Time to ditch the scale?
Oh...the weight scale, everyones worst enemy, but is it really something to be feared?
For years body weight has been used as a measure of health, and to be honest, it can be a very helpful tool when considering one's optimal health. Throughout the health and medical field we have determined what the average human, at a specific height, and a specific weight should weigh in at. Even though we are all created differently, humans inherently are very similar, and we have adopted a scale of standards or ranges that someone's body weight should be in. With these standards, we can monitor one's overall health in terms of potential negative health consequences that may arise when becomes over or even under-weight. *For the purposes of this article, we will consider the perspective of overweight ranges and how many heavily rely on the number on the scale as a measure of health and success.* Through research and evidence based practices we have seen the side effects of being over-weight for example, type II diabetes, CVD, hypertension, sleep apnea, depression, osteoarthritis, kidney and liver dysfunctions. Often, many who are overweight have what we call co-morbidities, or having more than one of the side effects associated with their weight.
Knowing this information, we also know, or have a general idea of what we need to do to combat these co-morbidities, focusing on nourishment and movement. One way we track our success is by measuring our bodyweight. But, some of us get glued to the scale.
Again, the weight scale is a tool, especially as we work through specific goals, like weight loss. The scale can sometimes be a visual aid to some who is actively trying to lose weight. That individual steps on that scale and can confidently say their work is paying off, right? But on the other hand, sometimes the number on the scale doesn't reflect a number we deem worthy of our hard work. Some of us constantly rely on the scale as validation, and when we don't see the number we were hoping to see, we become discouraged and might lose sight of the goal. This behavior can become a bit obsessive to the point where our mental health starts to change. We can develop disorder eating, and unhealthy relationships with food, body image, and motivation.
So, is the number on the scale worth all this potential stress?
The answer is, no. Sure it's an amazing tool and can absolutely be used, but it doesn't always tell the whole truth. The number on the scale is just that, a number, it doesn't necessarily paint the best picture of what is happening internally. Especially if we've been adhering to a nourish and movement plan. It is also important to add that there is a difference between body weight and fat weight.
We wanted to break down a few common myths and why you shouldn't always rely on the number on the scale.
Myth #1: You lose a lot of body fat overnight.
Many individuals weigh themselves in the morning, and when they step on the scale they are amazed to see they lost 5 pounds. Our mind instinctively thinks, "yay I've lost 5 points of fats"! But, this rapid decrease in weight is most likely attributed to water loss. Of course, over time fat loss occurs, but when we drastically see the weight reduction overnight, it's typically the loss of water weight and not a result of drastic fat loss. We lose water a few different ways, insensible perspiration (water loss through the skin, not visible), breathing, sweating, and excretions. About 15% of our water loss is due to insensible perspiration and about 2550mL of water is lost daily. Just think it, our body is made up of about 45-75% water.
Myth #2: You can gain a lot of body fat overnight.
This is highly dependent on many factors. Factors include but are not limited to, water retention, how much you consumed during the past hours, what types of food you consumed, what time your last meal was, hormone changes, digestive issues, what time you weighed yourself, you've been strength training, the list could go on. Just because the scale is a few pounds different does not mean you gained all of that in fat. It can also be from multiple factors in conjunction. Depending on the circumstances after a few days, you should see your weight level back out. Food for thought, 1 pound of fat equates to about 3,500 calories, so if you did gain 5 pounds of fat overnight that means you would have had to have eaten about 18,000 calories. We need to get out of the mindset that every day our body resets, it doesn't quite work this way. Our bodies don't tell time.
Myth #3: You must lose weight when on a nourish and movement plan.
We assume that because we are apart of a nourish and movement plan our body will naturally lose weight. In order to lose weight, our body has to be in a calorie deficit. We need to burn more calories than we consume, and just because we are apart of a program doesn't necessarily put us into a calorie deficit. Check out How to Lose Weight: Debunked. Sure, many nourished fads set us up with the intention of secretly putting you into a calorie deficit, but that doesn't always happen. For example, intermitted fasting, this changes your eating windows with the idea that you will eat less food, but it doesn't mean you will actually eat less food. Getting yourself into a calorie deficit takes a little work. Things to consider how active you are, how much your body needs to sustain life (BMR), and any health considerations.
When looking at the research associated with the accuracy of the weight scale, researchers compared and found that both non-medical and medical scales used in different households and medical locations were not precise. Decreased precision was found when scales held heavier loads. The difference between scales using the same 100 pounds or 200 pounds were up to 6 pounds or about a 15% difference between scales. It was determined that the condition of the scales, the location of the scales, the resting surfaces, and the calibration history of the scales did play a role in the different weights. Also, indicating that the scales in medial practices were no more precise than the non-medial scales we use at home. Since there is a difference from bodyweight to fat weight, and a scale only measures an overall number, it might be in the individual's best interest to seek alternative measures to get a breakdown of their body composition. Some alternative measures could be skin folds, body circumferences, DEXA scans, underwater weighing, or bioelectrical impedance. The methods range in the amount of information given about your body composition but still provide more insight into your compositional makeup.
Remember, the weight scale is just one of the many tools to monitor weight and weight loss. Due to the fact that scales are not the most reliable measures we only recommend weighing yourself biweekly. This helps to keep mental clarity and positivity surrounding your journey. Not much "real" change happens in a night or a day, and if weighing yourself daily was a trigger for you, eliminate it. There are many other ways to measure your success like how you feel, how your clothes fit, you're adhering to a nourish plan, you're moving better, quality of life has improved, and sleep is better. All of these factors and more add up and can be a much more rewarding outlook than the number on the scale. Just because the number on the scale didn't budge or went up doesn't mean you are not making progress!
Practice makes progress!
Stein, R. J., Haddock, C. K., Poston, W. S., Catanese, D., & Spertus, J. A. (2005). Precision in weighing: a comparison of scales found in physician offices, fitness centers, and weight loss centers. Public health reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974), 120(3), 266–270. https://doi.org/10.1177/003335490512000308
Pi-Sunyer X. (2009). The medical risks of obesity. Postgraduate medicine, 121(6), 21–33. https://doi.org/10.3810/pgm.2009.11.2074
Pantalone, K. M., Hobbs, T. M., Chagin, K. M., Kong, S. X., Wells, B. J., Kattan, M. W., Bouchard, J., Sakurada, B., Milinovich, A., Weng, W., Bauman, J., Misra-Hebert, A. D., Zimmerman, R. S., & Burguera, B. (2017). Prevalence and recognition of obesity and its associated comorbidities: cross-sectional analysis of electronic health record data from a large US integrated health system. BMJ open, 7(11), e017583. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017583
McNeil-Masuka J, Boyer TJ. Insensible Fluid Loss. [Updated 2020 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544219/
Riebl, S. K., & Davy, B. M. (2013). The Hydration Equation: Update on Water Balance and Cognitive Performance. ACSM's health & fitness journal, 17(6), 21–28. https://doi.org/10.1249/FIT.0b013e3182a9570f