Passion provides purpose, but data drives decisions.
To achieve any goal, you need to collect and analyse data.
Without it, you wouldn’t know
In other words, without data, you can’t make the right adjustments to your plan.
You could still accomplish your goal, but you’d probably run into one of these two scenarios:
However, having data isn’t enough to secure effective and efficient results. Inconsistent and unreliable data, or data that you’re interpreting incorrectly, can be just as damaging as the absence of it.
For example, with fitness goals such as fat loss and muscle gain, a common mistake is to focus too much on day-to-day fluctuations on the scale, which are normal, and too little on your average weight increases or reductions over a longer period of time, which is what matters most for these fitness endeavours.
This multi-part article series will provide you with the knowledge to assess your bodyweight data in order to achieve fat loss or muscle gain.
In Part 1, we’ll delve into:
In the rest of the series, we’ll cover how to adjust your diet and training protocol in response to changes in bodyweight.
Why you need to weigh yourself
Most people set a weight goal and use the scale to answer this question: “Did I get closer to my target today?”
Whilst this knowledge is useful, it’s also vague, and doesn’t really help you understand:
As mentioned previously, you could still get to your weight goal without answering these questions, but it’s likely going to take longer, and you might have to put yourself through uncomfortable dieting or training strategies that could have been avoided, had you had more information.
For example, if you don’t lose any weight for a few days after eating out with your partner, you might think you need to ramp cardio up and drop your calories to get the scale moving again.
However, if you had a record of past weigh-ins and notes on your eating and training habits, you might find out that you tend not to lose weight for three days when you eat out at a restaurant, so you’d know that all you have to do is wait before your weight starts trending down again.
What information can you get from your weigh-ins?
When examined over a minimum of two weeks, changes in your weekly bodyweight average tend to be a reflection of the impact that the calories you’re eating on average are having on your body fat stores.
This is what these average changes in bodyweight can tell you:
When you track your calories and bodyweight at the same time, you can therefore work out:
So your bodyweight is a priceless resource if you want to get results from your diet in the most efficient way possible, because you can use it to gather more precise data than simply information on whether you’re “sort of, kind of” getting closer to your target weight.
Before moving onto the next section, note how many times I mentioned the term “bodyweight averages”.
There are a lot of factors that affect your bodyweight on a daily basis or from one day to the next, factors that I will cover in more depth later in the article. Furthermore, fat loss and muscle gain take place over weeks and months, not just days.
For these reasons, you can’t extrapolate any useful information from daily data only. Weekly averages are a much better tool to remove any seemingly conflicting daily values.
For example, let’s say you weigh in at 150 lbs on Monday, then eat 2000 calories on that day. On Tuesday, you’re 150 lbs again. If daily weigh-ins were an accurate reflection of how many calories you were eating, then you’d call 2000 calories your current maintenance.
However, let’s say you eat 2000 calories again on Tuesday, your activity levels stay the same, but then you wake up on Wednesday weighing 151 lbs.
Is it possible that the exact same amount of calories that you were eating the day before, “maintaining” your weight, are now so high above maintenance levels that you gain a whole pound overnight? In the majority of cases, probably not.
On the other hand, if you weigh yourself four times in a week, and the average is 150 lbs, then you repeat the process the following week, and the average is now 149 lbs, it’s much more likely that you have indeed lost a pound over that week.
How to weigh yourself
Data is useless unless it’s consistent. Consistency makes data reliable, and reliable data reveals patterns in the way your body responds to a certain diet and training protocol.
How do we create consistent and reliable bodyweight data?
1. Weigh yourself under the same conditions.
Ideally, you’d do it at the same time of day in the same room, wearing as little clothing as possible (or none), and using the same set of scales.
The early morning, as soon as you wake up, after you go to the toilet, and before you eat or drink anything, is the best time to get an objective bodyweight reading, which will be minimally affected by other factors.
Going eight to 12 hours without eating, drinking, and moving over night has the following impact on the quality of your bodyweight data:
To be clear, I’m not saying that your gut is completely empty or that you won’t have any water retention at all. However, this is the time of day when these factors are least likely to have a huge effect on your weight.
On the other hand, if you were to weigh yourself last thing before bed, your data wouldn’t be as reliable… unless you were doing the same amount of activity, eating the same foods, drinking the same drinks, and experiencing the same stress every day, which is pretty much impossible.
Nevertheless, it’s better to get some data and some consistency than none at all, so, if you can’t do morning weigh-ins, pick another time of day and stick with it.
Lastly, different sets of scales may provide different data, so do your best to use the same tool every time. For example, if you’re going to your partner’s house for a weekend and you don’t want to take your own scales with you, you can skip your weekend weigh-ins. It might in fact be better than collecting less reliable data, which might only create confusing noise in the system.
2. Weigh yourself more often than once a week.
Most of us only weigh ourselves every once in a while or, at best, once every seven days. However, as mentioned, there are a lot of factors that can impact your weight in one day or from one day to the next.
For instance, you can be heavier in the morning if any of the following happened the night before:
So, to get a more accurate estimation of your bodyweight trend, you need to weigh yourself between three and seven days per week, then draw the average for the entire week.
As a side note, when learning that daily weight fluctuations are normal for the first time, it’s common to still find it tough to look at your weight every day.
Your negative feelings about waking up at a heavier weight than the day before won’t magically go away, even if you know that it isn’t body fat. For instance, it took me at least a year, at the beginning of my bodybuilding journey, to start seeing the number on the scale as just a number and not something to get emotional over.
If you can relate, one of these strategies could help:
How to collect your data
Now you know why you need to weigh yourself on a regular basis and how to do it in order to obtain consistent and reliable data.
This final section will lay out the steps to display this information, so that you can interpret it correctly:
1. Log the data on a spreadsheet.
There are many apps to record your weigh-ins, but this is my preferred method because it’s free and you can customise the spreadsheet to suit your needs.
To create your own log, I recommend either Excel or Google Sheets. As an alternative, you can download my free made-for-you weight chart.
The editing options for my spreadsheet are set to “View only”, so you won’t be able to modify it when you click on the link. Select “File > Make a copy”, then save a copy of the document to your Google Drive, and you’ll be able to add your own data.
My weight chart contains two tabs:
2. Ensure your chart displays long-term data trends in addition to individual data points.
Whether you use my chart or your own, these are the most useful data trends to have on it, in order of importance:
*If you have a menstrual cycle, using a monthly average for data analysis may be more accurate, due to the weight fluctuations that you’ll experience as a result of differing hormonal levels throughout the month.
You should still track weekly averages, but only use the monthly ones for comparisons.
These fluctuations can also occur with some types of birth control, so it can apply to you even if you don’t get a period.
3. Compare similar weeks.
For instance, it’s common to gain weight from water retention during PMS week, and to drop it once you start or stop bleeding. Therefore, if in a fat loss phase you were to compare PMS week with the week after your period, you might think that you’re gaining fat instead of losing it, when that isn’t the case.
In general terms, it would be unfair to compare weeks when you’re following your standard lifestyle to outlandish situations, such as a prolonged illness or a holiday.
4. Use other forms of data collection in conjunction with bodyweight.
The whole point of this article is to illustrate the huge amount of information that bodyweight data can offer. However, it can’t tell you everything.
To complement it, my favourite tracking tools are monthly progress pictures and body circumference measurements. These two methods can help you “fill in the gaps” that your bodyweight alone can’t explain.
For example, if you start a fat loss diet and a resistance training program for the very first time, it’s likely that you’ll build muscle and lose fat at the same time for a few weeks or months. As a result, your bodyweight might not change at all, but your appearance will, and only measurements and pictures will be able to capture that kind of transformation.
5. Be patient.
Here is your daily dose of hard pills to swallow:
Keeping these facts in mind, do your best not to make rash decisions, such as dropping your calories because you only lost 0.3 lbs last week instead of the expected 1 lb. At best, it won’t make much difference. At worst, you can set yourself back a few weeks, or derail your plan completely.
In particular, it’s better to use calorie adjustments as a last resort after you’ve tried other troubleshooting strategies without success, so that you don’t lose weight too fast or burn out too early in a fat loss phase, and don’t gain too much fat too fast in a muscle gain phase.
Future blog posts will be about making effective diet adjustments based on your data.
Do you have any questions so far? Leave a comment and I will do my best to help.
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A personal trainer who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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