Colette's Blog

February 28, 2011

Wow! I seem to have really hit a nerve—or several nerves—in my last blog on plateaus. So the first thing I want to say (again) is that each and every one of us has a unique metabolism, which plays a large role in one’s response to any weight-loss program. Your activity level, gender, hormonal status, previous experiences with losing and subsequently regaining those pounds, pharmaceuticals and OTC drugs you maybe taking and certain health conditions can all impact your metabolism. There’s no way around it: active men have a higher metabolism than sedentary women. Moreover, as the years go by, your metabolism tends to slow down.

When you embark on any weight-loss program, it’s best to have no set expectations and to not compare yourself to a friend, your spouse or even your experience last time you did Atkins or any other weight-loss diet. This advice is easy to give and hard to receive, as the expectation of results is what motivates all of us. But I’m talking about specific results. Of course, you can expect results, but don’t count on 15 pounds in two weeks or even 2 pounds in the first week. Much as being in the moment can allow you to focus on what’s important in life, truly being in your own body allows you to get to know that body and how it responds to a new way of eating and to a primarily fat-burning metabolism.

This may sound odd (or obvious), but closely observing everything going on and noting it in a diet journal can put you in tune with your body in a way you have not been in the past. Does adding another 5 grams of Net Carbs or a new food increase your hunger? Do you feel tired or energized? Are you hungry a few hours after eating or are cravings no longer dominating your life? Are you hungry between meals? Do you feel bloated or “lighter?” Have certain GI effects disappeared? All these are messages that your own body is sending you and you need to listen to.

I can give you lots of advice in the Atkins Community, in articles on this site and in the courses on the program and each phase as well as answer your questions. But to optimize and personalize the program, you need to know how to tinker a little, based on your own body, metabolism and lifestyle. The New Atkins for a New You stresses this individualization and also offers the most complete up-to-date explanation of how to do Atkins. (If funds are limited, you can always borrow a copy from the library.)

If you’re following the guidelines to eat 20 grams of Net Carbs in Induction (12–15 grams in the form of foundation vegetables, getting about 60 percent of your calories from natural fats and eating adequate (but not too much) protein, you cannot help but be in fat-burning mode. There’s no need to engage in a fat fast or fiddle around with ketosticks. Anyone who has read The New Atkins knows that we now know that neither is necessary or recommended. Nor is gorging on protein, which can definitely interfere with fat burning and therefore weight loss.

The Role of the Scale

With those generalities aside, I’d like to focus on measuring your weight. If you were to use only a single quantifier to track your progress toward a new and improved body and enhanced health, I’d advise you to pick the measuring tape. That’s because the scale is notoriously inaccurate. “Whoa,” you may be saying. “A scale keeps me on the straight and narrow. What do you mean it’s inaccurate?” I have three answers to that question:

• Scales vary. Have you ever weighed yourself at home and then weighed yourself later that day at your doctor’s office, your health club or on a friend’s scale? Chances are that you didn’t get the same number both times.
• Scales cannot distinguish among fat, muscle and water and your body’s byproducts. Even if you drink no liquid and eat no food and go to the bathroom just before you get on the scale—yes, most of us play such games!—the number on the scale is still likely to differ a pound or two in either direction from the day before or even a few hours earlier or later. Moreover, as you build muscle and eliminate fat, your weight may not change although your shape does.
• A large percentage of your body is composed of water. Even if you weigh yourself at the same time each day, the number on the scale may vary significantly. That’s because an average adult carries about 40 quarts of water and the amount can safely range between 39 and 41 quarts of water—that’s the equivalent of 4 pounds. If you’re a menstruating woman, you may retain another 2 to 5 pounds of water at that time of the month. Add it up: possibly of 9 pounds of fluid that have nothing to do with what you did or didn’t eat that day or the day before—and therefore irrelevant diet-wise.

I ask you, why would you get all upset if the number goes up or even stays the same once you understand how inaccurate the scale can be?

Get Out the Tape

A measuring tape is actually far more reliable, as it will take muscle into consideration. Take baseline measurements of your chest, waist, hips, thighs, and upper arms when you start Atkins—or now, if you haven’t already done so—and recheck once a week. As you lose fat the inches will decline. But even if you gain muscle while losing fat, the numbers will head in the right direction: south. Because muscle is denser than fat, it takes up less space. Therefore, even if your weight is constant, as you lose fat pounds and gain muscle, you’ll see lower numbers when you measure your body. However, just because a measuring tape is more reliable, that’s not to say you should toss out your scale. Used properly, it can be an effective weight-monitoring tool in your arsenal of tools.

The Right Way to Use Your Scale

Checking your watch every few minutes while you wait to meet a loved one or receive a promised phone call clearly has no effect on the passage of time. Likewise, hopping on the scale every day will not make you slim down any faster. Nor will it make you lose any more pounds. And, as we discussed above, it can be misleading, leading to discouragement and interfering with your motivation to stay the course. On the other hand, weighing yourself once (or at most twice) a week does have some value. In that time, you could see a meaningful change in the numbers. Weight averaging, which smoothes out your body’s perfectly normal day-to-day weight variances, is also valuable.

Or Rely on Your Clothes Size

Another approach that many Atkins followers have found useful is to simply note how they feel—high energy and appetite control are positives—and how their clothes fit. If you’ve been unable to zip up your jeans all the way and have been covering the gap with a big shirt or sweater, the first sign you may have that Atkins is working is that the zipper makes it to the top. Hooray! A few weeks later, those jeans will probably feel wonderfully loose and it may be time to step into a smaller size. Even if your weight has not changed significantly, building muscle and losing fat will change the contours of your body so your clothes fit differently. Before long they may even swim on you! After all, if you had to choose between a smaller size and a lower weight, I suspect you’d choose the former. Another trick is to purchase a new garment that’s one or two sizes below your current size and try it on every few days to track your progress.

The bottom line is that the scale is only one tool to mark the progress in your weight-loss journey. Use it to your advantage, and don’t let it weigh you down (pun intended) by allowing it to upset you when the numbers don’t decline as fast as you would like. You didn’t put on your excess weight overnight or even in a matter of weeks and it certainly won’t disappear any faster than it came on. Follow the program, monitor your progress without being obsessive and you should see results—sooner or later.

Do You Weigh, Measure or Both?

Please share with the Atkins Community your personal experiences with tracking your progress—or your frustration when progress seems elusive. Does weighing yourself motivate you or discourage you? Or just let us know how you monitor your weight—and/or size. And as always, please let me know what you’d like me to discuss in this blog.

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