Beyond the Body Scale
What the number on your scale tells you isn’t the whole picture regarding your fitness level. Body weight in pounds can be misleading. It can also become an obsession for dieters. I’ve known many people who weighed themselves several times throughout the day. This isn’t a good idea.
Body weight will fluctuate according to water balance. You could be 1 to 5 pounds higher on one day – or at any given time of the day – simply due to water retention. We women know a lot about this factor, yet we tend to let it send us into a panic when it occurs. When you become obsessive with the number on that boy scale, you’re not helping yourself at all. You can become an emotional wreck. Life is too short for such destructive behavior!
Always remember, that number on your body scale is just that: A NUMBER. It’s a gauge to assist you, a tool to use that should HELP you, not hinder you. Use common sense and be consistent. Not obsessed.
And DO invest in a reliable, quality scale. Some cheaper models can flip-flop your weight around further confounding the problem.
It’s important to be vigilant yes, but it’s unhealthy to become obsessed with your body scale. It’s best to just weigh yourself once a week, at the same time of day (preferably when you get up in the morning), and wearing nothing more than undergarments. And don’t forget to mind your muscle mass (see Fighting the Fat Fight for more information).
Keeping a chart can help you keep a vigilant eye on your total progress of fitness as opposed to depending a body scale. If you’re measuring your body fat and your weight, you will get a better overall picture of any gains or losses in your TOTAL fitness level. You can use a formula with two simple numbers:
- Body fat percentage.
Or, you can break things down even further:
- Weight on your body scale.
- Body fat percentage.
- Fat weight.
- Lean body mass.
For example, let’s say your weight is currently 235 pounds. Your skin fold test tells you your body fat is 23.4%. Take 235 and multiply by 23.4%. That’s 54.99, so we’ll round that number off to 55. Take that number (55) and subtract it from the 235; that’s 180. So now your progress chart would start with:
- Weight: 235
- Body fat percentage: 23.4%
- Fat weight: 55 pounds
- Lean body mass: 180 pounds
Now, let’s say a week from now you weigh in at 232 pounds and your caliper says your body fat is now at 23.2%. Place this onto your chart:
- Weight: 232 (-3 pounds).
- Body fat percentage: 23.2% (-.2%).
- Fat weight: 53.8 pounds (-1.2).
- Lean body mass: 178.2 pounds (-1.8).
Don’t let the loss of lean body mass scare you. A cause for alarm would only be if you lost lean body mass week after week in significant amounts. You always lose some when you’re losing weight, especially when just beginning. The more pounds lost in a week, the more lean muscle mass you’ll lose. An important point to remember if you want to crash diet for quick poundage loss!
Losing Lean Muscle Mass
Again, don’t panic. Here are some facts about declines in that all-important number:
- Substantial water loss occurs at the beginning of every weight loss program.
- Muscle is made up of mostly water.
- Lean muscle mass loss – especially in the beginning – will merely reflect water weight alterations. The body scale is not your friend at this point.
- Muscles love carbohydrates and water . They lap them up like sponges.
- High sodium intake on any given day creates more water retention, especially if you’ve eaten low in carbs.
So you see how and why you’ll most likely notice declines early on? Eventually this should all stabilize. If you embark on slow weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week, you could will level off and hopefully even achieve gains while the body weight declines. When lean mass stays the same, but body fat decreases, this is the best news! This shows you that your program is working as planned. You’re on your way to reaching your goals. At this point, don’t change a thing!
If your lean mass stays the same but your body fat increases, this indicates you’re eating more calories than you’re burning. What’s worse, you’re storing those calories as fat. If this occurs, you may want to boost your cardio exercise for the coming week. If that didn’t help, re-check your caloric intake and make sure you’re not sneaking in a few too many. If you’re not, try reducing 100 to 200 calories per day for the upcoming week and re-asses at your next body check.
When to Worry
If your lean mass decreases and your body fat increases, you have a problem. This usually indicates a decrease in metabolism, which means your body is burning muscle for fuel. The most common cause of this is skipped meals. Eating stimulates your metabolism. (See Just Say NO to Starvation) If this happens to you, try an increase of 100 to 200 calories per day. Don’t skip meals, boost your cardio exercise a bit and be consistent with weight training. You should be able to turn this around. If you can’t, seek medical guidance.
Let your weekly results be your guide, not your body scale. This can stave off boredom because one week you may need to eat a little more, another a little less. Another you may need a bit more cardio. It keep variety in your routines which not only prevents that boredom but also helps prevent your body from reaching a plateau.
Focus on How Your Body Feels
When it comes to weight loss, the numbers on the bathroom scale are not always motivating, so reflect on other changes that your body is experiencing.
- Do your clothes fit looser?
- Has your energy increased?
- Are your workouts easier?
Remember these benefits when it feels like the pounds aren’t coming off as quickly as you’d like.
So…take a deep breath and prepare to:
- Be smart – practice common sense.
- Be vigilant.
- Fight off panic.
- Practice patience.
Write it down.
Stuck in a rut? Reached a plateau? Break the log jam with an activity or workout log and for good measure, a food diary, too! Keeping a fitness journal to track your routine will give you insight into your performance, let you measure your progress and help you set goals.
A food diary will help you see first-hand just what you’ve all been eating – sometimes we grab something without even thinking…this will force you to be more aware of every morsel you put in your mouth.