “old you”, you will kick yourself (hard!). Be nice to the future you and take those photos now.
Watch this quick video for a demo on how to take great before/during/after photos. Then grab a camera, a friend or tripod, and click away! Trust me, the sense of accomplishment when you look back will be worth it!
As mentioned earlier, several studies have shown significant associations between people’s self-monitoring and weight loss. Food tracking is actually easy with all the new technology available. I like to use the free app MyFitnessPal.com, but there are a ton of others out there, too.
The basic ingredients I would put into my food log include:
- amount/portion size
Some people diary other things, like how hungry they were at the time of each meal, how the meal made them feel, whether they felt satisfied, what kind of cravings they had, etc. Feel free to make it personal.
A Word on Macros
Other items you might measure are the proportion of macro-nutrients, or macros (fat, protein, carbs) you are taking in throughout a day.
Most people should aim for a balance between the three, and if you are entering your food on MyFitnessPal, it automatically generates a pie chart showing your macros percentages, so you can adjust accordingly at your next meal. You can even plot in all your food for the day in advance, and see how balanced it comes out. That way, you can adjust before the day begins.
Note: If you are using the 21 Day Fix container system, this has all already been accounted for!
Everyone’s optimal macros ratio will be different depending on things like your age, activity level, and fitness goals. If you’re interested, this site explains macros really well and even has a built in calculator for you. After you see your optimal amounts of carbs, proteins, and fats, just divide each by the total to see your optimal ratio.
If you are in any of my challenge groups, tracking your workouts is very easy, since every program includes a schedule mapped out for you on a calendar and we post it each day in the group. If not, you can use a notebook, a physical calendar, or an app on your phone.
I love pretty notebooks like this one!
Here are some basic things for tracking your workout:
- write down/check off the workout of the day
- if using weights, note the reps and weight for each move
- keep it simple (don’t spend too much time with it – time that could be spent on the workout itself)
Hopefully by now you’ve come to the conclusion that you should start to track your progress. Congratulations on taking an active role in your fitness and your health! You may want to bookmark this page so you have the two videos teaching you how to measure and how to take your photos. I go back and watch those often.
And remember, what gets measured gets done!
If you would like to join me for a scripture-based 5-day devotional to jump start your fitness journey, come get it HERE (it’s FREE).
To your success and beyond!