Let's talk about that darn number on the scale (#82)

I go over into this topic in a lot more detail on the podcast. If you prefer to listen click above or download in iTunes!  
*In the podcast I also announced that registration is open for our 6 Week ArthroFit Program. Click here for more details or to reserve your spot!
Yesterday a good friend posted on Facebook that he just had a full physical with his physician to make sure his body was as healthy on the inside as it was on the outside (he just finished a body building competition). He was rated as ‘normal to low risk’ on every test, except his body mass index (BMI). He was told that he was overweight and should adopt a healthy eating plan and start exercising. Really?
Let’s talk about weight, and that darn number on the scale. Perhaps you have a love/ hate relationship with it. Maybe it keeps you accountable to your fitness and nutrition, and you don’t attach emotion to it. Maybe you never weigh yourself (or never weigh yourself when you’re ‘off track’). Maybe you weigh yourself 10 times a day. Maybe that number in the morning impacts your entire day.
The scale is one tool, just like a kitchen knife is a tool. You can use the kitchen knife to prepare a wonderful meal, or you could seriously harm someone. It’s neither good nor bad, but it DOES have limitations. In this article, I’m going to go over some of the limitations of the scale and what you can do instead.
When we say ‘weight loss’, we usually mean fat loss. Most people don’t have a goal to lose muscle mass or to dehydrate themselves. And that brings me to my first point:

  1. The scale does not reflect fat loss. The scale only measures total body weight: your muscles, gut contents, glycogen stores, water, organs, bones, etc. What if you gain weight, but all the weight gain is muscles because you’re lifting weights heavier than your purse? What if you only diet (without strength training) and lose weight, but also lose a significant amount of muscle mass?

If you have a body transformation goal, likely you want to lose FAT and not muscle.

  1.  Hydration will cause fluctuations in body weight. Ever notice that your weight goes up when it’s hot or when you’ve consumed a high sodium meal? No, that burger and fries you ate didn’t cause you to gain 4-5 pounds of fat overnight- and it’s not fat. It’s water. Your weight will fluctuate regularly depending on hydration. When it’s hot, if you’ve had a lot of salt, and ladies, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, you will retain water.
    Ultimately, we cannot control the number on the scale. 
  2. Glycogen stores will cause the number to go up. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in the liver and muscle; and water is stored with it. If you ate more carbohydrates than usual, your glycogen stores will go up.
  3. The scale only measures weight. The scale is does not measure some of the successes that really matter: your energy, confidence, ability to get up off the floor easily or touch your toes. Let’s not let the scale dictate whether you are making progress or not. Do not let the scale overshadow your non-scale victories.

My point is that the scale fluctuates, and its use is limited. While it can be used as a tool to help measure success on a fat loss program, it should not be the sole metric. If you tend to get emotional over the number, or if you find yourself weighing yourself frequently or are obsessed with that number, stop weighing yourself. Let the scale lose its power.
If you are wanting to measure fat loss, here are 3 better ways to gauge your transformation:

  1. Photos. Take a full body picture, and take one again in a month or so. If you’ve changed, you’ll be able to see the difference.
  2. Measure body composition. Depending on the method used, body composition measurements will vary in accuracy. More accurate methods are much better measures of fat loss than the scale.
  3. The way your clothes fit. Granted, retaining water or gaining muscle mass will cause your body to increase in size, but generally over time if you notice your clothes are fitting looser, you’ve likely lost body fat.
  4. Measurements. Even measurements have limitations (muscle mass and water retention will increase your measurements). You also need to make sure the measurements are taken at the exact same spot of your body.

If you decide to weigh yourself regularly to measure progress or to keep yourself on track, simply be aware of the limitations of the scale. You may also wish do a body composition assessment or use another measurement. In my next article, I’m going to discuss some of the reasons why your body composition may not be changing, and what to do about it.
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