I’m a homeowner. In other words, I’m an indentured novice general contractor. If I were to market my home rehab skills, my slogan would be, “I’ll give it my best shot, but there are no guarantees.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually getting more skillful at making some small repairs and tackling light renovation projects. In fact, over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out some handy calculations. Here’s one that I find holds consistently true: For any home improvement task more advanced that changing a light bulb, frustration outperforms proficiency at about a 10:1 ratio.
But for all the challenges and setbacks that ride shotgun with any home renovation, there is always one common thread from which I tend to draw comfort and solace: Before and after photos.
No matter how many broken tools I go through, how many scraped knuckles I endure, or how many days my 20 minute project takes to complete, I always feel proud to see what now is, compared to what once was. There’s something about seeing the complete transformation that makes it all worthwhile, and that – and here’s the important part – makes it all worth doing again.
If you’re about to embark on a bodily transformation, I highly recommend taking some pre and post measurements. In fact, in my opinion, this is non-negotiable. What types of measurements you take are up to you, but in order to get where you want to go, you need to know where you are now and what types of results your upcoming actions are netting you. Your subsequent readings will guide you toward appropriate adjustments in your plan of attack.
But most critically, your measurements will motivate you. Trust me on this. You might dread stepping on that scale right now. You might loathe the very thought of wrapping that tape around your body. But when you break through your apprehension and get this done, and when you see the numbers start to decline, it will all be worth it. Embarrassment will give way to empowerment. Love yourself enough now to start measuring, and you will love yourself so much more later.
So what exactly do you want to be tracking? That depends on your goals. But what follows are some of the most common markers to monitor. Choose whichever you think will serve you best.
The Bathroom Scale
I’m not a huge fan of simply tracking a number on a scale because unless you are using a body fat scale, it is an inaccurate representation of body composition (muscle mass vs. body fat). While losing weight is a common health goal, it is often accomplished at the expense of lean muscle mass. Nevertheless, a shrinking number on the scale can be highly motivating in the early stages of weight loss. Be careful, though, as it is easy to obsess over the scale. You are measuring a number that will naturally tend to fluctuate from day to day. So if you choose to monitor your bodyweight, try not to step on the scale more than once a week or so.
Speaking of body fat scales…These have gotten more accurate over the years, as well as much more affordable. There is some debate as to their merit, but they definitely give you more insight into your actual body composition. Scales like this one can calculate body weight, body fat, muscle mass, and BMI, among other things. Bear in mind that accuracy can vary between models.
For the sake of consistency, weigh yourself first thing in the morning after you’ve used the bathroom. What you wear, if anything, is your call. Just try to maintain the same routine week to week.
This one can be a hard sell, but it is probably one of the most motivating, and sobering, strategies you can employ over the long haul. If you’re trying to change your body, chances are you aren’t that thrilled about what you’re seeing in the mirror. So the thought of stripping down to your skivvies to document the current state of things probably doesn’t have you jumping for joy. Trust me, taking photos doesn’t make your body look any worse. But it does often open your eyes to what you might otherwise be missing. Pictures just seem to have that magical quality. Did you ever look at yourself in a photo and think, “Do I really look like that?” Despite the fact that you get ready in the mirror every morning, you barely recognize yourself in print.
I recommend taking full body shots. One from the front and one from the side. Nobody needs to see these but you. I suggest keeping these off the web if you don’t want anyone else getting a look at them. Print them at home, document the date, and then delete them from your phone or camera if you’re worried about them getting into the blogosphere. When you take follow-up photos, try to do so in the same setting with the same lighting. Just like the body measurements below, selfies can expose truths that the scale won’t tell you.
Putting a measuring tape to your body will tell you more about your body composition than the digital readout on your scale. We all know that muscle weighs more than fat. When I coach people through transformations our goal is to shed body fat, not to simply drop weight. There are plenty of starvation diets out there that encourage rapid weight loss, but they do so without regard to tissue type. Fat loss, especially when coupled with muscle sparing or muscle gains, can result in a totally different looking body with minimal cooperation from the scale.
Some measurements to consider are waist (at the belly button), hips (at the widest point), upper arms, thighs, and neck. Take follow-up readings about every 4 weeks or so.
The Clothing Test
Do you have a piece of clothing you know you can barely fit into? This could be a shirt, a jacket, or a pair of pants. Really, anything that you have trouble squeezing into. Wriggle into it and make note of how it fits. Where is it the most snug? How difficult was it to get on? Follow up in a few weeks and document how things are going. This can be done in lieu of selfies or body measurements if you just haven’t worked up the courage for those yet. This test can be especially motivating if your goal is to fit into that “little black dress” again, or some other significant piece of clothing.
I am currently working with someone who to this point hasn’t seen earth shattering numbers on the scale, but who is thrilled to be able to fit into his fireman’s jacket for the first time in nearly a decade. Don’t discount the power of little wins!
Blood testing comes with an expense, but it’s a good investment. Especially if you’re struggling with chronic ailments like diabetes or autoimmune disorders. Some good markers to look at are blood sugar, A1C, cholesterol, C-reactive protein, insulin, cortisol, and thyroid hormones.
At the very least, you can purchase a glucose monitoring kit to measure your response to some of the foods you eat most often. This model is a popular one in the fitness community, as it has the capability of measuring both glucose and ketone levels, for those who might want to experiment with a ketogenic diet. Strips specific to glucose or ketones are purchased separately. Both strips work with this meter, but they are not interchangeable.
You can dive deep into body metrics. There are specialized blood tests, DEXA scans, hydrostatic weighing, and more. But if you’re the average person looking to make progress week to week you can benefit greatly by employing some of the simple at-home measurements outlined above. Which ones you choose to utilize are entirely up to you. But remember, measuring is not an option. The only option is how you choose to do it.
Be Your Best,