Ahh, the scale. You’ve had a great week of getting your workouts done, and eating healthy, and you step on the scale with excitement building — how much will you have lost? Three pounds? Maybe four?
Cue horror music as you look down and see the same number you remember from last week or, even worse, higher. But the reverse is true, too, when you’ve … um … “forgotten” a couple of workouts, and then the kids wanted to make cookies, and don’t forget the pizza. When you check your weight on the scale, certain that you’ve gained, doesn’t it feel amazing to see a surprise loss?
Why? Why are we tying our mood, and our self-worth, to a number on a scale? “Duh, because I’m trying to lose weight!” I hear you say. I’m here to tell you: The best way to lose weight safely and maintain your weight loss, is to forget about the scale. Get rid of it, seriously. Here’s why …
1. The scale is still considered an invaluable tool for dieters because it’s an easy way to chart weight loss — just a number that goes up or down from week to week. But “easy” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way. What the scale doesn’t tell you is how much of your weight is made up of fat, and how much is lean mass. Yes, I know there are scales that claim to measure body fat. No, they are not accurate. The scale also doesn’t account for water retention, or what’s going on with your digestive system.
2. Even if you know that number you see between your toes is not the be-all and end-all, you can still develop an unhealthy obsession with it dropping, regardless of whether it’s fat or lean muscle being lost in the process. Dieting alone, without exercise, may seem like it’s working because your weight is going down, but if it’s affecting your body composition negatively — I’m talking about losing muscle as well as fat — you’re setting yourself up to fail.
3. Ways to gauge progress instead of the scale are often referred to as “non-scale victories” in the “fitness world.” I say, to hell with that, they’re just victories. They include girth measurements with a tape measure, assessing how your clothes fit, measuring body fat percentage (if you have access to this method — calipers are about as accurate as you can get), and noting strength gains.
Now, after that mini-rant, a confession: we (8 ONE 8) have almost EVERY client weigh themselves, even though I don’t think it’s the best gauge of weight loss. Why do I do that? It’s the fourth reason your scale weight is not the best way to lose weight or maintain weight loss.
4. A change in body composition is what you should strive for if you’re trying to lose weight, NOT a lower number on the scale. I weigh clients when I assess and re-assess them because I want to measure their progress in terms of strength and fat loss. If I’m taking body fat measurements, when I know my client’s weight I can also work out their lean muscle mass, and ideally with a weight loss or a strength-building client, I want to see that body fat percentage slowly drop, while muscle mass increases. I often explain to my clients that weight loss is just a happy side effect of getting stronger through strength training.
So, put an end to the mandatory weigh-ins, the two-hour daily cardio sessions, and the severely restricted diet that has failed you for 52 solid weeks. Replaced them with a mirror; 30-60 minute, high-intensity home workout; and proper nutrition.
A cookie-cutter approach does not exist. What works for one person may not work for another. But no one should become a slave to numbers on a scale. With that said, knowing your weight is sometimes necessary if you’re keeping close track of your muscle gains or body fat percentage for a competition or specific fitness goals. But, if that number negatively affects your mental and emotional well-being, don’t look at it, and tell the person doing the measurements not to tell you. When you’re closer to your goals and feel ready to see or hear your weight, then you can make the decision.
Instead of the scale, measure your health by how you look and feel. How do your clothes fit? How do they look? This might be hard for some people because they don’t see themselves accurately. But, the more you focus on these measuring tools, the more control you will begin to have over your body and mind. Before long, you will be able to look in the mirror and feel great.