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The scale is not your friend

Congratulations! You've chosen to embark on a journey towards a healthier lifestyle. After much research, you've eliminated processed foods and sugar from your diet and increased your protein. Each day begins with you dragging yourself out of bed to make sure you get in your new workout regimen, including both cardio and strength training.

Weigh-in day rolls around and you jump on the scale, as nervous and excited as a child on Christmas morning. Excitement quickly turns to disgust as you realize the scale hasn't even moved...or worse yet, it has actually gone up!

Although it may be tempting to just throw in the towel and plop down in front of the TV to drown your sorrows in a pint of Ben & Jerry's, don't be so quick to give up. Contrary to popular belief, the scale is not the best indicator of your fitness level. It can be used in conjunction with several other tools to help measure your progress, but should never be relied on as the sole means of measurement.

Body fat
A body fat analysis is a very useful tool in the quest to become healthier, and thanks to modern technology, it's easy to find out what percentage of your total body weight is lean muscle mass and how much is fat.

There are several methods for analyzing body fat including body weight scales and hand-held body fat analyzers, both of which send a painless electrical pulse through your body. A personal trainer or nutritionist can also analyze your body fat percentage or a nominal fee, typically using a device known as calipers. Each method can vary slightly, so it is important to select a method and use it consistently to ensure your results are as accurate as possible.

Measurements
One pound of muscle takes up 2/3 the area of one pound of fat. They may weigh the same, but they don't look anything alike! Need a mental image? Consider one pound of Jell-O sitting beside one pound of lean, cooked beef. Which do you think will take up more space? Obviously the Jell-O will and it will be "jiggly" as well. The beef will be more condensed and solid -- leaner.

Why do I make this comparison? When you begin working out, especially if you incorporate strength training into your routine, you will be building muscle. In many cases, you will initially build muscle as fast or faster than you lose the fat. The scale will not recognize the difference between the fat and muscle, so it is entirely possible to see only a small weight loss, hold steady, or even gain weight although your body shape is changing!

By tracking actual measurements, you will have a better assessment of how your body shape is changing and improving, even if the scale doesn't seem to agree. Suggested measurements for comparison are chest, waist, abdomen, hips, thighs, calves and biceps. Be sure to measure exactly the same spot each time to keep the results as accurate as possible. Enter your measurements in a spreadsheet or chart, updating monthly to track your progress!

Photos don't lie
The absolute best method of measuring your weight loss is to see it for yourself. Have your spouse, friend, or family member take photos of you as bare as your dare. Remember that no one other than you will need to see these photos, so choose a revealing outfit such as a bathing suit, workout shorts & bra, or even your skivvies!

Take new photos each month, always wearing the same outfit. You'll be shocked at the changes that you see and you should remain motivated enough to make it through another month.

When you do weigh in
Be sure to weigh in wearing the same clothing, and under the same circumstances. To make it easiest, simply weigh in first thing in the morning, after emptying your bladder, and without any clothes on. Keep in mind that scales can be affected by a number of factors including moisture and how level the floor is. Try to ensure that the scale is situated in the same spot on the floor (I use a particular tile to line up with) and that there is not excessive moisture at the time.

Remember, it's NOT all about the scale!

The safest, most practical method to lose weight is to eat healthy, clean foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meats as well as exercising daily. Strength training should be incorporated into your workout routine several times per week as well as at least 30 minutes of cardio per day.

Find a support group that has goals similar to your own to help you stay motivated. You may find one at your local gym, with organizations such as Weight Watchers, or even online.

Don't become discouraged just because the scale doesn't move as fast as you would like. You did not put on that excess weight overnight, and it's not going to come off that quickly either. Use multiple methods for tracking your progress and don't rely so heavily on the scale -- you'll be much happier and more inclined to stick with it!

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