If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, I would be willing to bet that stepping on the scale was how you measured success. In fact, the very act of losing weight means that number on the scale should be going down…right? Not always. And sometimes that number goes up even when you’ve done everything right and feel amazing (before you look down at the display between your toes, that is).
Your bathroom scale (or even your doctor’s scale) doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s still considered an invaluable tool for weight loss because it’s an easy way to chart progress – just a number that goes up or down from week to week. But ‘easy’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way. And more often than not, when we step on that scale, our self-esteem, our mood, and how we feel about ourselves becomes tied to the number that appears.
This has all been on my mind recently, because I’m in the position again of having weight to lose, now I’m two months postpartum. But I won’t be relying solely on what the scale reads, because there are three very important reasons that not only is it flawed when used as the only definition of weight loss, the scale doesn’t help you lose weight.
1. The scale is used as a tool by itself.
What the scale doesn’t tell you is how much of your weight is made up of fat and how much is lean mass. The scale also doesn’t account for water retention, or what’s going on with your digestive system. I’m sure you’ve heard the often quoted (and nonsensical) statement, “A pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat.” Obviously, that’s wrong – a pound is a pound, no matter if it’s fat, muscle or anything else. What it’s meant to express though, is that a pound of fat will take up more space than a pound of muscle. Fat has more volume than muscle. What does this mean when it comes to your body? It means that if, for example, you lose a pound of fat and gain a pound of muscle, the number on your scale will not change. You will weigh exactly the same amount, but your body will be smaller.
Solution: You can either have your body fat percentage measured at the same time your weight is recorded, then have both those retaken every time you’re reassessing your progress, OR you can use an easier method and just go by how your clothes fit. If your clothes are fitting more comfortably or looser, then guess what? You’re doing great.
2. You use diet alone to get the number on your scale moving down.
Dieting alone, without exercise, may seem like it’s working because your weight is going down, but diet without exercise can lead to loss of muscle. If you think that’s not a big deal, you’re wrong. You already know that a pound of muscle is going to take up less space than the equivalent of fat, but there’s another important reason you want to maintain, or even increase your muscle mass: As well as negatively affecting your basic strength, loss of muscle means you’re losing one of the easiest ways to lose fat. That’s right, since muscle is metabolically more efficient than fat, it means the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest.
Solution: Don’t forego exercise. Even more importantly, don’t buy into the myth that cardio burns fat more efficiently than strength training. Both forms of exercise will use glycogen, then fat stores for energy, but the strength training causes your body to continue burning calories for a longer period of time after your workout, as well as increasing the muscle that’s going to make you an efficient fat-burning machine. I often explain to my clients that weight loss is just a happy side effect of getting stronger through strength training.
3. The scale can become an obsession.
Even if you know the number you see is not the be-all and end-all, you can still develop an unhealthy fixation on it getting lower, regardless of how it happens. When you find yourself acting irrationally simply so you can see a different result on the scale – from small actions like not weighing yourself until you’ve peed in the morning, to bigger issues like eating less the night before you weigh yourself – that’s when you should take a look at whether you’re taking control of your health, or whether the scale is taking control of you.
Solution: Look at the bigger picture of your weight loss goal. Make a list of all the ways you can measure your progress: How your clothes fit, how much stronger and fitter you’ve become, your measurements – these are all ways you can see how well you’re doing.
Finally, something I think is often overlooked is how rarely someone shares the amount they weigh, especially women. Do you know how much you friends weigh? Even your best friend? It’s a number we keep pretty close-lipped on, right? The next time someone pays you a compliment, don’t brush it off with a comment on how much you weigh. They don’t know what you weigh and they don’t care what you weigh, all they see is what you should be looking at – how cute you look in your jeans, what great definition you have in your muscles, or what dedication you have to your workouts. I know it’s hard. I’ve noticed since I had baby #2 that whenever someone says something about how I look, I tell them how much weight I have to lose. I’m working on it!
So, what do you think? Is your scale still your best weight loss tool?
What are the ways you measure your weight loss?