Today is the 27th of December, 2013. New Year’s Eve is 5 days away. My resolution isn’t to get in better shape or to earn more. My New Year’s Resolution is firmly set: to get as many people to ditch their scales in 2014 as possible.

I say this as a coach, brother, son, boyfriend, and former wrestler (weight class athlete). I’ve worked with several gifted young athletes. Many times, these strong, confident, and athletic females expressed concern about their body weight or had sabotaging weight-loss practices and beliefs. We should celebrate the positive measures of fitness: strength, athleticism, and conditioning.

I’ve also worked with many adult clients that avoid mirrors and physically panic at the thought of stepping onto a scale. As a strength & conditioning coach, it’s my job to motivate and encourage – not to induce panic or negativity. Suffice it to say, there is still plenty of work to be done on our obsession with body image and body weight.

Young woman afraid on a scale.

This is Not OK. There are a shocking number of similar photos, many of them offensive.

Fortunately, there is a better way. My clients and I focus on goals that minimize body weight, such as body fat percentage, tape measurement, jean size, appearance, and even feats of strength. As a result, I’ve noticed positive changes in the way that my clients talk about and feel about their appearance. They enjoy exercising more and are more motivated.

Why scales aren’t ideal for measuring fat loss

I’ll be honest. Scales are lousy at tracking fat loss. They’re nearly as lousy as measuring BMI. In both cases, you get an overall impression. BMI can screen for being overweight, but it ignores factors such as lean muscle mass and physical fitness. The only benefit of BMI is that it enables a person to quickly screen an enormous quantity of people.

But this is you we’re talking about. We want specifics. We want precision. Remember, we want to build lean muscle mass while shedding body fat. Lean muscle builds strong, sexy arms, legs, and midsections. It boosts your metabolism, revs up fat loss, and staves off bone loss. Measuring only weight lost is like using a butcher’s knife in place of a scalpel.

Many people are “overfat, but underweight.”

Not all weight loss is equal. Two people drastically change their appearance. The first loses 12lbs of fat, and 8lbs of muscle. Their metabolism drops, and they end up gaining the weight back – and then some. Hello, yo-yo dieting.

The second actually gained a few pounds. They lost plenty of fat, but built more lean mass. They typically don’t look bulky – they look lean and athletic. Fit. They are happier, even with a few extra pounds. Famously, one of my clients dropped to a previous goal weight – and had to buy all new clothes! Even though she’d been at that weight many times before! She was two sizes smaller, all because of the lean muscle mass that she’d gained.

For more, read the following articles:

Fat Loss Debunked: Why Crash Diets Can Make You Fatter

The “Big Rocks” of Fat Loss

Why You Should Be Lifting Weights

My 5 Best Ways to Ditch the Scale in 2014 in 2014.

Number 1: Trade your favorite jeans / swimsuit / dress / belt for the scale.

This is my favorite. Choose ONE day a week. That morning, first thing, try on a pair of jeans. Pick a pair that doesn’t quite fit, or that you don’t wear out in public. Write down how they looked and felt. ie – “They’re too snug at the thighs and don’t zip.” Put them away. Next week, on the same day, try them on again and record the results. If there is an improvement, record it! Within a few weeks, you should have a new favorite pair of jeans!

With brides, we often use bachelorette dresses or honeymoon swimsuits. With teenagers, we use prom dresses. With men, we use jeans, suit jackets, or belt loops. Pick something that motivates you!

Number 2: Stop talking about it!

A great quote that I heard from Alwyn Cosgrove was (paraphrasing heavily), “Your mind is a garden. Whatever you plant in it, will grow. Plant only positive thoughts.”

When it comes to your goals, choose positive thoughts. When talking to your friends and family, talk about health goals as opposed to just bodyweight. If your are medically unhealthy, focus on improving your metrics – blood pressure, high cholesterol, lipid profiles, waist to hip ratio, body fat percentage, and even goals like reducing the number of medications that you take.

If you want to improve your appearance, focus on improving specific strength or fitness. Few things are as good for saggy arms as mastering pushups and pullups.

Number 3: Set goals for strength, fitness, and nutrition behaviors & outcomes instead of pounds lost.

This is a great follow-up to number 2. My clients select three behaviors – nutrition, fitness, and health / wellness. We tie these to specific goal outcomes.

Example:

Strength – Behavior: Grease the groove pushups, every day.
Outcome: Perform 5 bodyweight pushups by next month.

Nutrition – Behavior: Avoid starchy carbs, except after breakfast
Outcome: Lose 1% body fat by next month.

Health & Wellness – Behavior: 10 Crocodile Breaths a day.
Outcome: Reduce stress and get more “me time”.

Just like #2, this is a powerful way to change your mindset. Now we’re focusing on achievable goals with positive outcomes, instead of relying on the day to day fluctuations of a scale. We’re also building healthy habits and creating a constant feeling of progress, both nutritionally and in the gym.

Number 4: Rely on a trusted friend (who has good eyesight, calipers, or a tape measure).

To be clear: my clients do step on a scale once every 6 weeks. I prefer to “triangulate” progress. We combine body weight with performance measures, body fat %, and tape measurements. Of those, scale weight is by far the least important.

I prefer not to poke and prod, so I skip the calipers and use bioimpedance scales instead. Combined, I have an overall picture of progress. And weighing in once every six weeks is much, much better than daily or weekly weigh-ins for peace of mind.

Typically, people will measure every two weeks, once a month, or once every six weeks. It depends on the urgency of your goal. Get a non-judgmental buddy, and ask them to help you track your progress. These measurements are more specific to actual body fat. While the accuracy of body fat scales is in question, the reliability is what matters here. Focus on gradual improvement, the actual number is less important than the progress itself.

Number 5: Focus on strength goals

This is a slight restatement of number 3. All of my clients practice bodyweight exercises. Squats, lunges, pushups, inverted rows, pullups, and occasionally dips. Some even progress into handstands, hand balancing, and gymnastic skills.

The inherent beauty is this: you need a respectable level of strength to do these. If you are a female, unassisted pushups and pullups are a major accomplishment. They’re tough for many men too, let’s be honest. And if you’re overweight, they become a gold standard. As you gain strength and lose weight, they become easier.

If you are gaining lean mass at the rate of fat loss, your weight may stall, but your strength will still improve in leaps and bounds. Again, pushups and pullups are a natural measure of body weight. If that’s too easy, go ahead and master a one-armed pushup or a pistol squat.

Summary

To recap:

  1. Try on clothing, once a week. Write it down. Feel good about it. Look forward to wearing it out.
  2. Stop talking about bodyweight! It’s not a “bad word”, but focus on health instead.
  3. Set goals for fitness-related behaviors and outcomes. Strength, nutrition, and health.
  4. If you measure, measure things like inches, body fat percentage, and appearance.
  5. Get stronger and set strength goals! Bodyweight exercises are nature’s measuring stick.

Exceptions: If you are a weight-class athlete, scales are the nature of the beast. Scales have their uses, absolutely. But for the general population, it’s time to take a step back.

What are your favorite “life hacks”? Do you agree, or disagree? Leave your comments at the bottom of the page, and use the links there to share this on Facebook with your friends.

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