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What's the Best Way to Track Progress for Weight Loss?

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

PLEASE NOTE: If you've ever been diagnosed with or had signs of an eating disorder, this article is NOT for you. If you're not sure, I encourage you to contact your medical provider and a qualified therapist, and check out NAMI and NIMH for information.

SPOILER: There is no right or wrong answer, so I'm not going to say you should or shouldn't weigh yourself. This is an individual issue, and I'm going to share the things matter so you can decide what's right for you. I'm writing about this topic because for most people, getting on the scale is an emotionally loaded experience 😱, bringing up not so positive emotions that have developed over years of dieting. I never require that my clients weigh themselves if they don't want to.

So that's that. No need to bother the rest of this article, right? I can skip the scale. Yes, ABSOLUTELY, if it makes you feel badly. Shame, especially, is about the most useless of these feelings because it doesn't lead to positive action, and takes your prefrontal cortex i.e., executive function, off-line. This leaves you relying on the limbic system, i.e., your primal fight or flight response. Not helpful. (Check out Brene Brown's podcasts, TED talks or articles on shame for more on that.) On the other hand, if you're not assessing, you're guessing. In other words, if you're trying to lose weight or fat, it's a good idea to know whether what you're doing is working or not. It's also one of common practices for people who have lost weight, and kept it off for the long-term.

I know, it seems like a catch-22, but it doesn't have to be. There are other options you can use to assess:

  • Measuring several points on your body

  • Using a clothing or an accessory

  • The scale, maybe, with some reframing

Measurements - I highly recommend this method, especially if you haven't used it before, because it's often less emotionally complicated. The downside is that takes some practice to make sure you're doing it properly. Like healthier eating, it gets easier with practice. I also really like this method if you're strength training while working on healthier eating. Measurements tend to be a better gauge of progress when you're building muscle, because muscle takes up less space than fat. If measuring multiple body parts is too much, start with chest, waist, and hips to keep it simple.


Clothing - I recommend against using something that doesn't fit at all. This means avoiding a clothing item that used to fit or buying something that you're working towards. My experience has been that it's not helpful because it puts the focus on outcome and it's a real self-esteem squasher. Also not recommended: "just notice how your clothes are fitting you every once in awhile". Nope, I'm talking about using some objectivity, choosing something that's a bit snug, documenting with a photograph, and repeating, on a regular schedule. Remember, the point is to track your progress.


The Scale - I know, it's a bit confusing when I seem to be giving you all the reasons why this isn't the way to go. The reason why it's here is because it's convenient, quick, and simple. And, if you can start separating the emotion from the data, and practice self-compassion, it can leave you feeling a bit more powerful. If you're not sure if this is right for you, check out the resources again in the first paragraph. If you don't suspect an eating disorder, go ahead. Try repeating "it's just information" to yourself as you record your weight or turn it into a question: Is what I've been doing working?


A Combination of 2 or All of These Methods - Yes, it may seem overkill or perfectionist to do more than one, but the more information you collect, the more accurate a picture you have about whether you're making progress. No need to track every method, every time. Figure out what works best for you.


Common questions:

How often should I collect data?

Every 1-2 weeks. Why? Daily measurements/weight can fluctuate and there's no need to get your knickers in a knot over a single day. Long term change takes TIME. Every 1-2 weeks gives you trending information, so that you can make a course correction or see that what you're doing is working.

If I'm weighing myself, how much weight should I aim to lose on a weekly basis?

Results vary widely from person to person. Generally speaking, the more dramatic the short term change, the less likely you will maintain it. I'm talking here especially to those who've used calorie trackers that let you set a weekly weight loss goal. Losing more than 2 pounds a week is considered unsafe due to association with negative health effects.

TOP SECRET NUTRITION COACH TIP: Focusing on the amount of weight you want to lose is NOT AS IMPORTANT OR HELPFUL as focusing your energy and attention on the daily process of behavior change. In fact, this strategy usually backfires.

My measurements have gone down/my clothing fits better, but my weight has not! Is this normal?!

It can be normal, especially if you are focusing on strength training/muscle building exercise. Keep collecting data and paying attention to your energy levels, how physical tasks feel, etc. Find reference points on your body to make sure that you are being consistent with the locations you are measuring.

Remember, the data is just one part of the journey. Keep the big picture in mind: health and energy levels, and keeping/growing a positive mindset toward healthier choices. Real change takes time, so record your non-data victories too!

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