“I didn’t think I was worried about being bulky but in the last three weeks I have been training aggressively - I feel great but my weight has increased by like 6 pounds, which makes my guilty “weight conscious” side feel terrible. Which feeling am I supposed to go with here? I feel great but the ultimate goal here is to go down in weight. Help!” - Carmen, Brooklyn, NY
First, the ultimate goal is not, as you stated, to go down in weight. The ultimate goal should be to be healthy, look great and, yes, feel great. Now there is a chance, that you have gained weight because you are eating more calories than you are burning and maybe you feel good because you are on an extended sugar high. Increased levels of activity will make a person feel hungrier and, although we have been told to always, “listen to our bodies,” sometimes we need to ignore our cravings. If you are exercising, you do need to eat (frequently but in small portions) but it does not give license to over-eat. That being said, since you have achieved the “feeling great” part of that equation. Perhaps, your six “extra” pounds are six pounds of lean, muscle mass. After all, they say that muscle weighs more than fat. It doesn’t. Muscle is denser than fat, but 5 pounds of muscle and 5 pounds of fat both weigh 5pounds.
Here are a few questions for you: are you weighing yourself every day? Twice a day? Once in the morning and once before you go to bed? Are you weighing yourself at the same time every day?
If you answered yes to any of the above, STOP DOING THAT! If you must weigh yourself, limit yourself to once a week.
I try not to fixate on body weight with my clients. When I do an initial physical assessment with a new client, I do get their weight, but I try not to place too much emphasis on the number on the scale. There are other variables that are a better indication of overall well-being. (A better indication of a person’s fitness level is body fat percentage, but even that, presents a fairy broad range of what is considered healthy.) I always say the numbers don’t lie but they don’t tell the whole story.
I would advocate measuring your progress by asking questions along these lines: How do you feel? How do you look? How are your energy levels? Have you dropped a dress size or are you buckling your belt in a different place? Are you stronger? Are you able to work out harder and longer without feeling like you are about to collapse? Does your face look thinner? Although not as quantifiable, these are the factors by which I encourage my clients to define success.
The mileage on the same body weight can vary drastically. Consider this. I am 5’10” and 170 pounds. I have a 29-inch waist. I feel great and functionally fit. My girlfriend does not have any qualms with my appearance but what she really appreciates is that I can move furniture without breaking a sweat and carry large, grocery bags uphill without getting winded. On the converse, I have a friend my height and weight. He has a 36-inch waist and his T-shirts barely cover what he proudly refers to as his “Bud Belly”. He rarely exercises and plays video games three hours a day. He told me he has to take a cab home from the grocery store because he couldn’t possibly carry the bags “all five blocks back to his apartment.” He also does not have a girlfriend with any qualms with his appearance because he does not have one. My point here is that he weighs less than I do yet we look, feel and function drastically differently.
“But, Michael” I hear some of you saying, “I am a goal-oriented person. I need quantifiable metrics by which to measure my progress”. Hey, man, I like goals. I like setting out a challenge for my clients and, more than that, I love, watching them conquer those challenges. If you want to set goals in terms of your fitness program, shift your focus to performance-based goals: being able to do more reps or lift more weight or hold a plank for longer. Goals like this are actionable and will keep you present and focused on the task at hand DURING your workouts and, that will keep you going and allow you to push toward making all of your fitness dreams come true.
I send my online clients a list of questions at the end of every week. Some of these are practical; “was anything too difficult?”, “was anything too easy?”, “are there any exercises you have questions about or that you feel you aren’t doing correctly” and things of that nature; logistical questions that will inform their programming for the following week. In the past year, I’ve added an additional question, which has proven to be the most important of all. “What were your victories this week?”.
Sometimes I get answers like, “It was a busy week at work and one of the kids was sick. Honestly, just doing the workouts at all was a victory”.
“I hit a personal record on my bench press this week.”
“My husband told me I look better than the day we got married.”
I could go on and on. Taking inventory of what they refer to in Weight Watchers as “Non-Scale Victories” builds consistency and confidence and allows one to be a witness to their own progress. It forces one to acknowledge the fruits of their labors. Moving the dial on the scale or going down a few sizes in clothing are all within reach, but these are longer term goals and require patience.
Recognition of your victories on a weekly basis will make you feel good about what you are doing.
So, as to the original question about choosing between feeling guilty or feeling great, as long as what is making you feel great (in this case exercise and, presumably, eating well) is not something that SHOULD make you feel guilty (like eating Oreos or shooting heroin), you owe it to yourself to choose to feel great.
If you have a question you’d like me to answer, email me at email@example.com
Until next time, have a great workout!
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