As trainers, we deal with this issue a lot! There are those out there that think the scale is a terrible invention, and should be smashed with a hammer or thrown away. There are those that come to us in tears because they have been working so hard, eating well and exercising, but the scale went up instead of down.
Here’s the thing, the scale is just a tool. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it is just a simple tool for measuring one thing: how much you weigh.
It is no more evil than money or a screwdriver or a car. Money is not evil – it is a tool. You can use it to build orphanages, schools, hospitals, a church or a gym – all of those are awesome! So how is money ‘the root of all evil’? It isn’t.
People do silly things with it, or because of it. That’s the evil part, and it has nothing to do with the money. Same with a bathroom scale, it simply does it’s job of letting you know your mass at a given moment.
It is only when we start adding our thoughts to the number, that we get into trouble. Most people are either happy or sad at the new number and the biggest challenge with the scale is that it is not a complete data set. It only tells us one thing: our weight.
When people say they “lost 10 pounds” my first thought is: “Great! Ten pounds of what?” The scale doesn’t say, and it isn’t a complete picture.
What is the time period for the loss? You may have dropped 10 pounds of water from one long training session (I have done that in one single summer run). If it was over a month, maybe it is water and fat and muscle. Maybe you dropped water and fat and gained muscle? Maybe you kept the water and fat and just lost muscle. You see? The data is incomplete.
This is why we use a $5,000 body composition analysis device at the gym to get an accurate measure of your bodyfat in addition to the scale number. Add in measurements at the waist, hips, thigh, shoulders, etc to get a more accurate set of data.
It is easy to lose weight if you do not care what that weight is made of. You can eat a 500 calorie per day diet for a month and drop a lot of weight – but it is water, fat and muscle. Then, when you start eating normally again, you gain back the water and fat, but not the muscle. So, in the end, you are actually more fat than when you started. Plus you mess up your hormones, energy levels and a host of other things, aside from being miserable while you starve for a month.
The question is: how do you use the scale as a tool, to keep you on track and find real progress? Simple. We have to first, remember that the scale is just a tool, and it only does one thing. It must be used in conjunction with many other tools, and this is where you need a long term plan.
Weigh yourself every day at the same time, in the morning after a bathroom visit. That will give you the most accurate measurement of your weight, in the most consistent way. Once the day starts, you add water, lose sweat, eat food, eliminate, etc. and that all changes things.
Each day that you weigh yourself, you record it on a chart and remember to not get excited about any one number, but rather, the weekly average and the monthly average. Keep in mind that if Friday night is your cheat meal, and you go out for a nice treat, you may gain 3-7 pounds.
Understand that it is due to the high sodium, water retention and other factors in that meal, and that in a day or so, things will return to normal as your body re-regulates. Meals like that once a week are fine. Relax.
Ladies, you know that once a month the numbers are off. So chart that too, but don’t let it matter – it’s normal.
What you are looking for is a trend that matches your goal. If your goal is fat loss, you are looking for a downward trend to some degree. Once a month, or perhaps every six weeks, you need to see your trainer and get a professional body composition done, including physical measurements, weight and the scan data.
If fat is dropping, and muscle is stable or increasing while water is stable, great! You are on track! If you are dropping muscle but not fat, you are clearly not eating enough, and likely your starchy carb to protein/fat ratio is off. Make a simple adjustment and continue measuring.
You may be thinking “do I seriously have to do all of this measuring and charting?” The answer is, of course not. Nobody even needs a bathroom scale – unless you have a goal and you want to track your progress, stay on target, be accountable and see results. Then it is a useful tool, as part of a complete program.
Using the scale in the morning can be a tool that you use to help with a decision in a critical moment. You are considering going totally off the rails and eating a big item, when it is not your “free day” and you are about to have an emotional craving. If you stop…and think about how you will feel when you step on the scale tomorrow, and see the evidence of your transgression…perhaps you will stop, and walk away from that unsupportive cheat.
Now the scale is YOUR servant and helping you reach your goal. Now the scale is awesome.