It seems that everyone around me these days is obsessed with their weight. Whether friend, family, roommate, or acquaintance- there’s always someone ready and willing to share that they “could stand to lose 15 pounds”. The scale can be a really great indicator of fitness progress at times; however when used inappropriately, it can become a source of stress.
For many, the number on the scale can define a good, or bad day. And can even determine throughout the course of the day, what we eat, what we drink, how much we exercise; even our confidence, whether we go out or stay in. Just one little number!
That’s the problem with the scale- it relays data, in the form of one simple number- which we accept as the whole story from which we draw our final conclusions: good or bad, progress or no progress. Yet the number is made up of all kinds of things that it doesn’t explicitly say!
There’s a lot more to say about your weight than just one number- and in that way the scale is a BIG FAT LIAR! It is time to bring the scale to the stand, and finally expose this oversimplified, misleading machine for what it is! Without further ado…
5 Reasons the Scale is Wrong
Reason #1: Water
Your daily intake of water, and output of sweat can affect your weight. Just weigh yourself before, and after an intense sweaty hour or two of exercise, and it’s not uncommon you’ll be down a few pounds. But if you think you lost a few pounds of fat- because you really just worked out that hard- think again! It’s just a loss of water weight.
In general, healthy people are comprised of over 50% water. Another interesting thing, is that tissues are made up of different percentages of water- for example body fat contains approximately 10% water, while muscle is approximately 75% water. Therefore as you can imagine differences in body content, will affect your body water percentage- but remember, a high body water percentage is a good thing!
Reason #2: Salt
Have you ever heard of water/salt balance? In short, your body thrives off of a balance of salt and water to keep your cells properly functioning. When you add a lot of salt into your body, more water will be retained to balance the excess sodium. The excess water will add to your scale weight.
Reason #3: Travel
Traveling most popularly affects your circadian rhythm, but did you know it also disrupts the natural rhythm of your gut? It’s common to feel bloated for up to 24 hours after air travel. You aren’t actually gaining weight while up in the air, but unfortunately the scale might tell you otherwise.
Reason #4: Eating Out
Sodium content in foods when eating out is generally much higher than eating at home, which in turn causes a high retention of water. It’s not uncommon to step on the scale after a nice meal out, and see the weight increase by 3-4 pounds. No, you did not gain 3-4 pounds just by eating one meal, it’s just water weight.
This isn’t a reason not to go out, going out is an important part of rewarding yourself, and spending time with loved ones. Just be prepared for the extra water retention, and don’t be alarmed if you look at the scale the next morning.
Reason #5: Muscle vs. Fat Content
Thus far, we’ve covered pretty minimal fluctuations in weight, but the biggest contender is fat and muscle content. It’s true, muscle weighs more than fat! And no, I’m not saying 1 pound of muscle weighs more than 1 pound of fat- 1 pound is 1 pound people! However, muscle is denser than fat, and it takes up less space than fat.
This means, stronger people may weigh the same or more than fatter, weaker people. But the stronger people aren’t worse off because they weigh more, and they are by no means unhealthy because the number on the scale is higher! They might be smaller than their counterparts who weight the same. They have leaner tissues, faster metabolisms, greater ability to complete everyday tasks- in this case the extra weight caused by a higher lean muscle content, is a good thing.
I hope you have a better understanding of how your weight by no means defines just exactly what you’re made up of. It won’t always define your progress. It’s important to understand, because as you continue to workout, and continue to get stronger- you might gain muscle.
Let’s say you’re making serious gains- you might be losing fat, and gaining muscle at the same time. And a person only looking at the scale might not think they’re making any progress at all. But a person who looks at other signs, who understands what can affect the scale, who isn’t limited to this oversimplified number- has the ability to remain calm when they look at the scale, because they know that number, is only one piece of the pie.
So is setting goals, and tracking progress based on weight bad? That’s not necessarily what I’m trying to say, although I think it can become dangerous, stressful, and unhealthy for some people.
If you are planning on tracking your progress based on weight, that is okay! But, I want to ask you why do you want to hit that certain number? Is the number the most important part to you, or is it your appearance, functionality, and health that matter most? I want to encourage you, if you do track your progress by weight, pair that goal with a few other methods of progress tracking I have left below.
How Do Your Clothes Fit?
Whether you’re trying to get big and buff, or you’re trying to lose some fat and get lean; or you’re trying to do both at the same time- you should notice difference in the fit of your clothes. As your legs lean out, the fit of your pants becomes looser; as you train your bicep for hypertrophy, your shirtsleeve gets tighter. Regardless of your goal, take notice to how your clothes are fitting.
Take pictures of yourself in the mirror once a week. Do not pose in the photos, stand in a neutral position (no sucking it in- you cheaters!!), from whichever angle you prefer. Front, side, and back are usually the most beneficial views. To keep things consistent, try to take these photos on the same day of the week, in the morning. For example, every Monday morning.
Activity/ Stronger or Faster
You may notice picking up your kids, or climbing the stairs has gotten a lot easier. Are you lifting more weight, or running faster than before? Is your heart rate lower than it used to be when doing the same activity? Improving your abilities, is a great sign of progress!
Last but not least, I just want to encourage you. I hate to see people obsess and fret over their weight; particularly, when stress over weight has the power to hold a person back from true progress. It is my hope, that as a community we could improve our mental outlook on fitness progress, by striving to look at the whole picture, rather than just this small piece of the puzzle!