Stupid Scale


How is it that a one square foot piece of metal with springs can create such immense neurotic behavior even in highly intelligent people? In my 23 years as a personal trainer I have seen hands on how a needle pointing to a number has dictated the mood, emotion and behavior of individuals for the rest of their day. The scale is an obsession in our society. Social media, magazines, sports and movie stars, clothing companies and the people in our lives all contribute to putting a value on a human being based on what they weigh on a scale. If a woman weighs 120lbs then she is associated with words like: thin, motivated, healthy, determined, and intelligent. If the woman weighs 180lbs then the words most people think are: fat, lazy, gluttonous, ill and stupid. The stereotypes we have about other people’s weight are not only wrong but illogical. The weight measured on a scale has absolutely no relevance to someone’s health. Heavier people can be healthier than lighter people.

The scale does not measure what most people think it measures – how fat we are. The scale measures whatever you place on top of it. It cannot distinguish between healthy lean muscle tissue and excessive adipose tissue. Someone could weigh 150lbs at 5ft 5in and can have a 15% body fat level while someone else at the same weight and height could have a 30% body fat level. One person is lean and muscular while the other is not.

The scale is only an instrument that puts a value of how much ground force from the Earth’s core is pushing back up against us. Gravity is weaker at the equator and at higher altitudes. Someone would weigh slightly less if they stepped on a scale on top a mountain near the equator like Machu Pichu than they would near the North Pole at sea level.

The one issue that drives most people absolutely crazy is the weight fluctuations they have day after day or even hour after hour on a scale. It amazes me that people weigh themselves everyday and it is even more shocking that people weigh themselves multiple times in one day. If your goal is to measure if you have gained or lost body fat then it highly unlikely you will notice anything on a day to day basis. It takes a deficit of 3500 calories for your body to use up one pound of its own body fat reserves. Most people would be lucky to realistically have a 500 calorie deficit in one day. If you have a job, family and regular life responsibilities a 500 calorie deficit is doable. This would equate to losing one pound of fat in one week. A highly motivated individual who is willing to sacrifice leisure time to exercise and be willing to give up the pleasurable foods they usually enjoy could possibly get a 1,000 calorie daily deficit. This would mean a 2lb fat drop in one week. People who weigh themselves daily hoping to see a change on the scale have no hope. Even if you are the highly motivated person losing two pounds per week, on a daily basis it would average out to less than a quarter of a pound lost. A scale does not measure such small changes daily so what are people looking for when it is not there?

If the scale is not measuring body fat changes short term then why can someone weigh3-5lbs more later in the day than they do first thing in the morning? Why can someone make fantastic healthy eating choices all week long, exercise daily and the scale shows they gained a pound or two by the end of the week? The answer is because the scale is STUPID. The scale doesn’t know the great lifestyle choices you have made. It just provides a value of ground reaction force to your mass. The human body is mostly made up of water. Water is everywhere – in your brain, skin, muscles, fat, in all your cells. Of the weight the scale measures over 75% is water weight. It makes sense then that fluctuations in your fluid levels would play a major role in the weight value the scale shows. What can cause some of these fluctuations?

–         Amount of fluid in liquids and food you take in during the day

–         How much you have perspired ( I can lose 6lbs of water playing one hour of squash)

–         Amount of urine and intestinal elimination

–         Hormonal cycles of females

–         Types of food you eat, high salt causes water retention

We have had a mixed martial arts fighter train at my personal training studio who had to make a 155lb weight limit for a fight. The day before the official weigh in he weighed 172lbs. He has to lose 17lbs in 24hrs. How does someone lose 17lbs quickly? They avoid eating and drinking anything and spend their day in the sauna riding a stationary bike with garbage bags around them to induce extreme sweating. After the weigh in they get fluids put back into the body intravenously. The lesson here is that it is easy lose weight but hard to lose fat. The scale can’t tell you which is happening.

If you are one of those people that steps on a scale multiple times per day, shifts their body weight side to side or back and forth to register a lower number, and gets depressed from the number you see after spending a week of making great eating choices and exercising diligently then it is time to stop feeling sorry for yourself. Real body composition changes take time, consistency and healthy permanent lifestyle changes. Do not let a scale put a value on your efforts. Keep making smart choices, evaluate your progress by how you feel and maybe weigh yourself once a month. People are freaking out about the number they weigh on a scale which has no relevant information about their overall body fat levels or general health. Stop freaking out over nothing!

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