Recently I had a discussion with another dietitian about her counseling approach she called “intuitive eating.” Intuitive eating avoids things such as calorie counting, meal plans, and stepping on the scale. Clients are encouraged to listen to what their body needs and to eat accordingly. Progress is measured by an improved relationship with food and an increased ability to hear what your body needs. While I value concepts in “intuitive eating,” such as understanding your personal relationship with food and mindful eating, I believe that some clients need more. Many of my clients are interested in creating healthier “strategies” in their lives, seek guidance in food choices/meal planning, and enjoy becoming a more educated “eater.” Some clients thrive on numbers which keep them motivated and encouraged. Regardless of one’s weight loss “approach,” measuring progress towards goals by creating a sense of “awareness” is valuable. While intuitive eaters might frown upon some of these measurements, I think they have a place. How do you “measure” progress towards your health goals? 1) The Dreadful Scale or the Daily Motivator? How do you view your scale? Is it an enemy or a friend that helps you keep on track? How often, if ever, should we weigh ourselves? Daily, monthly, never? In my practice, it depends on the individual, but evidence, such as the following supports any recommendation. The National Weight Control Registry is a group of over 5,000 members that have lost an average of 66# and kept it off for 5.5 years or longer. They are successful long-term weight loss winners. One characteristic they share is an awareness of small changes on the scale, and they weighed themselves at least weekly. I argue that for some, healthy minded individuals, daily weighing can be educational and beneficial. However, the following must occur: they must weigh themselves in the buff first thing in the morning (only), after they have voided. What one gains from this is an understanding of their weight trends . Hydration status, carbohydrate intake, hormones, and sodium intake all play a role in a daily weight, and clients learn to understand those influences on body weight and not throw in the towel after one “off” weight. In the end at 150, 155, or 152 lbs, you are still an amazing individual and should not define your worth by a number on the scale. Body Composition : Obtaining information about how much muscle and fat mass one has is important when starting a new exercise regimen and/or weight loss program. Many times when beginning an exercise program, a client might not see much downward movement on the scale, but…there are positive changes in body composition (less fat, more muscle). These changes in body comp will eventually result in weight loss on the scale. Regardless of the technique used to test body fat (calipers, underwater weighing, etc), you should wait at least 6-8 weeks before repeating the measurement. Most measurement tools are not sensitive enough to pick up a change in a shorter amount of time. Changes in clothes size . So the scale might not have budged, but the belt size has shrunk? This is another positive sign that you are losing body fat, and maintaining muscles mass. Muscle takes up less space than fat, and if your clothes are getting looser… you are doing something right…Regardless of the number on the scale. Other “non-weight” measurements that should be applauded is an improvement in overall energy, your ability to curl 20 pounds up from 15, your finish in a first 10K race, and the choice to walk past office birthday cake as you take a bite of your apple. Whichever measurement you decide to use to “size up” your progress, noting your accomplishments is valuable for continued success. Take a step beyond “intuition” and find concrete ways to measure achieved goals.
Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.