I recently explained why I believe you shouldn’t set a time-sensitive weight loss goal. My alternative philosophy is that any consistent weight loss caused by sustainable habit change will eventually get you to where you want to be, without you putting undue pressure on yourself or setting yourself up to fail. (That, in a nutshell, defines the Healthy Enough approach.)
More specifically, I discussed the concept of “statistically relevant” weight loss, and that you should be observing the general trend of your weight loss, rather than what you weigh from one day or week to the next. In this article, I want to go into more detail regarding the above, and provide you with the tools you need to track your weight loss in a way that is both useful and informative.
What Is Statistically Relevant Weight Loss?
Weight scales can be your friend or your enemy – it’s all about how you use them.
Far too often, people use scales in a way that hinders their progress, rather than helping. In other words, they’ll put assign far too much importance to their weight from one day or week to the next, when fluctuations in such a short space of time don’t necessarily relate to fat loss (which is, of course, what we’re interested in).
For example, you might weigh yourself one week after a huge meal (with a full stomach), then weigh yourself the following week after a session of intermittent fasting (with an empty stomach). The scales may look very different as a result, but it doesn’t mean you’ve lost any fat. Another example of how the scales can ‘lie’ is water weight. Weigh yourself before and after drinking a pint of water and you’ll discover just how fickle your weight can be.
So scales aren’t perfect; far from it. However, they are by far the easiest means of objectively tracking a metric that typically correlates with fat loss (i.e. your bodyweight) during a period of time in which you are attempting to lose weight. Unless you have ongoing access to a consistently accurate means of measuring your body fat, scales are the way forward.
In the context of using scales to provide a meaningful indication of fat loss, you need to observe your weight over a statistically meaningful period of time in order to determine whether you’re losing fat. If you lose a pound from one day or week to the next, we can’t reasonably claim whether that relates to fat loss or not. However, if we find that the general trend of your weight is on a downwards curve over say a four-week period, we can be more certain that you’re heading in the right direction, rather than just experiencing fluctuations in your weight that have nothing to do with fat loss.
This has very practical ramifications. For example, as a first step in your weight loss efforts, you might choose to focus on your breakfasting habits. After a few days you couldn’t make any accurate assumptions, but after a few weeks you’d have a decent indication of how your new habits are affecting your weight loss.
What Is a Weight Loss Trend?
I’ve mentioned the word “trend” a couple of times so far. It’s a word that warrants further exploration in the context of what we’re discussing.
While knowing that you weigh 5lbs less than you did four weeks ago represents fantastic news, I’m just as interested to know about the trend of your weight loss in the long-term. Why? Because the trend is what I feel really defines success. It irons out the kinks in your weight loss journey and provides a more complete picture of where you’re heading.
Let me give you an example of a trend with a snapshot of my weight loss from March 2016 to June 2017:
The blue line represents my weekly weigh-ins. As you can see, it’s a rather up and down affair. If I allowed myself to be influenced by the blue line I’d be living through a real rollercoaster. Some weeks I’d be delighted with my progress, whereas other weeks would leave me dejected.
The green line represents the trend of my weight loss. It’s far less volatile; far more steady. It takes the fluctuations found in my weekly weigh-ins, applies some clever mathematics, and spits out a graphical assessment of whether my weight is heading in the right or wrong direction. It tells me whether what I’m doing is working, and if it will continue to work (if I carry on doing the same thing).
Depending on the length of time your trend represents, it can iron out one-off fluctuations (perhaps you had a blow-out weekend or went on holiday) and leave you to observe the results of your long-term efforts – which are far more relevant than torturing yourself because you fell off the wagon last Saturday.
It’s important to note that the trend cannot predict the future, nor can it account for the vagaries of the human condition. In is an indication of whether your weight is trending towards gain or loss based on previous data – not a miracle Magic 8-Ball. That said, it can be extremely useful in enabling you to observe the direction you should continue to head in if you carry on as you have been, and is (in my opinion) a far better metric to track than week to week weight loss.
For our purposes, all of the above boils down to one thing which lies at the very heart of the Healthy Enough approach to weight loss: as long as your weight loss trend is on a downwards curve (i.e. that green line is pointing downwards), you’re succeeding. I don’t care if you’re ‘only’ losing ¼lb per week on average – you’re still losing weight, and if you’re establishing sustainable habits that will continue to encourage similar weight loss, you will eventually get to where you want to be. As I’ve said before, unless you need to lose weight quickly for medical reasons, how long it takes is far less important than ensuring you’ll actually get there – and stay there.
Paying more attention to your weight loss trend than your week to week weigh-ins will help you to be more forgiving of your occasional transgressions, and encourage the idea of gradual, sustainable habit change, rather than faddy approaches to super-quick weight loss that almost always fail in the long run.
How Do I Track My Weight Loss in a Meaningful Way?
If you’re sold on the idea of (a) paying attention to weight loss only over a statistically relevant period of time, and (b) caring more about your weight loss trend than anything else, you might reasonably be wondering how on earth you start tracking the relevant metrics.
In anticipation of that, I’ve created a spreadsheet template that you can use. If you’re a Google Sheets user then you can simply make a copy of the spreadsheet and get cracking. If you use another spreadsheet program (such as Microsoft Excel), you can download a copy of this file in the relevant format.
To use the spreadsheet, all you need to do is add the date (in DD/MM/YYYY format) and your weight (just the number, in pounds or kilograms) on a relatively consistent basis (I’d recommend once per week). The spreadsheet will do the rest. Your weight loss trend (which you’ll find within the “Weight Loss Trend” tab) will become more instructive as the amount of data you enter grows.
It’s important that you use scales the ‘right’ way in order to ensure you’re dealing with accurate data. Here’s what you need to know:
- I highly recommend digital scales (rather than analogue). They offer a greater degree of precision.
- It’s vitally important that your scales offer consistent readings. In other words, it shouldn’t spit out different numbers if you weigh yourself twice in a row.
- Always use your scales on the same floor surface each time you weigh yourself; readings will otherwise be affected.
- You may have heard the recommendation to weigh yourself at the same time each time (e.g. first thing in the morning) in order to provide more consistent readings. This is less relevant when you’re taking a longer-term view of the data, but is good advice nonetheless.
That’s all there is to it! Weigh yourself once per week and add the data to the spreadsheet. Implement sensible habit change strategies (you’ll find plenty here on Healthy Enough) at a pace that works for you, observe their impact on your weight loss trend, and adjust accordingly. That is how you ensure sustainable weight loss.
If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ll be happy to help!