Isaac walked into my office with a half-smile on his face. When I asked him how his week went with his eating and exercise, he gave me a very positive report. I asked Isaac if he thought his weight went down. He replied that based on the way his clothes feel, he’s sure of it. Then Isaac got on the scale and that half-smile disappeared. He actually gained 200 grams. What?! He was pulling his belt tighter!
A day later, Esther came in for her weekly visit and weigh-in. She told me how “good” her week was. She too said her clothes were fitting better. Esther predicted at least a half kilo lost if not more. When she stepped on the scale she was also disappointed. There was no change in her weight.
What happened with Isaac and Esther? How important is the number on the scale?
Other Measures of Weight and Health
There are a lot of ways to measure our health vis-a-vis our weight. Aside from a scale, BMI, waist and hip circumference, and even how our clothes fit all give a good indication as to our body’s health.
The weight measurement on a scale has certain variables. How accurate is the scale? Most bathroom scales, digital or not, may not be as accurate as the scale in your doctor’s office. Also weight fluctuates throughout the day. If you just had a couple glasses of water, your weight is up. Did you sweat a lot during your workout? If so, your weight is artificially low on the scale until you rehydrate.
Body fat percentage is a measure of fat tissue versus lean mass — specifically muscle, bone and connective tissue. A higher body fat percentage, even if your total weight is normal, means you are vulnerable to the same health problems associated with obesity. Having a body fat higher than 23.1 percent for men and 33.3 percent for women is particularly dangerous.
When you measure your body fat every month or two, and it decreases, you know you’ve lost fat weight. Bioelectrical impedance scales are not reliable in their readings. Seek out a certified personal trainer at a fitness facility who can check your body fat using body calipers that pinch the skin at various sites, including the triceps, abdomen and thigh. This is a more reliable measure. A DEXA scan, which is primarily used to measure bone density, or underwater weighing are most accurate, but usually require visiting a special facility and that can be pricey.
When it comes to cases like Isaac and Esther, it is something else entirely. They are both exercising and building muscle. The muscle they are building is taking the place of the fat they are losing and muscle weighs more than fat. The scale can’t tell the difference! Hence the discrepancy between feeling thinner (looser clothes) and the scale not going down (and even going up a drop). This is a case where the scale doesn’t go down but the improvement in health is there. This is more common than you think among exercisers.
How often to Weigh
There has been a dispute among the experts as far as how often and when to weigh ourselves. Until a couple of new studies came out a few years ago, the standard was to weigh once a week, preferably in the morning on the same day each week. This gave people a good feeling. The amount they were losing each week was significant enough to give people motivation to keep going. Also, it avoided becoming obsessed with getting on the scale.
Recent research has told us that for many people, weighing daily has benefits. It creates more awareness as to what is going on with your weight all the time. In a way, it can set off needed alarm bells. If you see your weight go up a couple days in a row, you should take action to reverse that. But on the other hand, if once in a while you go up a little bit, it can’t make you crazy. I am very selective as to which advice I give my clients. This is, to an extent, personality dependent. Therefore, I advise some of my clients to do weekly weigh-ins and some for daily weight-ins. Either way, you are being accountable to yourself.
Behavioral psychologist Dr. Judith Beck gives three main reasons she has her weight loss clients weighing daily:
First, they quickly bust the myth that by doing everything right on their plan, they should lose at least a little weight every day or every week. Unless you’re on a starvation diet this simply isn’t true. Even if you’re perfectly compliant with your food plan, the number that registers on the scale may stay the same or go up on any given day. Once weight loss clients bust this myth, they don’t get discouraged and throw in the towel when they weigh more than they expected.
A second reason is to keep motivated. It’s much easier to resist that second piece of cake when you know you’re getting on the scale the next morning. If you know you’re not going to get on the scale until the end of the week, it’s just too easy to say to yourself, “Oh, it just won’t matter if I overeat today.”
The third reason weight loss clients to weigh themselves every morning is to get them over the cruelty of the scale. They learn that the scale shows a data point, a measurement, just as a height rod measures how tall one is are or a blood pressure gauge measures blood pressure. Your weight has nothing to do with who you are. But if you’re like many, you define yourself by the number on the scale. If it’s higher than you want it to be, you may call yourself “weak,” or “a failure” or even “bad.” These pronouncements demoralize you and sap your motivation. Weighing yourself daily and reminding yourself that it’s just a number, not a reflection of who you are, helps desensitize you to the number. And if your weight is up for several days in a row, as we said, it may call for some problem-solving.
A few more tips
Make sure your scale is in the same position on the floor each time you weigh. Don’t move it around too many times. Find that place and keep it there. Be sure to weight the same time of the day each day and with the same type of clothing each time. Keep in mind it won’t go down every day and that is normal. Keep a chart or data base on your progress.
Isaac and Esther will continue to weigh themselves, but they also know that often the scale needs to catch up with their muscle building. They won’t be disappointed because they will keep that number in perspective. When it does catch up, it will keep going down because their metabolisms are getting faster. Your weight is an important part of your health but it is one aspect of your health. The type of foods you eat, exercise, activity, stress management and hydration are all important too. So, buy a good scale, and whether you weigh yourself daily or weekly, work on getting those numbers to a healthy zone. Having your weight in a healthy place will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”