The Scale is Not as Helpful as You May Think
While the scale can tell you how much you weigh, there's something more important you need to know: your body composition. While many of us focus on how many pounds we're losing, what's more important is how much fat we're losing, something the scale cannot discern.
Last month, I had a chat with a member that had obtained his personalized calorie goal, but was gaining body fat and losing muscle mass even though he was making healthier choices, practicing moderation, and spending an appropriate amount of time strength training. The first question I asked him was approximately how many calories a day he was taking in. He said the same amount as his wife, who is significantly smaller than he is. Eating too few calories for his body was causing the exact opposite of what he was trying to do. A month later, after following the recommended caloric intake for his body, he had lost eight pounds of body fat and put back five pounds of muscle. But WAIT, there's more!
The scale showed that he gained one pound. Read that last bolded paragraph again: he lost 3% body fat and took three years off his bio age, while the scale simply reflected ONE thing; he gained weight. He and his wife were skeptical and concerned with this scale information. Ask him how he feels after getting a look at the big picture and he will be happy to tell you all about it!
Poor health can hide behind the number on the scale. Did you know that a person can be unhealthy at any size? Read that again. ANY size! There are plenty of thin people in the world that are thin because of genetics. You know who they are. “I can eat whatever I want, and I don’t gain weight.” That does NOT mean they are healthy. Even thin people can be at risk for developing type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, fatty liver, and more if they lack healthful eating and physical activity.
One of our long-time personal trainers has a perfect example to share! Kaylee Hintz-Horan writes:
“My fitness journey, like most people, has had a lot of ups and downs. My first jump into exercise began after dealing with bad health due to a poor diet and lack of exercise. I was continuously struggling with anxiety and as a 110-pound vegetarian, I was diagnosed as both pre-diabetic and having high cholesterol at the age of 21. The diagnosis was the wakeup call I needed to make changes. Unfortunately, I focused on all the wrong things. I became obsessed with the number on the scale, believing that lower weight meant better health. I ran three to five miles a day, limited my calorie intake to the extreme, and felt guilty for partaking in events where I couldn’t control the food that would be there or if I didn’t get my daily run in. I was obsessed with staying under 100 pounds, and my health and worth were defined by that number on the scale. I went on like this for months before someone close to me pointed out that they were worried about me. At this point, I started to realize I was not making healthy improvements.
Thus, my love of weightlifting began. After researching proper lifting techniques and following workouts I found online, I started to get off the treadmill and started to lift weights. It was scary at first; I knew I would not only need to eat more protein, but I would also need to eat more calories in general. I eventually stopped tracking my food and stopped weighing myself, and instead focused on how I was feeling. In the last nine years of weightlifting, my weight has increased by 30 pounds, a number that can seem very scary when said out loud. At 5 feet 3 inches, I am also stronger than I ever thought possible without being bulky! I have deadlifted more than two times more than I used to weigh! Now, at my heaviest weight and nine years older, I am no longer pre-diabetic and my high cholesterol is gone! It took me years to realize that a number on the scale does not define health.”
The takeaway: gather as much information as you can (inches lost, body fat percentage, skeletal muscle mass, and body fat mass) before you throw in the towel on all your hard work. What you are doing could be causing you to lose valuable muscle OR you could be moving in the right direction without you ever knowing.
Amber C., Health & Wellness Director (Armbrust YMCA)