The scale is valuable and, often, an essential tool for health practitioners; many times in a person’s life, controlling your body weight may be crucial. Pregnancy and many health conditions are one of these times when using the scale may be beneficial and even necessary to monitor your health.
But in general, the scale is not the best indicator of health. Unfortunately, most people link their health and fitness goals to the number on the scale, which sometimes can be helpful and even motiving. Still, the problem starts when the number on the scale becomes the only and most important measurement of your health and self-worth. That is what I call” the scale trap”.
In this article, we will determine why the number on the scale is only a piece of information and not an accurate measure of your overall health or if you are gaining or losing weight.
Let’s get started!
My experience with the scale
As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, I know firsthand the debilitating impact that an obsession with the number on the scale can have on one’s mental and physical health. I was fixated on the scale for years, weighing myself multiple times daily and punishing myself when the number didn’t budge. It was a vicious cycle that left me feeling disconnected from my body and the psychology behind weight loss.
Every morning, I would wake up with a sense of anxiety, knowing that the number on the scale would dictate my entire day. I would go through my typical ritual of removing my clothes, closing my eyes, and stepping on the scale, desperately hoping to see a lower number than the previous day. If the number didn’t meet my expectations, I would punish myself by restricting my food intake or over-exercising, which only worsened matters.
It took me a long time to realize that this kind of behaviour was unsustainable and incredibly damaging to my mental and physical health. I had to learn to disconnect my sense of self-worth from the number on the scale and start focusing on how I felt in my own body. I had to relearn how to listen to my body’s cues, nourish myself with healthy, whole foods, and move my body more healthily.
Every Wednesday morning, you could smell the fear of every girl and boy at the eating disorder station; It was the day we needed to be weighed. It was horrible and traumatic, but at the same time, part of the treatment. When you are seriously underweight and in a hospital, it may be necessary to check your weight, but if you are NOT in that condition, or you experience any of the following symptoms while using the scale:
1) Have or had an eating disorder
2)Feel anxious about weighing yourself
3)Feel better when you don’t weigh yourself
4)Weight yourself many times a day
Then STOP, seriously, STOP.
The problem with the scale
All food and water have some weight. Anything that can make you retain or lose water will also affect your weight. The number on the scale is only one piece of information but not the whole picture of your health because it doesn’t consider factors like muscle mass, lifestyle, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart health, and much more. Our weight oscillates month by month, day by day, and even hour by hour, and changes in fat are rarely the cause. Our weight is also a measure of our bones, organs, bodily fluids, and waste.
Factors affecting the number on the scale:
What you eat and drink
Carbohydrates and salt can add to water retention. That is also why you lose much water weight when you go on a low-carbohydrate diet.
Holding a poop baby will also add some weight. Constipation and weight gain are linked, as factors contributing to constipation, bloating, and fullness can cause weight gain, but constipation itself is only likely to cause an increase in weight in the short term.
We lose water while exercising, but also you drink more which adds water. Our bodies are roughly 50-65% water, so our hydration levels will directly impact scale weight.
We tend to retain more water when we are on our period. In the days before the menstrual cycle, the Luteal phase, women can experience an increase of 1-3 kg due to hormonal changes that can lead to retaining more fluids. This is only temporary because, over the course of the period, the fluids gradually disperse, and the body weight returns to normal.
The number on the scale can be the same for two different people, but one has more muscle and the other more fat; still, the number is the same. Muscle is dense and takes up less space – up to 18% less. Meaning you can weigh quite a bit more with a large amount of lean mass and not look as “large”. See the problem here?
What to do instead?
Use more mindful ways to track your progress, such as your energy levels, your body’s feelings during the day, and how clothes fit you. These are better indicators of your progress than the scale will ever be. Whatever the reason you want to lose or gain weight, the end goal is usually to achieve a feeling. For example, you want to feel more attractive and energetic, play with your grandchildren and feel flexible again, or fit into your old jeans. None of these things can be measured by the scale!
Do you need to change your current weight to achieve that feeling? If the answer is yes, go ahead, and I hope these tips add value to your journey! But if you are unsure about the answer or if the answer is no, STOP looking for a solution to a new diet or anything related to your weight. Your body weight does not reflect who you are, your beauty, kindness, strength, intelligence, or worth. Focus on eating for good health and exercising for strength and energy; do NOT let a number on a scale define who you are or how much joy you have in your life.
Whether you want to lose or gain weight, please remember that your weight is just one aspect of your progress, and, in many cases, it’s not even the most important one. Weight is only one part of the health equation, and there is no reason to live and die by the scale. That number doesn’t tell you everything about how your health is improving. Your energy levels, health markers and clothes will tell you much more about your progress than that number.
Focus on eating more nutrient-dense foods to give your body the nutrition it needs to thrive, lifting weights to gain muscle, sleeping well and maintaining a healthy mindset and social support. Be kind to yourself during this process and remember nothing will change overnight, so patience is vital!