I bet you weighed yourself this morning.
Did you like the number you saw, or were you expecting something lower? Did you get overly excited if it was low or unreasonably depressed if it was too high? We’ve all been there, so don’t beat yourself up too much.
Seriously, quit hitting yourself.
Whenever somebody tells me that he or she is going to get in shape, it’s always something like: “I’m going to lose 50 pounds,” or “If I can just get down to 200, I’ll be good.”
I’m here to tell you that you should reconsider stepping on that scale anytime soon. Why? Because although picking an arbitrary number for weight loss is a decent starting point (and it’s definitely good to set goals), your scale certainly doesn’t tell the whole story and can send you on an unnecessary roller coaster of emotions. Yes I do realize most roller coasters are amazing – the emotional ones kind of suck though.
1) Your weight will fluctuate more than the stock market
The human body is one incredibly complex piece of machinery. There are things going in, coming out, transforming, and dissolving all of the time. As a result, your weight can fluctuate wildly over the course of a 24-48 hour period. Depending on what you ate today, how much water you drank, if there was sodium in your food, what kind of clothing you were wearing, what time of day you weigh yourself, your weight WILL be different.
- Weigh yourself before and after your next workout – there will be a difference.
- Weigh yourself this morning and then again tonight after a full day of eating – there will be a difference.
If you’re trying to lose weight the healthy way (1-2 pounds a week is a good goal to shoot for, 3 pounds if you’re on the heavier side), your successful weight loss could be hidden by any number of circumstances that falsify your statistics.
That means you could be down three pounds since last week, but because you ate Chinese food last night (oh hey sodium), drank water this morning, and didn’t get to weigh yourself til the afternoon (while wearing jeans), the scale could show a GAIN of one pound. After working so hard, this “weight gain” can instantly demoralize you, sending you to the kitchen for some pity rocky-road ice cream and then over to the couch for a Battlestar Galactica marathon.
It’s just a number, and it can be wildly inaccurate over a short period of time.
2) Your weight does NOT tell the whole story
These are two pictures of me: the one on the left was taken four years ago in San Diego; the right was taken yesterday after my workout. Hopefully I’m not alone in noticing a pretty striking difference in my body composition between the two pictures:
Want to know something crazy? I weigh the EXACT SAME AMOUNT in both pictures – 162 pounds.
Since going Paleo I’ve lost 6 pounds, dropping me down to the weight I used to be four years ago. For a guy who’s actively trying to pack on muscle and bulk up, just looking at the number on the scale was incredibly depressing to me. Fortunately, these pictures have shown that I’ve actually been damn successful at getting stronger and building muscle.
And yes, it’s true that muscle weighs more than fat.
I had a great conversation with my friend Matt (who lost 160 pounds in a year) a few weeks back. He participated in a “Biggest Loser” type challenge at his work back in the Spring – in those three months, he restricted his calories and spent hours doing cardio, losing 31 pounds in the process. A body composition test showed he lost 16 lbs of fat and 14 of muscle.
After the competition was over , he went back to his normal routine of eating healthy and lifting weights. He only lost 16 pounds over the next three months, but 15 of them were fat and only 1 pound lost was muscle!
Comparing the scales (31 pounds lost against only 16 pounds lost) seems like an open and shut case. However, when you compare the TYPE of weight lost, it’s clear to see which three month period was more successful.
Why spend extra time losing fat AND muscle, and then have to build up the muscle again (which is incredibly tough – I know), when you can just cut out the fat and keep the muscle you already have?
Lift heavy weights, eat healthy, go for long walks, and you’ll lose your fat and keep the muscle.
3) The scale does not define you
If you set out to lose 100 pounds in a year – an incredibly ambitious goal – and you only manage to lose 85, you might consider yourself a failure. After all, you set a goal and failed to achieve it, right?
YOU STILL LOST 85 freaking pounds, something you might have been struggling to do for years. I bet you’ve had to buy a whole new wardrobe and get all kinds of “holy crap you’ve lost a lot of weight!” comments.
Not bad for a failure, huh?
Don’t get caught up in the numbers game, and instead be proud of what you have accomplished instead.
I had a friend who wanted to get down to 199 pounds badly. He went from 235 pounds down to 202 pounds, and got stuck there for weeks. I remember trying to get him out of his funk: he saw himself as a failure for not losing those three pounds, when in reality he had lost 30+ pounds, completely redesigned his body and his diet, and was in better shape than he had been in years.
You’re not a statistic.
You’re not a number.
How to keep track of your success instead
I will admit that the scale can have its uses. If you’re just getting started, a few big changes in the first few weeks can really help you see progress and build momentum. Also, over long periods of time, it’s a good way to tell if you’re headed in the right direction or not. However, a scale can also cause all kinds of mental issues that bring you down quickly, and becomes less and less important as you get closer to your goals.
Here’s how you can stay strong and motivated without stepping on a scale regularly:
Remember that your journey to a healthier life is a marathon, not a sprint. Changes from day to day are practically meaningless and incredibly difficult to quantify, so go with changes over a longer period of time. Weigh yourself once a month or every other week to make sure you’re trending in the right direction. If it’s weekly, make sure you weigh yourself at the same time of the day, wearing the same type of clothing. Remove as many of the variables as possible to make your reading accurate. And even then, don’t put too much stock into it.
Look at your body composition rather than your weight. I try to take a picture of myself every month or so, giving me the chance to compare how I look. You can also buy a body fat caliper (I use this one) or tape measure to keep track how your body is adjusting. Just make sure you’re taking your measurements in the same places on your body at the same time of day. If you’re taking photos, take a straight-on photo and a profile photo.
Set goals that are not weight-oriented. Say you want to do 15 push ups, run a half marathon, and/or do a pull up. With your mind focused on a strength building or endurance goal, you won’t have to worry so much about a dumb scale. If you can only do 5 push ups now but next month you can do 15, you definitely got stronger, but you probably also lost some fat.
Keep a journal. I know plenty of 170-pound people who are out of shape and 250-pound folks who are incredibly healthy. How do you FEEL this month compared to last month? Maybe you can now run around the track without stopping, you don’t get winded going up and down stairs, and you can give your kids a piggy back ride without being out of commission for days afterward. Keep track of your energy levels, your conditioning, and your overall well-being. Screw the scale.
What say you?
Are you a scale junkie? I’m a recovering one. Luckily, the picture of me from yesterday compared to four years ago made me realize that it’s not nearly as important as I originally thought. My overall health, strength, and happiness are far better indicators of how I’m doing.
Moral of the story – if the scale is working for you and you’re seeing results, stick with it. If that number on the scale constantly screws with your mind, maybe it’s time to take a break.
So how about you? Have you had success with stepping a scale daily? Had some rough weeks because of what the scale said? How about skipping the scale entirely and seeing great results?
Let’s hear some scale-related stories from the Rebel Army!