When you begin to make changes to improve your health, it is common to look to the scale to measure your progress. Unfortunately, a scale can be an unreliable way to track progress. The scale does not read body composition, and it can’t tell the difference between water weight, muscle composition or fat. Additionally, our health can improve in many ways that are not related to our weight, as many people are now learning with the Health At Every Size movement.
Health At Every Size, or HAES, recognizes that weight loss can sometimes be complicated and associated with yo-yo dieting, which has adverse effects on health. The movement advocates for being as healthy as you can at whatever weight you are. There are benefits to focusing on healthy behaviors rather than simply losing weight, including a more positive relationship with food, better self-esteem and a sense of self-efficacy.
So what are some ways we can evaluate changes in ourselves without the scale? Here are three ways you can track your physical and mental improvements:
1. Measurements or Tests. Sometimes when we make changes for the better, the scale does not seem to budge. But just because you are not losing weight does not mean your body has not changed. Muscle weighs more than fat tissue, therefore, it is possible that you can become leaner without seeing an immediate change in weight.
The change also does not have to depend on how you look. Another way to tell if you have made progress is to track your fitness goals or keep a fitness journal. Are you able to fit in more steps than before? Are you able to achieve more squats during your workout? Or lift heavier weights? Maybe you ran that extra half-mile that you just couldn’t do before. Or maybe, the change you needed was to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure and you are able to see those results through your lab tests or provider. These are awesome goals and prove how healthy we can be regardless of our weight!
2. Keep a Food Diary. Your weight or body composition does not always need to change as an indicator of health improvements. Another way to measure your health is how you feel. Keeping a food diary can be an important tool. Not only can it be helpful to see what and how much you are eating, but it can also be helpful to track how you feel after eating. Making better food choices along with noting how you feel both physically and mentally can help you see any progress.
You can use a physical diary or notebook if you like, or you can try an app like Ate, which allows you to either take pictures of food or type in what you’ve eaten along with how you felt before and after the meal. Perhaps you will start to notice feelings of guilt or dissatisfaction after a meal replaced with feelings of nourishment, contentment or happiness.
3. Goal Tracking. It can be very valuable to set goals when it comes to making changes to your health. Not only can it help you to make long-lasting changes, but it can also help you see the progress you have made. Make sure you set SMART goals, which are:
An example of a SMART goal looks like this: “Take a 15-minute walk after dinner, three times per week for the next month.” Write down your SMART goals and remind yourself to check your progress. If you are not attaining your goals, evaluate why not. Were they not realistic? How can you change your goals to make them attainable? If you achieve your goals, make sure you take the time to celebrate yourself. Is it attainable to amp up your goal (i.e., increase exercising from 15 to 30 minutes per day)? Over time as you meet your goals you will gain more confidence in your ability to make positive changes. You can also list out all the goals you have met and hang it on your wall or fridge to remind yourself how far you have come.
Learn more about making healthy behavior changes and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by Jennifer Cassidy, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern