The Importance of Tracking Your Progress
We all have very different relationships with our own bodies. There are some readers who I am sure are totally body confident and it is people like you that inspire me to find balance and self acceptance in my body and mind. For you, a healthy lifestyle doesn't need goals or measurements, it is just about keeping fit, healthy and the best version of you. Sadly though, for the majority of people - and I think I speak especially for women - we are our own worst critics. We find a way to judge our abilities, appearances, actions and thoughts, giving ourselves a really tough time for just being who we are.
The trouble is, there are so many external influences - the media, our friends, family, social media... the list goes on - which encourage us to make comparisons between ourselves and others. This poses a huge risk to our set acceptance because, ultimately, you will never be anyone other than you. I learnt a long time ago that those people that constantly compete with others whether that be in the classroom, the gym, at work or anywhere else, are the ones that most regularly see themselves in a negative light.
One thing that I have always strived for is to be the best version of myself and let others get on with doing the same. The difficulty with this though is finding a way to measure it. We are stuck with the bodies and the minds that we want to better every day, so there is no chance to take a step back and see how far we have come. In this post, I want to focus on the physical - how to track your progress and notice the changes in the way that you look and feel as a result of working out, eating well and taking care of your body. While I encourage self-acceptance no matter what you look like or how you feel, I know that to many of you the way you see yourself in the mirror does have a big impact on the way we feel mentally so for that reason you need to be able to see yourself make progress towards your goals, whatever they may be. This isn't just aimed at people that are looking to loose weight, gain weight, or change their body shape - it totally applies to those aiming to better their physical ability, especially for the yogis out there.
We are conditioned to think that what we weigh is a reflection of our fitness, or how we will look in certain clothes but weight can be a dangerous measure. As a teenager, I had such set ideas of what I wanted to weigh, based on what my friends would say they weighed (the fact that's a conversation that 15 year old girls were having just shows how bad the problem is!). By 15 or 16 I was also at least 2 inches taller than all of my friends, and 4 or 5 inches taller than most. Trying to compare our weight was ludicrous and actually potentially very damaging to all of our health and happiness!
You've probably heard all of this before but muscle weighs more than fat. As we work up and build our strength, we are gaining more muscle. So while our body fat may be decreasing, the number on the scales may not change - or it could even go up. Therefore using the scales really gives little away about our bodies changing. Therefore I have three methods of tracking progress that I would encourage you to use:
1) Your clothes Your clothes are a really great way to keep an eye on your body. How do you feel in certain things? Are your favourite jeans a little tighter than a few months ago? Are you starting to feel more confident in vest top that you never used to like? Whichever way you look at it, your clothes are a relatively fixed measure so make use of them.
2) Test Yourself Whether its the number of press ups you can do, the time it takes you to run a certain distance or even just how strong you feel in general, measuring yourself at regular intervals can be really effective in motivating yourself. Make sure you leave enough time in between 'tests' to allow yourself time to really notice a change and don't be too hard on yourself if you don't get to where you want to be every time - we all have good and bad days, weeks and even months. Just use the results to reassess your goals and how you are going to achieve them.
3) Photos When I left university, I was bloated due to a long list of foods that my digestive system had spent 5 years trying to tell me I shouldn't eat. I exercised but I was a creature of habit and stuck within my comfort zone. When I got home, I decided to take some photos of myself so that I could remember how awful I felt - I'm not sure why I did it really but it was one of the best things I could have done. Over the following 6 months, through my lifestyle overhaul, I dropped 8% body fat and inches from all over my body. But about 4 months in I was worried that I was bulking up, or at least no longer seeing results in terms of my speed, strength and appearance. I took another photo and put it side by side with the photo I had taken all those months ago. I was so shocked to see how much my body had changed - having seen myself in the mirror every day I hadn't realised quite how much my body (and my mind) had been transformed.
To refer back to my previous point about weight, in the two sets of photos below I weighed almost the same amount at each point (first one 6 months apart, second 3 months apart), perhaps one or two kilograms less but nothing dramatically different. I spent a long time debating whether or not to include the photos below in this post - I never intended for anyone to see the pictures and they feel fairly personal (so please excuse my crazy hair and if it seems self indulgent) but I think it is important to share them to illustrate the point. Not only do these photo show me how much healthier I look in my body, but also in my skin, hair and even act as a reminder of how my energy levels have changed. They act as the most amazing motivation to keep doing what I do and continue striving to be the best, healthiest and, most importantly, happiest version of me.
No one ever has to see the photos that you take - just do it for yourself. Use your own self as inspiration and comparison. If I put a picture of myself next to anyone else - whether that be a celebrity, a friend or any of you, I would find things to criticise myself for. But by comparing me to me, or you to you, you can find things to congratulate yourself for and new things that you want to work on to be the best version of yourself - not just physically but mentally too. The only person you should ever compare yourself to is you. Now go take some 'selfies' and remind yourself of just how amazing you are, inside and out!