How the scale is hurting your fitness goals
Picture this: Last night you succumb to your cravings and indulge in a pint of ice cream. You go to bed feeling guilty and ashamed that you allowed yourself this treat and wake up wanting to make positive changes.
What’s the first thing that you do? You step on the scale to “see the damage” and come to find out that you’ve gained 2 lbs since yesterday. You feel terrible about yourself and scold yourself for giving into that treat. “How can I gain 2 pounds - I hate that I do this! I’m never going to lose any weight!”
You immediately swear to never have ice cream again and that this time it will be different. This time you are motivated and you are driven to make the change to see those 2 lbs not come back on.
If this sounds like you, this post is for you.
The problem isn’t your late night eating of ice cream - your problem might be the scale!
Why we care so much about weight on a scale
Diet and healthy living is almost always about “losing a few pounds”. Weight has been seen as the one way to determine if you are healthy, or if you aren’t. You hear it everywhere... on diet trends, from your doctor, from your friends and family. Everyone wants to know if they are losing weight and if they are at a healthy weight.
The scale has become this magical object of all knowing. It’s as if the scale has some godly powers to determine if we should be happy or upset.
How many times have you gotten on the scale only to feel terrible after?
How many times have you gotten on the scale and felt amazing?
If you could compare how many times you’ve felt terrible to the times you’ve felt amazing, I’m going to bet that the feeling terrible part outweighs the amazing part.
We have created this idea that if your weight is lower - you are a healthier person.
“If only I could lose those 5 extra pounds I would feel really good about myself.”
Our worth is intertwined with this number on a scale.
However is this truly what makes you healthy? Let’s dive into some reasons why the scale can have a negative impact on your overall success and health.
The scale can easily fluctuate day to day
The scale only does one thing - measures your weight. Your weight consists of your bones, the water in your body, the muscle, and fat. There are a number of reasons for why your weight can fluctuate on a day to day basis.
Amount of sodium eaten from day before
Current stress level
Muscle soreness from yesterdays workout
Lack of sleep
Let’s examine why each of these points can impact your weight on the scale:
More sodium = more water retention = more overall weight. This one most people are aware of but tend to forget about the moment they see the number on the scale. Water retention is real! If you had a very salty meal the night before - know that this is why you are heavier, not because you gained more fat!
When you are stressed your body releases cortisol in response. Cortisol has the ability to retain water as your body wants to hold onto things in a stressed state. It wants to keep the water in your body from leaving and therefore you’ll see the weight on the scale increase!
For many fit parents the hard workout from the day before can leave you feeling sore. This soreness or DOMS causes your body to have inflammation. This inflammation acts on recovering and repairing your muscle tissue. During this time your body once again wants to retain water to help with the healing process. If you find yourself on the scale the morning after a tough workout, please go in knowing that you SHOULD be a higher weight based on the cortisol impact on your body!
Can’t speak about this one from experience but with women who are on their cycle, you tend to bloat. Estrogen levels increase up to a week before your period and will again leave you feeling heavier on the scale.
Lastly, lack of sleep can have various detrimental impacts on your scale. When we don’t get enough sleep our bodies will produce more of the hormone called “ghrelin” which is an appetite stimulant. You will therefore be more hungry and look for foods that are higher in simple carbohydrates (cookies, snacks). Getting quick sugar and carbs is a sure way to alleviate this lethargy that is felt on restless nights. When eating these foods, it will cause you to feel more bloated once again and have that scale rise up.
The never ending cycle
Although you and the scale have good intentions on giving you feedback into the progress you make - it can have extremely negative consequences.
Think about this - have you ever gotten on the scale to feel so dissatisfied with the number that you then go on to say “well this isn’t working, I’m going to eat whatever I want!”
You then look for one of your favorite snacks or favorite meals and eat it quickly with no hesitation. You overeat because you are upset with the “lack of progress” you are seeing on the scale.
What this does now is put you in a caloric surplus, it puts you steps further away from your goal of losing weight.
It isn’t until the next day or the next week that you say, “okay I’m done with binging...I’m going to get back on track”
Meanwhile during that binge time you’ve put on 5 lbs and feel even worse than you did the first time you weighed yourself.
You then swear to be “good” and eat healthy.
Next time you weigh yourself and you see that you’ve actually dropped 3 lbs! You feel great and accomplished.
However this accomplishment can actually lead to the same outcome as before...you now reward yourself with those treats that you’ve been restricting yourself and overeat once again.
You think to yourself - “I deserve to eat this because I earned it! I lost 3 lbs so I should give myself something to enjoy”.
Then the next day after your treats, you see that you are right back at square one. You start to feel upset and frustrated that you let yourself have those treats and that you now took away all the progress that you made.
This is exhausting to write, let alone to live. This cycle is never ending and it’s one that is perpetuated by that little square box in your bathroom.
Use measuring tools that actually tell you the full story
Instead of only using the scale to determine your success with your program - look at other more important factors.
Do you feel more energized now?
Do you feel stronger?
Do your clothes fit better?
Do you have more confidence?
Are you enjoying your food more?
Are you feeling more happiness?
Are you sleeping better?
Ask yourself these questions and be honest with the answers. These are far better in determining your success through your nutrition habits.
If you find yourself answering yes to most of these questions...then keep doing what you are doing!! This is the stuff that matters.
If you are losing weight to look better for others - all you need to do is look better in clothes, not have a smaller number on the scale.
Stop driving yourself crazy by weighing yourself because now you know that it doesn’t actually give you direct feedback. There are too many possible fluctuations and other measurable tools to use to track your progress.
I would recommend you weighing yourself at most once a week upwards to never. That is quite a range but you need to determine for yourself how helpful is the weighing process. If you can say with 100% certainty that seeing the number rise or fall doesn’t cause you to have an emotional response, you are free from the scale and can use it to strictly track weight and only weight.
If you feel that you are judging your progress only on the number on the scale each morning - please try to get rid of the habit of weighing everyday.
As always you need to find that works best for you both physically and mentally.
Start focusing on those other measures of progress and break the ball and chain that is the scale!