Realistic Results

Most people judge the effectiveness of their exercise or diet by the daily changes on the scales. This is, without a doubt, the worst way to judge if it's working.

Here's why:

Your scale weight is the sum of the weight of your skin, bones, muscles, organs, blood, water, food waste, and fat among other things.

It is therefore perfectly normal and expected to fluctuate on a regular, almost daily basis. And this fluctuation can be as much as 3-4kg in some people.

This fluctuation could be water weight going up or down. It could be from gaining or losing muscle, it could be from improved or poorer digestion and bowel movements, and it could be from storing or burning fat. The truth is you don't know.

Scale weight gains like those on 26th/27th/31st Jan, 1st & 6th Feb don't show the overall weight loss picture.

Judging your progress on what the scales say over one measurement is absolutely pointless.

The scales may go up or down by a pound, but a pound of what?

That's why at SF we've invested in a state of the art bio-impedance-analyser (The InBody) to see what is actually changing. From these readings, we can advise you on what to change/work on in order to achieve the best results for you.

Even still, one weekly measurement is still only a snapshot. So looking at multiple measurements over a 2-4 week period is a far better way to judge your progress. We need to see a trend. And can advise you based on what we are seeing.

Having said that, taking a daily weight measurement can be very beneficial, as long as you're not focused on the individual number.

Here's what I mean, if you weigh yourself daily over 7 days (same time of day, replicating the exact same conditions) and get your average weight (the 7 measurements added up, divided by 7) you'll have a far more accurate assessment of your weight loss progress over time.

Average weight loss of the same numbers in the previous graph

Doing this takes all the fluctuations into account (including weekends) and then you can see your trend over time. This is generally a more linear progression. So if your average number is down then you have a fair idea that what you are doing is working for weight loss. This can be quite freeing mentally because it removes the judgment from what your scales read on a daily basis(eg. the weight goes up on the 26th Jan but the average comes down further), and places the focus on long-term, sustainable progress.

Here's another example, if someone's weekly weight records looked like this:

  • Mon-78.9kg
  • Tues-78.7kg
  • Wed-78.5kg
  • Thur-78.3kg
  • Fri-78.3kg
  • Sat-78.7kg
  • Sun-78.7kg

Their average weight for the week is 78.5kg and if their average weight from the previous week was 79.2kg they've lost 700grms.

Looking only at the daily weight can make it seem like:

  • They've only lost 200grms from Monday to Sunday
  • They've gained 400grms from Friday
  • Their weight is all over the place
  • They lost 600grms from Mon-Fri and have now ruined their efforts because of the weekend

But the average weekly number is down 700grms. And that's the key. Your average weight over a 7 day period is far more indicative of your progress rather than one individual measurement.

There are a few options to help you track your average weight. You'll find these in the tracking your progress section.

But first, let's discuss what realistic results are

There's a distorted idea of what healthy and sustainable weight loss is.

We hear 2lbs a week as a standard. There are shows like the Biggest Loser showing people losing over a stone in a week (let's not get into how this is staged to look way more impressive than it is). There are magazines and social media highlighting the latest celebrity to get their beach body in just 6 weeks using a brand new magic tea. And if you've ever been to a slimming club like Weight Watchers you'll see the massive variation in individual weight loss each week.

Remember, just because the scales come down doesn't mean it's healthy weight loss. If you lose water you'll lose weight but you might be dehydrating yourself. If you lose muscle (stored energy just like fat is) you'll lose weight but this can impact energy, tone, strength, and your metabolism.

Fat loss should be the outcome, not just weight loss.

There's a really simple formula for setting a good weight loss target to ensure it's Fat Loss you're experiencing.

Realistically, when it comes to how much fat you can actually physically burn, the average weight loss to expect is somewhere between 0.5% and 1% of your body weight per week. And the average fat loss is between 0.25% and 0.5%.

So if someone weighs 90kg and their average weight loss is between 450 grams and 900 grams per week then they are on track and wouldn't need to change anything. Some weeks it might be more, others less. It's the average that's important here.

Hitting this range helps to ensure you're losing fat weight and not water/muscle weight. It's to ensure sustainable weight loss and prevent massive rebounds like many people experience when following quick fix, extreme methods.

One pound of fat is the equivalent of 3500 calories of stored energy. This means you have to burn off an extra 3500, eat 3500 less, or a combination of both to lose each pound.

The average daily energy requirement for an adult is 2000 calories for a female, and 2500 calories for a male. So creating a 3500 calorie deficit to lose 1 pound takes some work. If you reduce your intake by 500 each day, that's 1 pound in a week. So in order to achieve a 2lbs loss, you'd have to reduce your intake by 1000 calories a day or do a hell of a lot more moving, and I mean a hell of a lot!!

Setting a realistic, sustainable weight loss target will help you create a consistent routine while removing a lot of the frustrations people can get by expecting more than they're physically capable of.

Aiming for a stone in 4 weeks or a consistent 3lbs a week might seem like a great goal but it is highly unlikely for most people and if they don't seem to be hitting their goal they give up. Falling back into the endless cycle of yo-yo dieting.

On a final note, even though 1 pound might not seem like a lot on its own, if you lost 1 pound each week over the last year you'd be 52 pounds lighter right now. Consistency wins out every time.

About the Author John O'C

John O'Connell is the owner of SF Fitness & Health Centre. He started working in the fitness industry in 2002 after suffering a back injury. He has worked with many professional organisations including Leinster Rugby, An Garda Siochana, New Zealand Rugby, Dublin GAA, Spar and CBRE. He has also appeared muliple times on both RTE & TV3 as a health & fitness expert. John is the co-author of 2 international best selling books - Total Body Breakthroughs and The Fit Formula.

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