I’ve dealt with my fair share of weigh-a-holics.
These are people who step dubiously onto their cold scale each day, letting it dictate their emotions and feelings. They weigh-in every day, morning and night. Some will even step on and off five times in ten seconds in the hope a lower figure will magically appear between their feet. Then they do it again thirty seconds later. Sound familiar?
No, not crazy at all.
The problem is not in the act of weighing, but in letting the scale dictate our mood and self-worth. The morning weigh-in makes or break the day of far too many people. Folks I’ve seen will even try to step lightly on the scale or leave a foot off in an effort to see a lower number. The scale can even derail the progress we are making and take us off our plan.
It’s the single most often talked about measure of success in most health and fitness circles. Heck, even physicians will tell patients to they need to lose some weight.
The scale can be a helpful tool if you know how to make sense of it. But if you stress out about the numbers you see on a frequent basis, changing your relationship to the scale is vital to your success.
First, acknowledge that the number on the scale will never make you happy. Because it wont.
The numbers you see are simply data and information.
For far too many people, the scale becomes and emotional struggle. If the number on the scale is down one day, it’s a great day. If the number is up, it’s a bad day.
Story time: Juliana, a client of mine, had lost 2 pounds per week for 4 weeks in a row. She was ecstatic. Juliana completed every workout and was really sticking to her food journaling habit. Then, the inevitable happened. In week 5, she didn’t loose any weight. Gasp! I wasn’t surprised. It’s totally natural for weight loss to slow or plateau as you progress. But Juliana wasn’t convinced. She figured the plan was no longer working. No matter how much I tried to convince her otherwise, she was sure she needed to now do something more drastic. Less calories. More cardio. She ended up eating few calories and eventually burning out, putting the weight back on, and winding up back where she started.
The scale is a big fat liar
When we see the number on the scale, we don’t question it. We simply accept it as the cold, hard truth.
The problem is that the scale can be misleading. You need to understand the myriad ways the scale misinforms. You need solid advice on how to get the body you want in a way that actually works.
It’s time to fight back against the evils of the scale.
The scale is fickle. The number changes throughout the day. The weight you see on the scale is only the weight you are at a given moment in time. Weight fluctuates as much as 3 to 5 pounds in a day.
Imagine this: you’re really thirsty so you drink a 16 ounce bottle of water in a minute. That’s one pound. You just gained a pound.
In a hard workout at Village Fitness, I’ve seen clients lose as much as 2 pounds. Do I proclaim our workouts lead to instant body-fat loss? Obviously, it’s sweat.
Scale weight is also heavily affected by salt intake. Restaurants tend to have saltier food. If you eat out, I would not be surprised if you were a few pounds heavier than normal the next day. You didn’t just gain two pounds of fat overnight. Rather, the extra salt is causing your body to retain water. It’s a natural process of our body that has caused stress for countless daily scale-weighers.
A study from Cell looked at mice subject to simulated jet-lag. Interestingly, they found the microbiomes in their gut changed causing them to temporarily gain weight. The same was found for human travelers flying from the US to Israel.
This is simply a function of increased bloating during travel. Does it mean you’ve gained “weight” in the sense we usually use the word? Not on your Nelly.
Replace two of your meals each day with shakes. You will lose “weight” rapidly. Some of this will be fat, some muscle, and some water. But, once you start eating real foods again, you’ll gain a large chunk of it back.
Go ahead, cut your calories in half. You’ll lose weight.
But you’re missing the point.
The scale will show you a lower number, but you probably won’t feel good and have energy to engage in a good workout. And most of the change you are seeing is probably not fat loss.
Drastically reducing caloric intake can cause people to think they’ve lost 5 to 10 pounds in as little as a week. You did not lose 5 to 10 pounds of fat. Most of it was water.
This sort of progress never lasts. Your body catches up and the weight loss evens out or you realize that super restrictive diets are unreasonable.
Nicole and I went out during Christmas time to the Back Abbey (one of the best burgers I’ve ever had). We got fries and I had a burger. Then, we had ice cream after. It was an epic night.
I stepped on the scale the next morning to find myself 5 pounds (5 pounds!) heavier than a normal morning.
If I didn’t understand what excess carbs and salt do for our bodies water-retention I would have freaked out. Or worse, I would have done what many do and said, “this week or month or whatever is a wash and I can eat whatever I want and not exercise.” Or, they swing the other way towards over-exercise and feeling like they need to make-up for eating something.
The same happens when people come back from a vacation a few pounds heavier.
People will assumed they are not making progress when really they’re just bloated. This creates a totally unnecessary cycle of guilt and shame.
The scale doesn’t show us what we’re made of
I’m talking about muscle and fat of course.
Let’s take two women who are both 5’7″.
The first is 150 pounds. She has exercises and lifted weights for the past 3 years. She is lean and has toned muscles.
The other is 145 pounds and hasn’t touched a weight in her life. She’s weak and holds a fair bit of fat around her mid-section.
According to the scale, the second woman is more “successful”. But, if you were to look at both of them side by side, you would judge otherwise.
The point is that the scale doesn’t tell us how much muscle we have.
Specific weight loss goals are admirable. I’ll even ask clients what weight they want to get to and when.
More importantly, we need to know why.
What is important about 145 pounds to you?
Maybe it will be a marker of better health, a reason to be more confident, or maybe you just think that’s what you’re supposed to weigh.
If you know why you are trying to lose weight, we can look for other measures of progress which may be more accurate than weight.
I see far too folks aiming for unrealistic weight loss goals. Listen, you’re probably never going to get back to your high school weight. Even if you did, you might not like the way you look. Set goals that are not weight specific.
You may feel and look great at five pounds heavier than the goal number. But you were too focused on reaching a number that was essentially plucked out of thin air (or from the annals of history) to notice.
The bottom line is that there’s a big problem with thinking that a number on a scale will make you happy. It won’t. A target weight is an easy goal that we think we are supposed to set. But in most cases, we should ignore that urge.
“It’s more important to focus on how you feel, how your clothes are fitting, or on measurements such as your waist, hips, arms, or even your heart rate,” Robertson says.
What to measure instead
At Village, we like to get a full picture of where our clients are. The scale simply provides a small piece of the picture. Changes in each of the other categories are called non-scale victories or NSV’s.
We look at weight, progress photos, circumference, subjective feelings, and strength gains.
Progress photos help us visually measure change. As you lose body fat, you’ll notice your face getting more slender, your arms getting more toned, and your mid-section getting leaner. If you gain 5 pounds of lean muscle and lost 5 pounds of fat, the scale wont budge. But you’ll certainly look different.
Circumference measurements are similar. The butt and belly-button are especially important measurements. These two tend to be most reflective of changes in body-fat. If you’ve lose 2 inches in your butt and belly, but not any weight, you’re headed in the right direction.
Although we often obsess about weight, feeling stronger and more confident should be just as important. As you begin strength training and exercising more, you’ll notice things like picking up your kids, going up stairs, and household tasks become much easier. You’ll also just feel a whole lot better. People who strength train have more energy and vibrance than those who neglect it.
Tracking strength gains is also a helpful measure of success. Being able to deadlift your bodyweight, or do your first bodyweight pull-up or pushup is an amazing accomplishment.
Should I still weigh myself at all?
The scale is a useful measure for tracking progress. People who are eating well and exercising tend to show progress on the scale. The scale can help show you are headed in the right direction.
However, if the scale causes you to question your self-worth and derails you, don’t step on it. Better yet, get rid of your scale completely.
If you need help conquering the scale, write a comment below or email me at Matt@Villagefitnessglendora.com. I’d love to chat.
That’s all for today,