The Bully in Your Bathroom
Featured image courtesy of Smash the Scale Facebook page
Bad habits in the areas of health and fitness are not atypical-- many of us have them, be that a lot or just a few, but have you ever considered stepping on your bathroom scale every morning as one?
As you already know, the purpose of a standard bathroom scale is to measure body weight; but, measuring your weight alone tells you nothing about the quality of your body weight. Fluctuations in a scale can mean a number of things-- perhaps you are retaining some water, perhaps you are losing some water, maybe you already ate a meal, maybe you haven't used the bathroom yet... do you see what I'm talking about?
A standard bathroom scale only tells you your total weight, it does not tell you about your lean muscle weight, fat percentage, or water retention; so, a 3 lb. loss or gain over 2 days does not mean you magically lost/gained 3 lbs. of fat in 2 days. Yet, many people believe they can gain/lose fat on a day-to-day basis. With that mindset, is it any question how the scale could mess with your head when trying to achieve a specific weight goal?
Whenever I start with a new client, I set scale-expectations right away. Initially, I ask for them to take progress pictures and to weigh themselves first thing in the morning after using the bathroom, before consuming a meal/water. From that point on, I tell them not to bother with the scale. This is often a hard rule to follow for people, as they want to weigh themselves multiple times a week to see how they are progressing. The thing is, stepping on a scale every Monday, Wednesday, Friday is not going to reveal your progress!
Pictures in the same outfit, in the same place, at the same time every other week-- this will reveal progress.
Keeping a journal or page in your smartphone "notes" where you record the weight you used on all of your weightlifting exercises from week to week-- this will reveal progress.
Taking a look in the mirror and seeing how your clothes are fitting-- this will reveal progress.
Using a measuring tape to measure different areas of the body-- this will reveal progress.
A number that pops up on a scale-- not always going to reveal progress!
However, for those clients that really can't let the scale alone, I suggest once a week, same day, same place, same rules as the initial weigh-in because, yes, while it isn't the be-all-end-all of progression, it still can be ONE good factor to take into consideration.
And one factor, not the only factor, is how you need to look at it. Too many of us are letting a number motivate or discourage us. I am not going to lie, I know that it is a great feeling seeing the number go down on the scale (if you are working towards fat loss), and it can be very motivating! However, that can't be your sole motivator, because then what is going to keep you revved up when you see that number go up or stay the same a few days later? Scales can be very disheartening, especially when you are putting in so much hard work. I constantly have clients come to me feeling down on themselves during check-ins after an awesome week of eating/lifting just because of what the scale told them, but guess what...
the scale is a bully.
Do not let it discourage you or put a shadow on all your previous accomplishments.
As I already mentioned, there are many different factors that can affect overall body weight. If you think you could psychologically handle it, I challenge you to weight yourself every day (or every other) for one week and note your weight changes. I took this challenge over the course of a few weeks, and do you want to know what I found? Well, at one point, in a 3 day span I managed to gain 4 solid pounds while still following my typical workout/eating routine, in a span of 1 day I lost 2.2 pounds, in a span of 24 hours I gained 1.4 pounds, in a span of 48 hours I lost 3.2 pounds, and fluctuations like this continued. Weight is a funny thing. It is not consistent and weight loss is not linear. So, why are we putting so much faith in a number change?
Another reason to stop putting all your hope into the scale? Because plateaus are real and plateaus will happen-- and you need to be mentally ready for that. While you may initially see larger amounts of weight loss, your body is going to slowly start adjusting to your new routine/caloric intake and weight loss will slow down, maybe even halt.
We see this, we feel discouraged, we give up and fall back into bad habits. The thing is, just because the scale isn't moving, doesn't mean you're not still making progress. It doesn't mean your strength isn't increasing, it doesn't mean you're not gaining quality muscle tissue, and it doesn't mean your physique isn't changing. The scale is just one factor.
My advice to those reaching a plateau: stop weighing yourself. Do away with the scale and keep up with all your other means of measurement (pics, tape measure, clothes, strength monitoring...). Changes are happening, you just have to look for them somewhere other than in the small screen on your bathroom floor.
Lastly, we need to talk about building muscle. As you are working hard to burn off fat and lose weight, you are also building and gaining muscle. Eventually this loss-to-gain ratio will start to even out a little more, hence the weight loss halt on the scale.
Now, you may have heard the old saying that "muscle weighs more than fat"-- this is not true, a pound is a pound is a pound! What the saying should really be is "muscle is more dense than fat". Because of this, it takes up much less space. Take a look at the photo below. Look at how much smaller that 5 lbs. of muscle is compared to the 5 lbs. of fat. Imagine how that would look on a thigh or on a belly-- smaller, leaner, right?
This explains why a fit person that weighs 140 pounds may appear thinner than someone not as fit that weighs 130. So, when you are losing fat and gaining muscle, you may stay the same weight (you may even increase in weight eventually!), but appearance-wise you will be getting smaller because you are reducing inches!
And as one last reminder not to trust the scale, below we have the same body (aka mine), except the one on the right weighs slightly MORE than the one on the left.
Now, could I sit around feeling depressed, self loathing and thinking that all my hard work between these pictures (approx. 3.5 years) has gone to waste because I weigh more now and am therefore "fatter"?
Yeah, I could, or I could look at progress photos, and look in the mirror, and look at how much weight I'm throwing up at the gym now to see my hard work actually is paying off-- despite what the scale reads!
It's time to break the bad habit and step away from the scale!
Do not let it discourage you and, also, don't let it be your sole motivator!
You are more than whatever that number reads, and that number is not the only thing measuring your progress. I know it is hard at times not to get wrapped up in what the scale says, but try your best to look past it and, whatever you do,
don't give up-- your body is capable of doing great things and no scale can control that!
Featured image courtesy of Smash the Scale Facebook page