End Your Love Affair With The Scale
End Your Love Affair With The Scale
It is time to end your love affair with the body weight scale. In this article, I explain why this breakup is long overdue. I also share alternate methods for tracking results during a fat-loss/fitness program.
- Do you find yourself wishing that you could get plastic surgery to change one part of your body? Have you found yourself looking at plastic surgeons like Sachin Shridharani at Luxurgery who can help get you that perfect body?
- Are you having a love affair with your scale? Are you stuck in a love/hate relationship with it?
- Do you obsess over your weight? Do you weigh yourself often? Every day? Every other day? After every meal? After every workout?
- Do you let the scale dictate and control your mood…hurt your feelings?
- How often do you let the scale numbers invigorate you one day, but completely deflate you the next?
- Does the scale make you believe that you are “skinny” and “healthy” one day, but “heavy” and “disgusting” the following day?
- Do you ever find yourself not wanting to approach the scale – like it is a swarming hive of bees or an obstinate bully?
- When the scale numbers read in your favor, do you find yourself justifying that you can eat a few extra treats that day… celebrate with a tub of Ben And Jerry’s… or skip a workout?
- When the scale numbers are slightly inflated – does that haunt you? Do you become depressed? Do you find yourself skipping meals, passing on invitations to go out with friends and family? Or do you end up eating your emotions away… maybe binge-eat that tub of Ben And Jerry’s in one sitting, because… what’s the point in trying anymore? Or do you launch yourself into an exercise frenzy?
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Does stepping on a scale create an emotional rollercoaster for you?
If your answer is, “hell yes,” then you are not alone. You (along with thousands of people across the world) are stuck in an unhealthy love affair with your tyrant of a scale. It’s a fact – bathroom (and physician) scales have been tormenting people for years. If this inanimate object is causing you to slip down a rabbit hole of misery and self-torture, it is time to end this abuse and kick that scale to the curb. Say “arrivederci” once and for all!
Are you setting yourself up for failure?
While participating in a “weight/fat-loss” program, depending solely on a standard body weight scale to track your progress can cause frustration and may even set you up for failure.
It is possible that you have been busting your ass in the gym and eating healthy foods, but the scale is displaying your weight as being the same as when you started, even after a few weeks of exercising. My friend once started Washington DC Tennis Lessons and after a while when she didn’t lose any weight she didn’t understand why. Not seeing the numbers change on a scale can create extreme disappointment. This can throw you into a toxic and disordered pattern of exercising and dieting, and may even cause you to quit your program.
I can confidently assume that many of you reading this article know exactly what I am talking about. We have all been there at some point… and it’s a godawful sensation. Ugh.
It is that all too familiar feeling of anticipation you experience while you are standing on top of the scale. You are looking down (or across from you), waiting to see what the wonderful magic number will read, anxious for it to be lower than the last time you stood in this very same position. The number flashes in front of your eyes, it reads the same, as if the scale is frozen in time. In disbelief, you shake the scale, reset it, step back on and repeat the process, only to find that the end result is identical to when you first looked. The number has not shifted, not even a fraction of a pound. How heartbreaking!
Are the cons outweighing the pros?
If you have fallen prey to a love/hate connection with your scale – listen up. The cons of using a scale are outweighing the pros. Sure, scales can be useful when not abused and when utilized during the right situations. However, for most of us, they do more harm than good. By walking away from the scale, you will give yourself permission to let go of the emotional roller coaster you have been battling. You do not need a scale to tell you how you feel. You know yourself better than anyone or anything on this planet. Dig deep, find that inner strength, take a breath and put the scale aside.
The scale fibs
The scale isn’t being honest with you about what’s going on. The only way to accurately assess your health and fitness/fat-loss/lifestyle programs’ progress is to:
- Understand why a scale does not show the whole picture
- Use a blend of assessment tools other than the scale
- Be mindful of how your body feels
- Love yourself during the process
Step away and assess
If you are experiencing this type of anguish, step FAR away from the scale (put the scale out of sight or even OUT of your house) and shake off the dissatisfaction you are feeling. You must pause and think for a minute. Take an honest look at what you have done for fitness and nutrition in the past few weeks. Next, consider all of the methods you have used and should be using to track your weight-loss/lifestyle journey and progress. Have you used other markers to track your progress? Is the scale a good indicator of your health and wellness? Most likely not.
The scale DOES NOT represent everything that is happening within the body
When the number on the scale does not budge, it is important to remind yourself that the scale only shows you a snippet of what is happening. The numbers it spits out display your TOTAL body weight – which includes fat, muscle, bones, organs, skin, hair, fluid, etc. It DOES NOT tell you the composition of that weight within your body or how healthy your body is.
Fluid balance and weight fluctuations
If you choose to micro-manage your weight by weighing yourself frequently (several times per day and/or week), you may see fluctuations that have nothing to do with changes in fat and/or muscle. It is important to realize that the human body can naturally change several pounds in the course of one day from fluid balance alone. Weigh yourself before going to bed, and then weigh yourself in the morning when you wake up. You may see a 2-5 pound difference – please know that this is completely normal!
Your body consists of highly complex systems where changes are happening all day and all night. Hormones and digestive ailments can impact the scale readings, time of the day effects weight, workouts can increase weight (due to retention of fluids caused by inflammation – a direct response of working out), even one glass of water can skew the scale numbers – and if those numbers aren’t where you expect and want them to be, you can be thrown into a downward spiral of despair. It is important to realize often, weight gain is not related to fat nor muscle. For these reasons, you must not let yourself get too attached to what the scale reads.
It’s composition that matters and that is what you need to focus on. Your total body weight represented on the scale may be the same (or heavier) compared to when you started your weight loss program, BUT if you are building muscle mass and losing fat tissue, your body composition will be much different.
Muscle occupies less volume in the body than fat
Remember, as mentioned in my article, One Pound Of Fat Versus One Pound Of Muscle – Clearing Up The Misconceptions, muscle and fat differ in density. Five pounds of muscle weighs the same as five pounds of fat, but muscle occupies less space (volume) within the body than five pounds of fat tissue. The picture below shows replicas of five pounds of fat (left) and five pounds of muscle (right). As you can see, fat tissue is amorphous, bulky and gelatinous while muscle tissue is smooth, lean and dense. Inside your body, fat is “lumpy” under your skin and in between your organs while muscle is not.
The photo below is a cross section of a skeletal muscle (200x) showing muscle fibers (red) and fat cells (white). Note that the fat cells are less dense than the muscle fibers.
Take away body fat and add muscle
Just think about it – if your weight stayed exactly the same (according to a standard body weight scale) and we theoretically took off five pounds of fat from you and replaced it with five pounds of muscle, you will weigh exactly the same, but because muscle is denser than fat, the five pounds of muscle will take up less volume and you will appear slightly leaner, thinner, and/or more toned.
Although the number on the scale did not lower, you are certainly more healthy, fit, and are on the right track with your “weight loss” program.
Before I dive into recommended methods for recording progress during a fitness/nutrition program, I want to show you more visuals that may help you understand the concept of body composition. Visuals have always aided me with learning, and I hope they will do the same for you.
Body composition and fat percentage
What is body composition? Body composition is the term used to describe the different components that, when taken together, make up a person’s body weight. The human body is composed of different tissue types including lean tissues (muscle, bone, and organs) that are metabolically active, and fat tissue (adipose) that is not.
Body fat percentage of a human is the total mass of fat divided by total body mass. High body fat percentages mean heightened risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. Often (but not always), when the body has a greater percentage of fat compared to lean muscle mass, the body appears heavier than when that number is lower.
The same weight comes in all shapes and sizes
Reference the diagram below. The women in the top row all weigh the same but have varying body fat percentages. Just like the women, the men underneath all weigh the same, yet have different body fat percentages.
Now, look at the top row of women. Remind yourself that they all weigh the same.
When we put a physically active woman with 25% body fat next to an inactive woman who has 45% body fat, we visually see differences, even though these women weigh the same on the scale. If we only use a scale to determine vitality, the scale will tell us that these women are equal in health status. However, body fat percentage readings paint a different picture. The woman with 25% body fat looks (and probably is) more fit, has more muscle tissue, and is at a decreased risk for the above mentioned health conditions.
More muscle = greater demand for calories
To keep all body systems running efficiently, the woman with 25% body fat demands more calories than the woman with 45% body fat. Having more muscle mass causes her to burn a tad more calories than her 45% body fat counterpart, even while she is at rest. The active and leaner woman may even be able to eat slightly more calories a day and still maintain her body weight as compared to the woman with more fat tissue. The woman with the higher body fat percentage will gain weight if she consumes more calories.
Real life example of how bodies at the same weight can look different
In May 2012, Australian Marie Claire magazine published an article about six Australian women who all weigh 70 kgs (which is 154 pounds) – the national average weight of women in Australia and Britain. These women bravely bared their bodies showing that “average” comes in all shapes and sizes. Notice that despite being the same weight, each woman looks different (and has an unalike body fat percentage).
I just LOVE this photo. It does a beautiful job showing that a number on a scale is just that… a number. It doesn’t really tell much about the person behind the number. Again, visuals rock, don’t you think?!
Below, I provide you with more real-life visual representations of how one body can stay the same weight, but look noticeably different.
Let us compare
Each of the woman below has changed her physique by working out and eating healthfully. By increasing muscle mass and lowering their total body fat percentages, both have been able to alter the way their figures look and feel. Their weights stayed the same.
Before and after photo #1:
- This woman stayed the same scale weight (160 lb.), but noticeably altered her physique by lowering her body fat percentage:
Before and after photo #2:
- This woman stayed the same scale weight (160 lb.), but noticeably altered her physique by lowering her body fat percentage and losing 4.5 total inches from her body.
A non-budging scale is not always indicative of something bad
As I mentioned before, because of how muscle and fat is distributed within the body, it is possible to stay the same weight for a bit during a fitness program. If this has happened to you, you may have replaced fat with muscle tissue. I know I keep hammering this concept, but it is an important one to understand – one (or five) pound(s) of muscle weighs the same as one (or five) pound(s) of fat.
Seeing the same number on the scale is not always a terrible thing. When you increase muscle and lose fat, the scale number may stay the same or increase, but you will be leaner and stronger. You will most likely lose inches from places such as your waist, hips, buttocks, thighs, abdomen, arms, etc. It’s true, you may be the same weight as when you started but you may have lost inches – and losing inches is something to be proud of! Don’t let that scale tell you otherwise!
In order to see the whole picture and understand what is happening within the body, we need to set our minds on other indicators of health and wellness.
Focus less on the scale readings and use other methods to track progress
When you become less obsessed with scale readings and more focused on what truly matters, success will follow. Allowing a scale to dictate your progress and how you feel is unhealthy. This approach leads to dysfunctional thinking, disordered eating and compulsive and obsessive habits.
This is why it is important to use more than one method to track your progress. Some of these methods include:
- Body composition testing
- Circumference/girth measurements
- The old-fashioned “how-do-your-clothes-fit-and-feel?” method
- Before and after photos
- Progress journal
Other ways to track progress include recording your strength, flexibility, mobility, heart rate, blood pressure, VO2 max, etc. I will not be discussing these methods in this article.
Note: Recording weight may be helpful if you are also using other methods and only if you can keep a healthy relationship with the scale. This means less frequent weigh-ins. However, if you are obsessed with the scale, consider not weighing yourself. If you must see that number, only weigh yourself once in the beginning of the program and then once monthly or every 6-8 weeks.
When you put all of these assessment tools together, you will create an accurate picture of what is truly happening within the body. By using multiple sources of data, you can distinguish whether or not you are on the right track with your health and fitness training programs. Let’s take a closer look at these valuable assessment methods.
1) Body composition testing
Body composition testing is a brilliant assessment tool to use during a fitness program. It helps you determine whether or not you are losing fat and/or gaining muscle tissue.
When you determine your overall body fat percentage you will get an accurate sense of how much of your body is made up of fat and how much is made up of lean muscle mass.
Body composition can be determine by:
- DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) scan (extremely accurate)
- Hydrostatic weighing (very accurate)
- Skinfold caliper measurements (accurate but has room for error)
- Bioelectrical impedance (least accurate)
If you are unable to visit a facility that offers DEXA scans or hydrostatic weighing, here are some body composition measurement tools that you can buy:
- Purchase Lange skinfold caliper pro kit w/ tape measure, software, and calibration block (I use this with my clients):
- Purchase Omron fat loss monitor (uses bioelectrical impedance):
If you are losing weight, know the cause of your weight loss
Note: Another thing to keep in mind is that if you only use a scale to track your progress, you will never know if you are losing fat or muscle weight. Performing body fat percentage assessments will tell you whether or not your weight loss is due to a decrease in muscle or fat.
When we eat unhealthfully/crash diet, don’t take in enough healthy calories (starve ourselves), overtrain and/or don’t recover properly with adequate sleep and rest, our bodies can go into a catabolic state. This is when muscle tissue is broken down instead of bull up and repaired. Without proper nutritional intake and body recovery, the natural process of tissue growth and repair will not take place and the body will eat away at its muscle in an attempt to find a source of stored energy.
When this happens, you might lose weight, but in an unhealthy way. Losing muscle mass slows the metabolism and extremely hinders longterm fat/weight loss success. (Remember, more muscle mass = greater demand for calories and a higher burn rate for calories.)
2) Circumference/girth measurements
Recording circumference (also known as girth) measurements is a fantastic way to track fat loss. A lost in inches usually represents a lost in body fat. To accurately obtain circumference measurements, you should use a standardized flat, flexible measuring tape. Use the following locations on the body to measure circumference, as they are good indicators of body composition change:
- Chest (at the nipple-line)
- Waist (at the narrowest part of the torso, usually about 1 inch above the navel)
- Abdomen (at the belly button)
- Hips (with feet together, measure at the widest part of the buttocks)
- Thighs (6 inches above the knee cap)
- Calves (largest/widest part)
- Biceps (upper arm)
Note: The tape should be pulled snug and level around the area which is being measured. Be sure to measure both, right and left sides of each limb. With each subsequent recording, be consistent with the location at which you measure.
3) The “how-do-your-clothes-fit-and-feel?” method
We wear clothes everyday (well, most of us do, right?!) and because we wear clothing all of the time, we become in-tune with how they fit and feel on our body. Clothes are expressive of whether or not you have lost inches and whether or not there has been a shift in your body composition.
When you are in the middle of a fitness/nutrition program, pay close attention to how your clothes fit on your body.
- Do they feel snug and uncomfortable? (Boo!)
- Do they feel loose and fabulous? (Yay!)
- Do you suddenly need to wear a belt for a pair of pants that used to be tight on you? (Awesome!)
- Is your bra no longer uncomfortably digging into your back? (Rock on!)
4) Before and after photos
It’s selfie time! One of the best things you can do is take pictures of yourself before, during and after your program. Yup – this is one of those few times that selfies are valuable and purposeful. Taking a photo may be one of the hardest things to accomplish before starting a fat-loss program, but it can be one of the most rewarding (down the road, of course).
- Your shy, ashamed inner self may tell you to wait a few weeks before taking those first photos, but trust me on this – take them BEFORE you start. If it helps, have someone else snap them – this way you don’t even have to look!
- Take photos of your body from all angles – kind of like you are taking mugshots of yourself. Be sure to capture views straight on, from the sides, and from the back. Shirtless (or with a bra), in shorts (or underwear), and without socks and shoes is best. Seeing yourself from different perspectives will tell you and/or a fitness professional a lot about your posture and about possible muscle imbalances or injuries that you may have. This will be useful when creating a fitness program. Later on, the photos will tell you if you have lost inches.
- To see your transformation and results clearly, take progress photos throughout the duration of your program.
- These photos will come in handy on the days when you feel like you are not making much progress (and when that biotch of a scale is tells you that you haven’t made any improvement).
5) Progress journal
Write it all down! Use a journal to record your journey.
- Before you begin your program, buy a journal so that you can have a place to record your progress. A Moleskine notebook works well.
- Create goals for yourself and write them in the journal. Note how you will feel when you reach these goals. Every so often, revisit your written goals and adjust if necessary.
- In this notebook, take notes on how you feel emotionally and physically.
- Record how your clothes feel, fit and look on your body. Continue to do this throughout your program.
- As the weeks pass by, jot down anything else that comes to mind. Write about your stress levels, sleep patterns, obstacles, successes, failures, frustrations, etc.
- Write about how you feel while doing day-to-day activities. Do you have more energy? Do you feel stronger? Is your endurance better? How is your nutrition?
- Use this journal as a fitness resource to record your workouts and use it nutritionally as a food tracking log/diary.
Enjoy the process – DO NOT perform assessments daily or weekly
It is important not to repeat assessments on a daily or weekly basis. While your program is underway, let yourself walk away from the dizziness of comparative measurements. Look at your new program as a chance to become mindful of what you are actually doing and how you feel. Be present with everything that you do.
Remember what I was saying about the scale earlier? Weighing yourself too often can cause you to have an unhealthy alliance (love affair?) with the scale and with its numbers. When we obsess over measurements and numbers, our vision can become cloudy and muddled by criticism, disappointment, expectation, etc. As humans, we are very competitive and hard on ourselves. Often, the emotional challenge of getting through a fitness and lifestyle program is the most difficult. Why put extra pressure on yourself by measuring, weighing, and negatively critiquing your progress every step of the way?
Enjoy the process as much as possible, and do not sabotage yourself by hopping on a scale, checking your body fat, or measuring your circumference every day or every week. This will take a lot of willpower, but once you are able to stride away from constant measurements, you will free yourself from the number game. This will allow you to experience that the program you are doing is about a lot more than just weight loss. It is a lifestyle adventure.
Round two of assessments
Perform a second round of assessments and measurements 6-8 weeks after your first recordings. Compare these results with the benchmarks recorded on day one. Record all results in your journal so that you can reference them later.
If you are patient and diligent with your new program, your results will show that all of your hard work is paying off. To see positive changes in your measurements is very encouraging and may be just what you need to propel yourself to the next phase of your lifestyle program.
If you are suffering from a destructive relationship with your body weight scale, kick it to the curb. Go ahead, literally KICK. IT. TO. THE. CURB., and if you need a therapeutic outlet, smash that sucker to pieces. Hold a vigil if need be. If this is too aggressive of an approach and dramatic breakups are not your thing, then gently remove the scale from your house… recycle and donate it to a local charity.
If the thought of quitting the scale cold turkey gives you heart palpitations, then consider cutting back on the amount of weigh-ins that you do. If you weigh yourself once a day, shift daily weigh-ins to just once a week… then to once a month… and then give the scale up for an entire month. That’s right – ONE MONTH, NO WEIGH-INS.
If any of this seems impossible for you to do on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seek the advice and guidance of a professional to help you break away from the chains of the scale. Do not be shy or embarrassed; you are not alone in this struggle. To have another person invested in your journey can be life-saving and life-changing.
If the scale is not contributing to your lifestyle in a positive way, it is adding another stressor to your life. This is hindering and preventing you from seeing your true progress and your true beauty. Your obsession with your scale is holding you back from a wonderful sense of freedom that you could be experiencing. Don’t let being shackled to a scale stop you from focusing on the activities you are doing, the life you are living, and the people you are loving.
You are intelligent and have the awareness within you to know how your body feels. Do not let a scale number pull you away from this reality. It is psychologically unhealthy to allow a scale number determine your value, worth, or self-image. You are much more than a number and you need to be mindful of this. I want you to believe that your body deserves more love, because it does! YOU do!
Remember, the scale number may not budge, or it may go up, but the way you FEEL combined with results of other measurements can reinforce that you are succeeding in so many ways – you might be gaining muscle mass, losing fat, losing inches, fitting into your clothes better, feeling more energized, sleeping better, improving your sex life, lowering your cholesterol, bettering your overall health, etc. – the list goes on and on. When you put of these things together, you will see that you have a lot of good shit going on! It might be difficult to break up with the scale and rely on other methods, but once you do, it will be insanely rewarding!
While on your fat-loss/get-healthy trek, embrace your experiences and learn from your accomplishments AND mistakes. Remember, to achieve long term results, it is important to approach a new program realistically – with a positive attitude and with patience. After all, you are making a lifestyle change, not just a “weight loss” change.
So go ahead, end your love affair with the scale. The sooner you let go of the idea that the scale is your ultimate measure of success and who you are, the healthier and happier you’ll be… and you deserve to be healthy and happy! 🙂
Please let me know if I can help in any way.
To learn more about this topic, visit:
Note: When reading, “One Pound Of Fat Versus One Pound Of Muscle…”, scroll to the comment section at the bottom of the article. So many fantastic people have written about their experiences with weight and fat loss and everything that comes along with it. This includes their adventures with successes, hardships, and obstacles. It is inspiring to read the personal stories from people all over the globe. Comments like those warm my heart and validate that I love, love, LOVE my profession. The connection I make with good people (like you) makes all of the long hours I spend not getting paid to write these articles and programs well worth it. Helping others through my role as a fitness/lifestyle coach and blog author ROCKS! 🙂 <3
Share your thoughts
I know many of you have struggled (or are currently struggling) with an unhealthy obsession with the scale and I want to hear from you. Are you stuck in a codependent relationship with the scale? Have you broken free from the scale’s control? Let us help each other by sharing personal stories. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
- Did you find this article helpful?
- Does this article resonate with you? Are you wrapped up in a tumultuous love affair with your scale?
- What is your relationship with the scale like?
- Does the thought of not weighing yourself create anxiety? What scares you the most about saying goodbye to the scale?
- If you are not having a love affair with the scale, how do you resist the scale’s control? How often do you weigh yourself?
- Have you successfully kicked a scale to the curb (either figuratively or literally)? If yes, how did you do it? Was it an easy or difficult task to do?
- What assessment methods and/or tools do you use to track progress during a fat-loss/fitness program?
When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.