Original post at Precision Nutrition
By Alex McMahon, NTP
Edited and adapted for Shore Barre, by Julie Wender
How can you know if you’re making progress toward a body transformation goal? For starters, spend less time on the scale. Instead, focus on these 7 superior progress indicators.
Our bodies are complex. They change in many ways—ways that are often intangible or subtle. We feel and function differently, though we can’t always say exactly how. Long before we lose any weight, small signs of progress sprout and flower. Like the first yellow crocus poking through the snow, those early signs of progress are motivation gold. They make us feel like we can persist through the last days of winter—through the toughest times of changing our habits, or learning new skills, when it seems like the ice will never melt and our muscles will never grow. Being a skilled nutrition coach is like being a skilled nature guide. Being a client trying to change your body is like being an explorer in a new territory. Together, coach and client are seeking the first signs of spring thaw, trying not to be fooled by the feeling that nothing is happening because you can’t see the ice melting yet. To achieve your body transformation goals, you must know what small sprouts of progress look like.
You must know…
…how to track them for yourself, if you’re trying to change.
…how to point them out to your clients, if you’re a coach.
And, most importantly… how to celebrate them together.
In this article, we’ll share 7 ways to know if a nutrition plan is working, most of which are better indicators than your weight.
1. YOU FEEL SATISFIED AFTER MEALS
Does it ever feel like you’re hungry all the time? Like, you know you need to “get control”, but you can’t seem to “find the willpower” to close the bag of candy or stop picking off your kids’ dinner plates?
As we digest our food, the gut sends signals to the brain about how much energy we’ve consumed to trigger satiation (the feeling of fullness) so we know when we’ve had enough. Unfortunately, it turns out that all it takes to override thousands of years of relationship building between gut and brain is a humble bag of Cheetos. Processed food, with its extreme energy density and intense salty/sweet/fatty/crunchy/creamy tastes, tells our brain that we’ve hit the calorie jackpot: Eat until it’s gone! Stock up! You’ll have enough energy and nutrients to last for weeks! Of course, for most people, the junk food never runs out, so you’re left eating and eating and eating with zero satiation (and almost zero actual nutrition).
What progress looks like:
With your new nutrition plan, you’re eating slowly. Choosing fresh, nutritionally balanced foods. Leaving less room in your diet for processed foods that rev the appetite and never seem to fill you up. Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, beans, and legumes are taking up new space in your body, nourishing you, helping you feel satisfied. They signal to your gut and brain that It’s OK. We are OK. We are safe and comfortable and fed. We can stop now. Imagine, for the first time, feeling “full”. Not stuffed. Just satisfied. Feeling like you’ve had enough. Your gut and brain are calm. No panic. No restless pacing to the pantry. You’re just… done. Without any worry. Yep, this is all possible. In fact, this is what you’ll start to experience once your nutrition (and exercise) plan is on track. It’s an early sign of progress you can sense into even before you lose any weight. (Quick note: If you’re a smaller — and younger — guy trying to put on muscle, this may not apply to you. Being hungry all the time may be a good thing. Keep eating and lifting heavy!)
2. YOU HAVE MORE ENERGY
Maybe you can’t remember a time when you didn’t feel exhausted. Your alarm is your enemy. You don’t hit snooze; you literally punch the clock to make it shut up. Mid-afternoon, you need a caffeine and sugar hit to keep your eyelids propped open, and by 8pm you’re crashing in your La-Z-Boy chair in front of the TV. Your brain feels like mush and your body like molasses. Maybe your brain and body are getting too much processed food and too much sugar; maybe you’re borrowing energy from the future with stimulants.
Maybe you’re not getting enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Even small deficiencies in certain nutrients—which are much more common than you think—can drain your energy and fog up your focus.
What progress looks like:
One day, you wake up one minute before your alarm. Your eyes are actually open. You even feel… kind of… happy? You don’t need seven shots of espresso throughout the day just to cope with your work inbox. You pay attention, even during the 3pm accounting meeting. When you take your kids to the playground after dinner, you find yourself clambering up the climbing wall and slithering down the slide along with them. Back at home, your La-Z-Boy feels lonely and your TV abandoned. A good nutrition plan gives you energy—constant, steady, all-day energy rather than a brief buzz and a crash. If you get it right, you’ll start experiencing this over time. Sometimes even before the scale needle starts to move.
How vitamins and minerals influence your energy levels: The feeling of having more energy can come from the nutrients in fresh, whole foods, which we need for our bodies and brains to work properly. Try to get these nutrients through your diet, before introducing supplements.
3. YOU'RE SLEEPING BETTER
You know those nights when you just can’t seem to fall asleep? Or when you toss and turn in a weird, hallucinogenic, sleeping-but-not-sleeping state? Sometimes, we don’t even know how tired and sleep-deprived we are, because five hours of fitful flailing is our normal. There can be many reasons for poor sleep: stress, aging, hormonal changes, being a new parent, getting too much light late at night, jet lag, a global pandemic.... and so on.
Nutrition and exercise can play a role. For instance, if you diet too stringently, over-train (or under-recover), amp yourself up with tough workouts, or over-eat heavy meals late at night, you may not sleep well.
You may drink too much alcohol and caffeine. You may not get enough protein (to make the right neurotransmitters), nor enough vitamins and minerals (ditto). You may also have disrupted hormones (such as cortisol, growth hormone, thyroid hormone, and sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone) from stress and poor eating habits, all of which are important for good and restful sleep.
What progress looks like:
Now, with your nutrition plan, you’re getting enough good stuff to make the brain chemicals you need.
You’ve switched to half-glasses of wine with dinner, and—thanks to your newfound energy—laid off the afternoon espresso. Speaking of dinner, it’s a smaller portion that doesn’t leave you breathing in little huffs and give you nightmares about being chased by cheese. In short, your body is no longer in an always-on-battle-stations-go state of chemical panic. All of a sudden, you seem to wind down an hour before bedtime without a problem. You follow your sleep ritual and conk out easier than ever. Remember: If you want to change your body and improve your health, sleeping well consistently is crucial. And hey, it just feels good too.
How does nutrition help encourage better sleep?
4. YOUR CLOTHES FEEL JUST A LITTLE LOOSER (OR TIGHTER)
Today’s the day. You reach into your closet, into the back, for that piece of clothing. You know, the one that almost never fits unless you’re massively dehydrated, wrapped in Saran Wrap, and holding your breath simultaneously. Wow. It fits. Not just suck-it-in-and-suffer fits. But, like, really fits. It feels good. It looks good. No pulling fabric, no weird wrinkles, no strangling collars, no bulges of buttons or belts or bra straps. Or maybe you’ve pulled out some other piece of clothing. The one that normally drapes over you like an oversized beach towel over a coat hanger. The T-shirt you can’t seem to fill out, the armholes with room to spare and a flapping curtain where you feel like billowing pecs should be. Wow again. It doesn’t fit. And that’s great. Because your chest and arms and shoulders and back are now too muscular for it. The shirt is still flapping loose in one area, though: your newly whittled waist.
What progress looks like:
Muscle and bone are denser than body fat. When we build this lean mass, we often get heavier but smaller (at least in certain areas). If you’re male, you may find your shoulders broadening, chest filling out, back wings fluttering, and your waist shrinking. If you’re female, you may find that your scale weight goes up (along with that "barre booty" you've been building) but your clothing size goes down, and you ace your bone density scan! This is why, in addition to tuning into how your clothes fit, we suggest using a tape measure to track the circumference of various body parts (chest, waist, hips, thigh are good places to start).
How does lean mass compare to fat? Muscle cells are tightly packed with myofibrils. When these contract with enough intensity, the body adapts by generating more myofibrils and sarcomeres (assuming proper training and nutrition), increasing the density (and strength) of the muscle. Even denser, bone is composed of complex combinations of calcium and phosphorus, heavy minerals that provide strength, flexibility, and support for all the stress we put on them. Bones also contain a significant amount of protein (mostly collagen-type proteins). Adipose (fat) tissue, on the other hand, is loosely composed of adipocytes, cells that contain light, fluffy lipid molecules (mainly triglycerides). Unlike bone and muscle mass, fat tissue provides unlimited storage all over the body, so it will continue to grow when we over-eat. This means: muscle and bone are 18 and 33 percent heavier than fat by volume. It also means that your exercise and nutrition plan can help you look (and function) better without leading to weight loss.
5. YOU'RE IN A BETTER MOOD
Have people secretly nicknamed you Grumpy, Angsty, Miserable Cuss, or Party Pooper? Does it physically hurt you to smile? The phenomenon of “hangry” is so well known that candy bar commercials joke about it, noting that “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” You may also not be your best self when you’re deprived of the nutrients your brain needs to keep you sailing on an even emotional keel, without crashing into the rocks.
What progress looks like:
Improving our mental and emotional outlook with good nutrition can show up in surprising ways. Here are some of the things you will discover after consistently improving your nutrition habits.
In part, these changes come from the experience of changing habits. When we try something, and succeed, we get a little jolt of inspiration that encourages us to keep going (#habitsofhealth). These changes also come from the nutrition itself: Our brains and bodies have the nutrients and chemical tools they need to do their jobs—to regulate our emotions, to make our “happy neurotransmitters”, and to send those cheery and calming signals where they should go.
How food influences your mood:
The connection between our food, neurotransmitters, and blood sugar regulation means that how we feel depends a lot on what we eat.
6. YOU'RE STRONGER AND HAVE MORE ENDURANCE
Around the time you first start your nutrition overhaul, workouts might feel like a slog. Maybe you feel weak, uncoordinated and slow. Maybe you pick the lightest weights for your barre class. And boy are you sore afterwards. And then, gradually, you’re less sore. More of an “umph” getting out of bed than an “AAAAAUUUUGHHHH!!!!” You’re more zesty. Perhaps another class this week! you think, jauntily, suddenly full of beans. You check the Shore Barre schedule;).
What progress looks like:
7. IT FEELS MORE LIKE A LIFESTYLE THAN A DIET
“Diets” are a chore. They’re another to-do that you superimpose over your busy life, and another boring, strict, overly complicated task you can’t wait to quit. When we do quit—because of course we do, it’s temporary, right?—we’re back where we started. Back “off the diet”. Back to processed foods, never-ending hunger, frustration, and weight gain.
What progress looks like:
Progress here happens when you’re just… living. You’re in a nice, natural, normal-day rhythm that doesn’t feel like being “on” or “off” anything. Eating well stops being "A Thing" and just starts being your daily life.
You naturally gravitate toward whole foods. You pick the salmon over the hot dog without even thinking about it. You think, “A fresh salad would be nice”, and you really mean it.
WHAT TO DO NEXT...
If you’re tired of being a slave to the scale, here are some ways to start breaking free:
1. Add, don’t subtract. If you’re in a “diet mentality”, each day feels like a new battle to avoid the “bad foods”. So let’s flip that. Add, don’t subtract.
2. Measure—and celebrate—your progress. Look for signs of progress everywhere. Everything counts, no matter how small. Track them. Celebrate them like that first springtime crocus.
3. Focus on little things. Make mini-goals. Nano-goals, if you want. For the day. For the week. For the next five minutes. Whatever you need to stay on track and feeling like you can do this. Each time you hit those tiny goals, reward yourself (in a healthy way).
4. Print, use, share. Print out these effective progress trackers to make it easier to monitor your progress. No scale required.
5. Find a coach (🙋🏻♀️😉) to support and celebrate your progress. It’s often a lot easier (and always a lot more fun) to work toward your body transformation goal with help from an experienced nutrition coach. If you’ve been trying to make progress for a while, but just aren’t seeing results, consider getting some extra support. With the right person in your corner, you’ll develop more effective change strategies and be better able to recognize progress markers and maintain the motivation it takes to make it to the finish line.
Gripped socks are used in barre class similar to the way ballet shoes or slippers are used in dance class. Most obviously, gripped socks provide a cushion for your foot, and aid your ability to grip the floor. Some brands, such as the Great Soles we feature in studio, also have compression around the arch of the foot, for added support. The cotton fibers of the sock, cushion your metatarsals while you are exercising on the balls of your feet, or when balancing on one foot. The tiny rubber "grippers" on the sole of the sock help your toes to grip the floor, allowing your muscles to stabilize and work (ideally) to fatigue. These seemingly innocuous features are actually very important in maintaining the comfort and protection of your foot during weight bearing exercises.
If your feet are slipping around, not only will your body not be capable of working to its fullest potential, but you will be compromising your safety - especially if the studio floor is not padded or carpeted (our studio has wood flooring).
Gripped socks provide a level of sanitary protection as well. While we all know what it is like to have stinky or itchy feet, we don’t want those types of issues (or infections!) on our hands, face or chest. Socks cover the skin of your feet and the skin of your neighbor’s feet. Think about it… kinda icky.
As an aside, but on the topic of health and hygiene: Shore Barre also uses antimicrobial (an agent that kills microorganisms) mats , and we clean the barres and ALL equipment between EVERY class.
All the call outs on our website, class descriptions, and purchase receipts that we are a "gripped socks required studio" are intended to encourage or remind you to bring your own. We also understand you may be visiting Shore Barre just once during your vacation, and maybe you didn't bring a pair, and don't want to buy any either. As a courtesy, we do keep a clean pair or, THREE;), as pictured above, in the studio. While we do our best to accommodate, please note loaners are on a first come, first served basis.
We sell Great Soles socks, exclusively, at Shore Barre, because they're a brand we feel really good about, and know you will too! Great Soles is a WOMAN OWNED company, and donates a portion of the profits from the sale of their products, to aid in cancer research and education (You can read more here: https://www.great-soles.com/pages/company-commitment). Priced $14 - $16 a pair, the socks are lightweight, durable, and of course... available in fun colors and styles.
POSTS ARE AUTHORED OR EDITED/ADAPTED BY
Julie Goldstein Wender