I know that many people dread getting on the scale, and there is good reason. The scale falls way short of painting a full picture of health and fitness.
If they see the number they want then all is good in the world! We tend to equate hitting a certain weight with being fit and this isn’t always the case. In fact, according to my personal doctor, my BMI is too high and I’m borderline obese! If you’ve ever met me, you know how ridiculous this is.
Contrarily, if the number on the scale is too high, many people assume they are fat and out of shape. This can lead to frustration, extreme diets, over the top exercise programs and depression. All because of a number on a scale.
This is an awful mistake, especially if your true goal is to be healthy and lead a productive lifestyle.
It’s important for people to understand the context of what the scale measures.
Don’t Get Overly Focused on the Number
The first thing you need to know about the scale: the number is almost always inconclusive. Just because the scale doesn’t reflect the five pounds of loss that you were going for doesn’t at all mean that you haven’t actually achieved your fitness goals.
This is because there are far too many variables to be considered on a single scale reading for you to be able to make any real, conclusive assumptions about it.
That said, there are ways that you can isolate as many variables as possible, to help you provide for yourself the proper context when deciphering a scale reading. A good warning label for any scale should include:
- Many scales don’t measure body composition. Losing fat but gaining muscle doesn’t result in weight loss but is a better indicator of health
- Water weight could change your weight as much as 5% based on things like water, alcohol and caffeine intake. More on this later.
- All scales have “standard deviation” built into them meaning they just have to be close, not exact.
- There is definitely a best time of day to weigh yourself – the morning – so if you do it later in the day the reading may not be as “accurate”.
Morning, Noon or Night?
It’s commonly accepted that weighing yourself in the morning will provide the most accurate weight measurement.
However, regardless of what time of day you want to track your weight, first decide when you’re going to weigh yourself, and stick with it. Every time. Period.
This is because when charting your weight (see that? not your “weight loss,” but your “weight,” for reasons we’ll get to in a moment), it’s important that you’re consistently comparing apples to apples.
Think about it. If you were to weigh yourself in the morning, then drink a tall glass of water, your weight could change instantly. For perspective, 16 oz. of water weighs about a pound and you should be drinking several of those per day. Granted, you’ll pass some of that as the day goes on, but your muscles will still absorb that water long enough for it to reflect (maybe poorly) on your scale reading.
Clearly, the same goes for food!
The Impact of Salt, Carbs and Water
People often make the mistake of assuming that, after a nice pasta dinner or splurge with some Chinese food, and the scale reads, say, five more pounds than the day before, then they feel like they’ve actually gained five pounds of fat. NOT TRUE!!!
Understand this: to gain one pound of fat, you’ll need a calorie surplus of 3,500 calories.
It is generally recommended that, to maintain your current body weight, you should eat around 2,000 calories per day (many factors go into this USDA suggestion, so please do not take this as advice!)
Now, while there are certainly many foods, particularly at places like Outback Steakhouse or The Cheesecake Factory, where you can pack on 5,000-plus calories without blinking, this is obviously a very high burden of consumption for most people to endure.
So, how do you account for the weight gain? Water.
Why? Because two of the top ingredients in America’s most favorite foods, carbohydrates and salt, actually encourage the body to hold onto extra water.
For salt, this is simply because your body is trying to maintain healthy homeostasis, which, frankly, salt does a great job of totally screwing up. The more salt, the more your body is able to try to get some of it out by passing it through urine.
So, your body holds salt.
With carbohydrates, it’s a little bit different. Simply, carbohydrates represent the molecule that your body most readily uses for energy, and one of the top byproducts of cellular respiration (your body’s use of glucose to make ATP) is, well, water.
Getting Focused on Fitness
We encourage our clients to change the focus from measuring weight to measuring fitness. For those of you in our Boot Camp program, here are some ideas and suggestions to focus on besides the scale:
- For those of you who have been in Boot Camp for awhile, keep an eye on some of the other folks in class.
- How are you doing with your exercises compared to others in your class?
- Are you close to them during the sprints or timed events? There are many exercises where you can actively compare yourself to others (suicides for example), where there are obvious indicators of who is faster or slower. This is a good way to tell whose getting faster or falling behind.
- How is your form compared to others in the class?
- Are you sticking to the goals set by the trainer for rests in between sets?
- Are you taking shorter or longer breaks as compared to others in the class?
- Track your own personal performance – During events like our fitness challenges, plank tests or even a simple run, remember or even write down the results. Then try to beat those results the next time that exercise comes around.
We repeat things like fitness challenges on a regular basis for exactly this reason, so that you can have a tangible way to measure your progress in a meaningful way, much more so than simply by looking at the scale!