Only Fools Focus on the Scale

The most common discussion I have to have with nutrition clients is the concept that the scale is not the ultimate judge of progress. It has been ingrained into people’s minds that losing weight is synonymous with losing fat, being healthier, and looking better. The first thing I typically do is explain everything that “weight” can be comprised of. These include:

  • Lean tissue (muscle bones, organs, skin, etc)
  • Fatty tissue (visceral fat, fat stores in other areas of the body, nervous system tissue)
  • Water
  • Glycogen
  • Substance within the GI tract (food, liquids, etc)

As you can see there are lot of variables here that can fluctuate significantly and have a big impact on the number on the scale. This is how strength athletes, fighters, and wrestlers can cut 20-30 lbs to make a weight class. Are they losing 40 lbs of fat? Absolutely not. Many times when people first begin a nutrition program, the eating schedule is much more than they are used to (you can check out this article to find out why). Because of this, their glycogen stores fill up, they hold more water, and they have more food in their GI tract than normal which can cause their weight to go up a few pounds. However, after about a week or two their bodies adjust back to a new level of homeostasis and their weight balances back out or actually drops a little bit. I have seen this play out time and time again in hundreds of nutrition clients. So instead of focusing on the scale as the sole measure of progress, do the following:

  • Take Measurements: Taking body part measurements will very clearly show if you are losing size. You can also use skin caliper measurements to determine if fat levels are going down in different areas. Understand that measurements aren’t going to change linearly. You may have some measurements that drop every week, others that don’t move at all, and some that are very sporadic. The key is to track them over time and see where they are trending.
  • Track your training: If your training is improving, you’re moving in the right direction. You’re not going to look like someone who can crank out 50 pushups if you can’t even do a single one correctly. So push yourself in your training and know that as training number improve then your body is adapting in a positive way.
  • Weigh in to learn your body: Weighing yourself regularly can be both helpful and hazardous. If you’re someone who stresses over the scale and gets anxiety and makes drastic decisions based off of what you weigh, then you need to throw the scale away and focus on proper nutrition and intelligent training. However, if you can accept the scale is just one of many measurement tools, then you can watch your weight over time and learn how your body responds to different stimuli. You can see how your body responds to different foods, different training stress, different life stress, different amounts of sleeps, hormonal changes, etc. Using this data along with measurements and training will give you a more complete picture of how your progress is coming along and keep you from making the mistake of focusing on the scale.

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