Are you a Slave to the Scales?

It’s fascinating how often you hear women talking about their weight – and how much anxiety is associated with what the bathroom scales say. Depending on what we’re trying to achieve, seeing extra or fewer kilos on the scales can prompt reactions of happiness and excitement, or frustration and disappointment. Many people have a ‘goal weight’ and there is a massive international industry built around ‘weight loss’. Yet how often do we stop and ask ourselves what our body weight actually means?

The number on the scales: Put crudely, your weight is the sum total of all the bone, skin, tissues, water, fat, muscle and other stuff that makes up your body – and also includes food and drink that is somewhere along its journey through your digestive system. But when we get on the scales, I’m guessing most of us think about the fat component – which is probably why we react negatively to weight gain. Don’t forget that your weight can increase for a whole lot of different reasons – only some of which are due to a change in the amount of body fat.
Fluctuations in weight: Imagine you get on the scales and see that the number is higher than the last time you were on the scales. This might be indicative that you have gained some fat. Then again, it may be because you have a little fluid retention (perhaps from not drinking enough water the day before, or eating salty foods). It can also be related to where you are in your menstrual cycle. So your scale weight is actually a pretty crude measure of where you’re at! There are some other measures that you can consider using to supplement the info you get from the scales, and I’ll write more about that soon. But first I want to highlight what one of the downsides of paying too much attention to your scale weight.

Effects on Motivation: One of the negative aspects of weighing yourself too often and/or giving too much weight (excuse the pun!) to the number you see is its effect on your motivation. Say you have been eating carefully, cutting back on sugary/salty/fatty snacks and getting regular exercise for the past few weeks. Then you jump on the scales and to your horror, the number is actually HIGHER than it was before. Arghh! This might motivate you to exercise harder or make further changes to your diet (which could actually be counterproductive). Or you could say to yourself ‘This isn’t working – I can’t be bothered trying so hard doing things that are a waste of time and effort’, or ‘This is impossible. I can’t lose weight. Nothing I try works’. As a result, you might go back to unhealthy eating habits and cut back on (or even abandon) physical activity – which would be really unfortunate.

Scales – just one tool in the toolkit: One thing I’ve recently learned is that tracking your weight is just one of the ways that you can track your progress. It can be really helpful to supplement weighing yourself with other measures, like measuring body parts with a tape measure and taking progress photos.

I’m certainly not advocating that women stop weighing themselves, or saying that weight is irrelevant. I just think it’s helpful to remind yourself that scale weight is a crude measure, and that how your clothes fit and how you actually feel in your own body is really most important.