Progress pictures are usually the gold standard when it comes to seeing fat loss results. However if you are taking crappy pictures, this can skew your real results and make you believe you aren't progressing at all. Somehow progress pics have been relegated to what we see on Instagram. Obvious results in your before and after shots and no mention of what happened during the “in between” time of your photos. Over time, this has caused people to have a warped sense of what true progress pictures should look like. Let's take a look at the reasons why we may not be seeing any progress in our photos.
Why your photos suck and what you can do about them
Weird times of day/month. Whenever you take pics, pick a consistent time where they will be taken in. You're always gonna look leaner in the morning than you do in the evening with a belly full of food, and body full of sodium. Comparing photos taken at different times might have just enough bloat happening to hide the tiniest bit of change.
Camera positioning. A higher placed camera angle will always make you look leaner than a lower one. Don't ever compare the two. Pick your position: put the camera there every time and walk to the exact same spot every time. Taking close up pics will always make you look bigger than further away, and headless body shots zoomed in will give you grounds for crying!
Focusing only on “problem areas.” When you do this you're not paying attention to whether you have progress elsewhere. Problem areas are called that for a reason. Expect them to be the LAST to go and stop studying them and allowing what appears to be lack of progress dictate that ALL progress is nonexistent.
Not understanding juxtaposition. If one area is shrinking faster than another, the slower shrinking area will look BIGGER. If all areas are shrinking at the same rate, it typically means pics appear EXACTLY the same.
You don't have “the eye” (or you're annoyed by it). Sometimes the oddest things will indicate progress. Maybe your bra strap isn't digging in anymore. Maybe your swimsuit bottoms cover more bottom than before, or maybe a tattoo has “moved” a little on your body.
If you're gonna look, look for PROGRESS – don't just snap a pic to “prove” your negative thoughts of “nothing is changing!” Take pics to prove yourself WRONG, and use ANY progress as a sign that you're still on the right track to LONG LASTING progress. (The longer it takes, the longer it'll last, because the habits required to maintain it will be rock solid)
For the large majority of women, we have all been on a diet of some sort of another in our lives. Most of us who have a dieting past, have been on countless programs or attempts and have spent more money on diet programs or books or fitness products than we care to admit. We lived our lives under the scrutiny of whatever diet plan we were trying that month. Whether that was counting points, living the “Clean Eating” or Paleo life, drinking nothing but shakes and processed, overpriced “diet” products to somehow quickly shed pounds fast and fit into smaller sized clothing. At the very heart of any diet program is the relationship your body has with the scale. That number means more than anything in the world to a dieter.
I’m sure many of us have experienced the euphoria that comes when you jump on the scale and see your number go down. We internally throw ourselves a party and celebrate how proud we are that our sacrifice for that week paid off and it was “worth it.” Some of us could continue this charade for a few weeks, or months even before the Diet Breakdown begins and we either plateau or fall off our programs. As a dieter, you berate yourself, call yourself all kinds of names, get depressed that the weight came back on and more. But yet, no one ever gets rid of the scale. Somehow that stupid piece of machinery still holds more value to a dieter than anyone or anything could. And so the cycle continues. And the self worth plummets. All because a scale flashes a number the diet industry had shunned you to believe is horrible.
I know what you are thinking…
“I’m off the diet track. I found EM2WL and I’m healing my metabolism with a reset. I don’t play the diet games anymore!!”
If you are still stepping on a scale and letting that number dictate how you feel – You are still playing the dieting games.
I never considered myself a scale watcher. I weighed in once a week when I dieted and it never bothered me to see the number any other time than my weekly weigh in. It never occurred to me to weigh in any more than necessary for my diet plan. When I began with EM2WL a few years ago, I started off watching the scale number so I could follow the trend in weight vs. calorie intake. Somewhere along the way an obsession took over and I was weighing in daily. At first, I convinced myself I NEEDED to see the number daily so I could be accountable – I could make sure I was eating the right amount of calories, that my Reset number was accurate. Even when I began on my first cut, I watched the scale meticulously to ensure a downward trend was happening.
My obsession with the scale took over for the better part of two years during my journey, even though I wasn’t on any dieting program. I went from someone who never owned a scale to someone who couldn’t begin the day unless I knew what my number was. I can remember being asked the simple question “How are you?” And my answer would always be based on what the scale said that morning – If it was down, then I was happy. If it was up, I was angry/miserable/sad/confused etc. It didn’t matter if I was attempting a Cut, or sitting in a Reset trying to find my TDEE – That stupid scale meant more to me than anything.
I tried to convince myself that it didn’t mean anything, that it was just a number, but after a while, the scale started adding so much stress to my life, it was crushing me. I felt like an alcoholic trying to get another drink. I couldn’t function unless I knew if I was “up” or “down” If the scale said I had gained, I refused to believe people when they sent me a compliment. I refused to listen to my trainer who warned me my cortisone levels were skyrocketing and it would hinder my progress. I refused to remove myself from that crushing prison I had put myself into.
An inanimate object whose only purpose is to tell you what your relationship with gravity is
A hunk of metal that cannot distinguish between muscle, fat, water, bones, clothing, and bodily fluids.
A piece of dieting equipment that is used to make you feel like nothing matters but that number.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the scale was slowly killing me. My obsession spilled into everyday life. I couldn’t give 100% to the Reset process because of that scale. I feared eating more calories would jump the scale number up to my heaviest – something I never wanted to see again. My self worth plummeted and I began to withdraw from my marriage. I couldn’t fathom how my husband still wanted to be with me and I began picking fights with him over the silliest of things. I withdrew from my friendships, thinking I didn’t belong with them, that I must be some charity case to them. I started thinking that my kids were embarrassed by me and my size. I even stupidly walked away from my trainer, because I couldn’t let go of my obsession.
All because a scale told me a number that the diet industry said I shouldn’t be.
I don’t remember why I finally put the scale away. I hit the wall somewhere along the line and decided I could no longer live like this. I went cold turkey and the cold sweats began shortly after. I suffered through weeks of doubt, wondering if my number went up or down. I would sit in the bathroom staring at the spot on the floor where my scale was and wish it would appear again. I felt like some caged animal pacing back and forth, waiting for purgatory to end.
And then it happened.
One morning I got up, started my day and not once did the thought of weighing myself come into my mind.
Slowly, I felt this weight being lifted from my shoulders, and my head was coming out of the fog.
My stress levels were vanishing.
I would get asked “How are you?” and I could actually answer with a true emotion.
I found myself smiling more.
I started to engage in relationships with my family and friends again.
I finally allowed myself to find my true maintenance level and begin on a true reset. This allowed me to make huge strength gains in the gym.
I slowly but surely started putting my life back together.
Over the last year, I have made some amazing steps to truly loving myself and my journey. (more on that in another blog:)) For the first time in my life, I found self love and the courage to love who I am right now. These things would not have been possible if I still allowed that scale to dictate who I am. My progress is not hindered in any way because I don’t know how much I weigh.
The world did not end because I stopped letting a scale dictate my self worth.
The scale cannot tell you how much muscle you have.
The scale cannot tell you if you lost fat or muscle.
The scale does not tell you anything but your relationship to gravity in that given moment.
The scale will not tell you how beautiful you are.
The scale will not show you how loved you are.
The scale will not make you a better wife/mother/sister/friend.
The scale cannot track how heavy your barbell has become.
The scale will not keep you warm and safe at night.
If you are still stepping on that scale, to “monitor” your progress, I urge you to step off of it. If you cannot handle seeing that number rise to a level you might not be comfortable with, then please do yourself one huge favor, and put the scale away. There is so much more to your journey than a number on a scale.
You are much more than a number.
Water Weight Gain.
Words that seem to strike fear in the hearts of dieting women across the globe. When did we start giving water so much power and authority?
Oh yes…that second word: WEIGHT. More specifically, water weight gain, has women everywhere constantly searching for solutions on how to “solve” it.
Sure, when it's that time of month, and we can't squeeze into our “good” clothes, it can be annoying. Or we have a sodium fest, and feel like our jewelry is cutting off our circulation…not fun.
But is water really our nemesis?
Typical concerns of Water Weight Gain
Retained water becomes contaminated because your kidneys can't filter out contaminants properly when you're dehydrated. The liver is then called upon to help process these waste products, which interferes with one of its main functions, breaking down body fat. So without sufficient water in your body you're likely to end up water-logged and bloated.
This is also said to lead to a problem with sodium. When you're dehydrated, sodium can't be adequately flushed from the body, causing further water retention, and any additional sodium ingested in your diet simply aggravates the problem.
Water and your muscles
Sometimes it feels as if water is working against us when we develop that “soft” look to our muscles. This is because diets or activities that cause excessive fluid loss have a significant effect on muscle size. Without sufficient water you become dehydrated. Your body begins to retain water to protect itself, and much of this water is stored subcutaneously, which smooths out muscle definition dramatically. This is why you hear of bodybuilders drinking up to a gallon or more each day to offset their higher sodium diets and intense workouts, in attempt to keep their muscles “hard” and visible.
Water weight gain during new workout phases
Gaining weight (~5 lbs) when starting a new exercise program is completely normal. If you are changing up your program every 4-6 weeks, then expect a jumpy scale. Period. It's all good. Just let your body do it's thing and stop depending on the scale ONLY for progress reports.
This is important to remember if you are in a program that uses “phases” that change regularly (such as LU app, STS, CLX, P90X, etc). You may experience a jump with every phase, and the scale could take up to three weeks to “equalize.” This means that you may only see the scale weight drop ONE week out of the four, then see it shoot back up again when you change something up. Don't stress about it. What's the alternative? Doing the exact same regimen (in attempt to avoid water weight gain) and seeing NO results because your body has adapted?
Not the wisest choice.
That water retention/scale increase/DOMS combo is your sign that your body is still being challenged by the current workout, which means that changes are on the way. We just need to learn not to shun it (water retention) so much.
Constant water retention from strength training
Many ladies get so caught up in that scale number that they feel like “Why bother lifting? I don't want to carry extra water all the time”…but we are SUPPOSED to carry that water.
Blood = 92% water, the brain & muscles = 75% water, and bones = 22% water. Yet, on the flip side, obesity decreases the water in the body, to as low as 45% (as fat weight is only about 20-25% water).
You do the water math.
Women typically have less water than men (as a percentage), because they carry more fat. But think about it, men typically have an easier time with fat loss because they have more muscle.
The more muscle you carry, the higher your percentage of water will be. All. the. time.
To put it plainly, HEALTHY, and FIT bodies SHOULD carry water!
Coming to terms with a jumpy scale
Sometimes I feel like my weight only ever goes UP. But…when I focused on staying a number on the scale, I NEVER progressed, and actually started looking WORSE. Once I let it go, the floodgates opened and my body begin to FINALLY transform. It really is a hindrance to put so much emphasis on scale weight.
If you know that a jumpy scale will depress you, stay OFF. Let the mirror, pics, the way your clothes fit, and the constant compliments dictate your progress.
And while you're at it, give poor water a break.
The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding
3 weeks progress – (recent on left)
I started out my weight loss journey eating a very low calorie diet and not doing much outside of my normal activity for exercise. While the pounds were dropping off at a great pace at that time my body started telling me something different. I started losing my hair, was exhausted constantly and even lost TOM (time of month). I knew something was wrong and started with a personal trainer and researching. Finding the EM2WL group helped immensely and my whole thought process around this has changed. It is no longer a weight loss journey, but a fat loss journey focusing on strength.
My weight has stabilized for now, but the inches are slowly going down. I gained a pound and lost an inch in my waist over the past few months. My smaller clothes are fitting better. My back is better. I had forgotten how strong I was when I was younger, but am now rediscovering my muscles.
I now have new goals in mind. My main goal is to be able to do a pull up and a dip unassisted by the end of the year.
Weight is not as much of a concern anymore. Yes, it is hard when I occasionally weigh in and don't see progress, but that is when I just need to pull out my phone and look at all of the progress pictures to see that my hard work is paying off. Keep eating and your body will transform. I am constantly amazed at what my approaching 40 year old body can do.
7 months progress – Only 8lbs lost! The scale does NOT tell the whole story!
Follow Sandi's Journey here.
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Let's face it. The scale is a one trick pony. And if we're being perfectly honest, it doesn't even do that trick well most of the time.
When living the slower paced, fat loss lifestyle, it's best to have a multitude of measuring tools to gauge progress. While the scale is the one that we tend to think of first, we should be sure to include other methods of checking for body composition changes as well. Using a tape measure often helps us to discover NSV's (Non Scale Victories) when the scale is beating us down. But what happens if it seems like your measurements aren't changing either?
While on rare occasion it may be true that measurements aren't changing, it's often an issue of not measuring properly. When measuring clients (or myself) for progress, there are a few things that I always do.
- Some tips for taking measurements: jot down the exact location of the measurement so that you always hit the same spot. For instance, if you're measuring chest, jot down exactly how many inches from your armpit you put the tape. For belly, measure at the belly button. For calves, put how many inches below kneecap, etc.. Just remember that the actual chest, can shift in location (up if you're lifting, down if you're not), but your armpits, hopefully, will not. So don't try to follow the actual location of the chest or other “moving” part. Pick spots that won't move in location. It's too easy to be off by simply having the tape off an inch or so up or down each time you measure. Measuring the same spots each time will allow for better tracking of results.
- When taking hip measurements it's also a good idea to take a “split” measurement. Ladies who are lifting heavy, may notice an increase in hip measurement, due to the booty lifting (which is a good thing, who wants a saggy booty?). But if you take both a full and “split” measure (meaning front hip to hip, and back hip to hip) you will know exactly which side the increase/decrease comes from. If your total increase is .5 inch, but it's all on the back side, then you know not to be alarmed (unless you want a saggy booty?). A higher, rounded, butt will show up on the tape (and so will a “lift” in the girls – so the same tip applies to chest).
- The area doesn't have to be specific. Just specific to you. Sometimes we can get so caught up in doing things “right,” that we lose sight of the purpose of measuring. You are measuring your progress. It doesn't have to be the same spots as someone else, just the same spots that you measured before. So although the belly button isn't a natural waist, it doesn't move, so your measurement needs to center around it. So if your lower belly is your problem area, you could choose to always measure an inch or two below the belly button. Then you're still basing it on a non moving part. Same thing with thighs, pick something like your hip bone/bikini line area, measure down (or measure up from the knee), to your preferred spot, and jot it down. Always check that same area for progress.
- Don't measure after working out, unless you need an ego boost after a good bicep workout. For the same reasons that weighing after an intense workout (or even the next day or two after) can be a huge mistake, you'd be best to stay away from the tape when you're likely to be retaining extra water. Leg measurements will be higher after leg day, and upper body after day of heavy upper lifts. HIIT or other high intensity workouts could cause you to retain a bit of water too. Give yourself a day or so after working the part before measuring it. Getting into a consistent measuring schedule (same time of day/week/between workouts) should help prevent many measuring snafus.
- Don't measure daily. This should be obvious, but I'll state it anyway. The tape, just as every other tool, is just a tool. Don't become obsessive with any tool and allow it to consume you as you wait for it to move. Just live the life. Eat. Exercise. Repeat. Measure ever so often to reassure yourself that you're on the right track. But don't sit around and wait for it. There's way too much life out there to be lived, and you're supposed to be taking it back from the all consuming mentality of dieting. If you're doing everything right, change will happen. Typically while you're not looking, and typically not in a linear fashion.
- If you're doing the measuring with no help, do yourself a favor and grab a Myotape. It makes measuring a breeze, since it snaps into place around the specific part, and then tightens for you to grab the measurement.
If it's been 4-6 weeks, you are sure that you are measuring properly and still aren't seeing changes in measurements, scale weight, body fat %, or pictures, be sure to visit our forum for troubleshooting.