For the past seven weeks, I’ve tracking towards some new personal health and happiness goals. I created a program in accordance with The Karma Sense Eating Plan and promised to keep you up to date (no one was begging for it, but I keep my promises anyway). It’s been a while and you may think I forgot after so many tangent posts concerning progress with the book, analyses on milk alternatives and discussions on mutants.
Well, I haven’t forgotten. I’m still working on these goals using this plan. This post is an update that focuses on a particular aspect of the plan, tracking progress. Besides learning about my progress, you’ll learn about when and how often you should weigh yourself. Let’s start with a quick review.
My Goals and Plan
I set out the following goals:
- Decrease my body fat percentage by 5% preferably by gaining muscle versus losing fat.
- Adopt the 16/8 hour intermittent fasting protocol as a personal learning opportunity. Specifically, I want to see if it’s a viable technique for increasing muscle mass. I also want to see if it’s a good weight loss practice. I usually don’t recommend intermittent fasting for women since it can introduce hormonal issues. Fasting within a 16-hour window should keep hormones in check. But will it support weight loss?
- Provide a demonstration of The Karma Sense Eating Plan in action.
- Be healthy, happy, and save the world. I’m doing this by allocating money saved from fasting to a TBD charity.
Given those goals, I created a plan and I track my compliance using a table that looks like this.
Here is the nutrition table referenced in the tracking table. My aim is to meet each one of these macronutrient targets on the designated day.
I chose a 90% compliance target on the diet oriented part of the plan (the first six rows). As shown in the tracking table there are forty-two opportunities to comply (six targets multiplied by seven days). That means I can ignore four of the cells in the tracking table each week. I established one weekend day per week as a non-compliance day; a day in which I ignore the macronutrient tracking and likely miss all targets. Oops, that means I’ll be ignoring six cells each week and last time I checked six was greater than four. I need to be really tight on my other days and accept that my real compliance will be somewhere around 80%. I talk about how well that worked in an upcoming post.
There’s another challenge with this plan. I went into it knowing that my measure for compliance is overly simplistic. For example, as it relates to improving my body composition, missing my protein target is probably not equivalent to skipping a pre-workout dose of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). Protein is likely more essential. But they’re currently weighted the same using my tracking mechanism. I talk about that in a future post too.
For this post, we’ll just focus on the first goal.
Decrease Body Fat by 5%
According to my scale, I started this plan at 13.9% body fat. As of this writing, I’m at 13.5%. 0.4% reduction isn’t so bad. But, at this rate, it will take me 1½ years to meet my goal. I know building muscle without simultaneously gaining fat is difficult for a man my age and I have no drop dead date for my goal. But I was hoping for some quicker progress. It’s interesting to note that since I started tracking, my body fat percentage has ranged from a low of 13.2% to a high of 14.2% with an average of 13.8%. That’s an awful lot of fluctuation (household scales are not trustworthy measures of body fat percentage, but they are cheap and convenient). Here is what the fluctuation looks like graphically.
Note the spike around the US Thanksgiving holidays. On the surface, this seems like a lot of day-to-day change. It also seems like just before Thanksgiving, I made some good progress trending in the right direction. Look what happens when I change the scale to include my target of 8.5%. You can see that I really went nowhere.
In a past post about SMART goals, I discussed a number of ways to track progress when one is trying to improve their frame. The most accessible (but often not the best) method is tracking weight. Your weight does not give the complete picture when improving body composition is the goal. Weight loss can come from losing fat (what I want to do), losing water (not useful for my purposes), losing muscle (not what I want to do), or losing body parts (definitely not something I want to do). But, just to put the body composition graph in perspective, here’s what happened to my weight over the same period (this version also includes my targets).
This shows a lot more fluctuation. The next graph shows what the trend would look like if I weighed myself once a week instead.
It’s a smoother graph and to summarize the entire period, I gained a little weight; not even a pound’s worth. This is (relatively) good new for my body composition goal. I gained a little weight but lost a little body fat.
With this information, I know now how I might adjust my Karma Sense Eating Plan to optimize results. But, enough about me…
When and How Often Should You Weigh Yourself?
The conventional wisdom I hear most often is you shouldn’t weigh yourself every day. So, as is my custom with conventional wisdom, I weigh myself every day.
You may want to do something different. When I look for what information is actually available on the subject, I find two schools of thought. One is based on unsubstantiated advice that says don’t weigh yourself every day. This advice usually comes from well-known members of the Healthy Lifestyle Militia. For example, if I search “should I weigh myself every day,” the top hit is advice from a Militia leader, Jillian Michaels, in which she recommends weekly and not daily weigh-ins. The other school of thought is based on actual hard research on the subject. Oodles of studies, like this one, say that the more frequently you weigh yourself, the more likely you will lose weight. In other words, weigh yourself every day.
Which is correct? Both. I mean, neither. I mean, both. Actually, this is another one of those You Are Not “N” situations. The studies that say people who weigh themselves every day lose more weight are compelling. But, there’s no causation here. Unless you need to walk up ten flights of stairs to get to your scale, the act of weighing yourself does not cause you to lose weight. Instead, your interaction with your scale is a feedback mechanism into how well your plan is working. If you want to lose weight and your daily weigh-in show a downward trend, all is OK. You feel encourage to carry on. If on the other hand, the scale shows weight gain, you’re discouraged and may decide to abandon a hopeless case. But as with the graphs on my progress show, weight rarely tracks towards a single trajectory over short periods of time.
From day-to-day, most of us gain or lose one or two pounds. Within a single day, the fluctuation can be four or five pounds. Many factors drive this variation including, but not limited to, how much, water you’ve consumed, the weight of the food you ate, elimination (the technical term for going #1 and #2), salt levels in your food, activity for the day, stress levels, sleep quality and more.
So the real question is, are you the kind of person who is discouraged when your weight fluctuates in the wrong direction or will you use it to your advantage by adjusting your future health habits? Remember, there are five factors that impact your health.
The factor that most applies when you’re weighing yourself is mindset. Here is my recommendation if you intend to use your weight as a measure of your health:
- If it’s not going to discourage you, weigh yourself every day and use the day-to-day changes as a learning experience.
- If the day-to-day changes discourage you, change to a weekly weigh-in.
- Regardless, be consistent as to when you weigh yourself. If you weigh yourself daily, do so at the same time each day. If you weigh yourself weekly, do so on the same day of the week at the same time of day.
- If you want to catch yourself at your best, your weight will be the lowest first thing in the morning when you wake up. If you weigh yourself weekly, most people’s weight ebbs somewhere between Wednesday and Friday morning. It depends on when you start your weekend revelry.
I use a hybrid approach. I weigh myself daily so I have feedback on what I did the days before. I use my Friday morning weigh-in as my benchmark day. I record my Friday weight and compare it to previous Fridays to see if I’m going in the direction I want. Daily weigh-ins for feedback. Weekly weigh-ins for monitoring the trend.
But don’t let my anal retentive ways scare you. This is only something to consider if you had a very specific goal such as “lose 20 pounds by Memorial Day.”
We’ll come back to some observations about my plan and more importantly, how it applies to you, in an upcoming post. But the next post on my Karma Sense Eating Plan focuses on how I selected the charity that my karma savings are going to.