A New Perspective for Evaluating your Progress
A lot of us begin – and continue – going to the gym because we want to lose weight. And in in general, that’s a good reason to start working out; there’s no debating what science shows us – that for the general population, reducing body fat lowers risk for a lengthy list of serious diseases. If losing weight is what got you moving in the first place – that’s great, and you’re in good company.
However, here is the scenario that often unfolds:
Person A wants to lose weight and sets a numerical goal (lose ‘x’ number of pounds, or weigh ‘x’ amount). Person A weighs themselves a couple times a week and evaluates their progress in relation to that number. For awhile, they are seeing the number change the way they want. However, a few weeks or months down the road, after they’ve been training awhile, they hit what seems to be a plateau. Frustration ensues. Person A trains harder, eats differently, but the scale seems to be stuck, and now they’re unhappy.
Why? Because they’re chasing an arbitrary number – one they’ve likely made up, one that doesn’t serve a purpose except to simply have a goal and a standard against which to evaluate success and failure.
Maybe you’re in the shoes of person A, and you’re attached to a number you made up awhile ago, and it’s dictating your satisfaction, progress, or even self-worth.
Sound harsh? The good news is, there’s another, more holistic perspective you can use for evaluating your training progress. First, let me tell you briefly how I got there:
In a recent competition season, I set a weight goal for myself. Admittedly, I chose a number based on nothing except what I had weighed in the past and thought I could weigh again. In hot pursuit, I ran more, snacked less, and dropped a couple pounds. But like Person A, I hit a plateau, and the rest just wouldn’t come off. I wasn’t seeing the number on the scale that I desperately wanted to see, and I became almost obsessively frustrated. After two months of discouragingly chasing that number, I used some of the goal setting concepts we discussed in our Force team meetings and started asking myself some different questions that didn’t have to do with the scale.
The most valuable one proved to be this: Does my body allow me to do the things I want to do? Am I able to do what I love, and do it as well as I want?
In answering these questions, I realized that while I had been striving to make a certain number appear on a screen, I hadn’t assessed my progress in any other way. I had to step off the scale to realize that my body at its current weight was allowing me to do everything I wanted to do – I was able to run a 5k PR, and simultaneously deadlift more weight than I ever had. Both of those things brought me joy. If I forced the more stubborn pounds to come off, I might sacrifice one or more of those abilities. In other words, in my training I had improved in a lot of areas, and my body was meeting the demands of my life and allowing me to accomplish my goals – I just couldn’t see that because I was so focused on a number.
Health Is Functional
If you’ve been chasing a number on the scale for awhile, and it’s tiring you out, I encourage you to step off the scale and consider these questions: “Is my body allowing me to meet the demands and desires I have in life? Is it allowing me to do the things I care about, and do them well?”
After all, health is functional. Our culture, especially our social media realm, treats health as aesthetic. But what are our bodies really for? For allowing us to meet the demands of our lives in a way that is efficient, and for allowing us to experience the world in ways that are specifically meaningful to us. For some people, that means excelling at a certain sport; for others, it means achieving a lifelong goal of climbing a 14’er; for others, it means being able to take long walks without getting tired or being able to throw their children on their shoulders.
A New Perspective
I’ve worked and been involved in the world of fitness long enough to know that being fixated on a certain number can steal joy from training and from life. Evaluating your progress in terms of your body’s abilities in context of your life’s demands and goals can help you approach training with renewed optimism and enthusiasm. Here are just a few of the benefits of assessing your body functionally rather than numerically:
- It unmasks improvements in areas you’ve neglected to notice, renewing appreciation for the results of your training.
- It allows you to assess your body by how it allows you to function rather than in comparison with others or perception in a mirror (hmm…sounds kind of like freedom).
- It opens your mind to reasonable explanations why you haven’t reached that number (including the possibility that your body doesn’t operate best at that weight)
- It tells the other parts of the story, the ones that weight doesn’t tell (like…you see those triceps?!)
- If your answer is “no, my body doesn’t allow me to do what I want to do,” it opens doors to resolving those limitations
- It promotes appreciation of what your body can do rather than criticism of how it looks.