Do You Have a Dysfunctional Relationship with Your Scale?
I see a pervasive problem among many people I work with: They have a completely counterproductive relationship with their scale.
They weigh themselves frequently, and slight fluctuations of a pound, or two, or three are met with incredible disappointment, sadness, and frustration.
But the worst part is this: The decisions they make based on weighing themselves are almost always counterproductive.
Intuitively, it makes sense that by measuring yourself on the scale, you’re more likely to keep tabs on your body and you can therefore make better decisions about what to do to reach your goals. But in reality, it actually plays out in just the opposite way–people who measure themselves on the scale frequently often times make themselves fatter!
How could that be?
Well, let’s think about what a scale really is. A scale is a measurement tool. That’s it. It is not a strategy for fat loss. You don’t get leaner by stepping on a scale.
This should be obvious, but many people seem to think that the simple act of weighing themselves is helping them lose fat. It isn’t. All it is, is a tool to measure your current bodyweight.
Now, theoretically, based on those measurements, you could potentially manipulate certain factors in order to effect your fat loss efforts positively. That is, after all, the purpose of measuring something regularly–to manipulate variables and get a better outcome.
However, if your measuring tool is not actually measuring what you’re trying to measure, then you have a very big problem.
That is precisely the problem with the scale: It is an extremely crude measurement tool that is not actually measuring what most people think it is.
Well, most people want FAT loss. That is, they want to decrease the amount of fat that their body has on it. A scale does not tell you how much fat you have on your body. It simply tells you how much your body weighs–including not just fat, but also muscle, bone, organs, and water.
And, most fluctuations in your scale weight tell you precisely nothing about how much fat you’re losing or gaining.
When the scale goes up by 3 or 4 pounds, most people cringe in disappointment and think in their minds “Yikes…I have gained 4 pounds of fat!”
When the scale goes down by 3 or 4 pounds, most people celebrate and think “Hooray, I’ve lost 4 pounds of fat.”
These reactions are sorely misguided. It is a huge mistake to confuse your weight with your level of body fat.
Many of the things that decrease your weight will, over time, actually make you fatter!
Here’s a few examples to show you what I mean:
Calorie restriction diets and juice cleanses
When you go from your normal state of calorie overabundance (if you’re overweight) to going on a low calorie diet, you will see your scale weight drop dramatically. And the more extreme the state of calorie starvation, the more your weight will drop. Based on what the scale is telling you, the best thing you can do if you want to be leaner is eat a super low calorie diet and simply deprive yourself of food.
But as you hopefully already know, over 95% of people who lose weight this way gain it all back with 2 years. Now, it is actually worse than just regaining the same weight. The weight loss and subsequent regain might cause you to think it is the same 10 or 20 pounds that you’re losing and regaining. But when we look closer, we find something unexpected happens: During overfeeding, your body preferentially gains fat, but during underfeeding, you lose mostly muscle. Your weight might be the same, but you are slowly losing muscle mass and gaining fat mass.
Over time, this trend will actually make your metabolism slower, and predispose to you getting even fatter. It is as counterproductive as it gets.
But based on what the scale is telling you, going on extreme low calorie diets and doing juice fasts is great for you!
Low carb diets
Many people are unaware of this, but the amount of carbohydrates in your body has a huge impact on the amount of water in your body. Carbs can create massive fluctuations in scale weight that have nothing to do with your amount of body fat. When you eat carbohydrates, virtually none of those carbohydrates actually get converted into body fat. (That process is called de novo lipogenesis, and only happens in very extreme cases. In normal people, the carbs they eat are stored as carbohydrates–glycogen–in the liver and muscle tissue, and it is not converted into body fat). So if you have it in your head that carbs “turn into fat,” I suggest your purge your mind of this false idea immediately.
Now, here’s the really important part: For every gram of carbohydrate that is stored in your liver or muscles, a massive additional 2.5 grams of water is pulled into your liver and muscle cells along with that! This adds up!
This is why so many people have the experience of going on a low-carb diet and losing 5-10 pounds in the first week alone. And then they think “wow… It was all those carbs that were making me fat! All you have to do to lose fat is get rid of carbs!”
Except what they don’t realize is that even though they lost 5-10 pounds of weight, virtually none of that was actually from their body fat! All they did was lose a bunch of water weight by depleting their liver and muscles of glycogen and all the water that is stored along with that glycogen. They lost a bunch of water–not fat.
On the flip side, many people who get on the scale after a night of eating lots of pasta and bread notice a jump in scale weight of 2-4 pounds and think “oh my god… Carbs make you fat!” when in reality, all that happened was that they flushed some water back into their muscles and liver. It has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of fat on your body.
Jeffrey A. Dolgan, a clinical exercise physiologist based in Miami Beach, Florida, says, “water makes up approximately 65- 90 percent of a person’s weight, and variation in water content of the human body can move the scale by ten pounds or more from day to day.”
Let me be very clear: Having muscles and a liver that are stocked with glycogen and water is a GOOD thing for health and a fast metabolism. If your liver and muscles are not stocked with ample glycogen and water, your energy level and performance drops. And your metabolism slows down even more since the liver is critical for converting inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to active thyroid hormone (T3)–which is the main hormone that powers your metabolism.
But based on what the scale is telling you, going on low carb diets is great for you, and eating carbs is terrible for you! The scale is telling you to do something that won’t result in really any benefit, and will over time, severely mess up your metabolism.
Many supposed “fat burning” supplements contain nothing more than diuretics, and many beauty spa wrap treatments are the same in this regard–they simply cause water loss. They don’t do anything to your body fat.
Even if this doesn’t directly damage your metabolic function, at the very least, it is counterproductive to your wallet.
But based on what the scale is telling you, those diuretics are great for you, since you lost 8 pounds in just two weeks.
In reality, chronically dehydrating your cells in this way will only slow your metabolism and make you fatter in the long run. So here too, the scale is telling you to do something that is totally counterproductive.
Well, according to the latest study done on a group of overweight and obese women, doing four weekly cardio sessions of 30-60 minutes caused a loss of a few pounds of bodyweight. However, when they assessed body fat percentage, on average, the women actually GAINED BODY FAT!
What that means is that the weight they lost was muscle rather than fat.
In people who do not have a well designed diet, this result is not uncommon. Many people on cardio programs lose nothing more than lean body mass while actually gaining body fat.
But based on what the scale was showing, it was telling them that they were making progress!
Throw Away Your Scale!
Hopefully you see now why the scale is a pretty terrible diagnostic tool to figure out what’s working, and what you need to do more of in order to reach your goals.
There was a time when I used to recommend to people to monitor their weight on the scale. But since that time, I have seen far too many people engage in needless stress and make counterproductive decisions based on confusing the number on the scale with their fat loss progress.
If that’s you, I urge you to stop this madness. The little fluctuations you see on the scale have nothing to do with your body fat. You’re chasing a ghost! And it is making you do foolish and totally counterproductive things. On top of that, seeing those little fluctuations is making you stressed (which itself will slow your metabolism and predispose to fat gain).
Just stop. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Stop it.
Throw away your scale.
Okay, you don’t have to actually throw it in the garbage, but at least stop using it.
It is an extraordinarily crude way of trying to measure the real thing you’re trying to measure–your body fat. And it is extremely dangerous to confuse those weight fluctuations with your level of body fat. As you can see from the above examples, in most cases, the indications you’re getting from the scale are actually leading you down a path that will only result in metabolism slowdown and a fatter body.
What to Measure INSTEAD of Your Scale Weight…
None of this is to say I am opposed to measuring things. In fact, I am very much in favor of measuring things. I am simply in favor of using precise and scientific tools to measure the things we’re trying to measure, rather than very crude and inaccurate tools that lead us into confusion and counterproductive decisions.
The scale is a very crude measurement tool because it is measuring something that has very little direct relationship to what we actually are concerned with: body fat mass.
If you want to measure your actual body fat mass in a more scientific way, I suggest replacing your scale with a weekly naked photo of yourself in front of your bathroom mirror and a set of body fat calipers. These are tools that will allow you to accurately assess whether you are making progress in terms of loss of actual body fat.
But let’s take this even one level beyond that. Because by measuring body fat change, what we’re really doing is indirectly measuring the extent to which our behaviors are or are not resulting in fat loss.
So rather than measuring the symptom of those behaviors–your body fat percentage–let’s go directly to the source of what we’re really concerned with: Your lifestyle habits.
In other words, rather than measuring and tracking your weight, or even your body fat percentage via skinfold measurements, I am suggesting that you measure and track your daily adherence to the set of habits that are scientifically proven to lead to fat loss.
In fact, we already know that this approach is superior to tracking bodyweight. In a study from the University of Zurich, obese women who focused on tracking process-oriented habits had steadier weight loss progress with fewer setbacks, lost 4 pounds more per week than women focused on bodyweight or ideal size.
So here’s what I recommend: Instead of weighing yourself, create a daily checklist of all the habits that are scientifically proven to result in fat loss, and then use that as your measurement device.
At the end of each day, measure the extent to which you actually did the things that day that are necessary for fat loss. I strongly recommend personalizing your list and including specific things that you know are issues for you that are sabotaging your efforts–for example, if you drink too much alcohol too frequently, or if you tend to binge eat when you get stressed. To craft a simple one, it might look something like this:
Feel free to personalize that as you see fit.
If you want the ultimate set of fat loss habits based on all the habits the science has identified as being critical for fat loss, go grab my program, The Forever Fat Loss Formula (if you haven’t done so already). That program outlines all of the SPECIFIC habits you need for nutrition, circadian rhythm, and movement to make reaching your goals INEVITABLE. Grab that program HERE.)
Once you’ve created your list of the ideal fat loss habits, fill it out every night before bed and track the changes and progress in your adherence to these habits over the days and weeks.
If you use a tool for measuring and diagnosing your situation, it needs to be a tool that points you in productive directions. And that is the major difference between this strategy and weighing yourself on a scale.
If you measure your body weight on the scale and try to do the things that get you a good “score” on your scale, you are destined to do very foolish and counterproductive things that only give you a slower metabolism and a fatter body.
On the other hand, if you measure this set of habits and do the set of behaviors that allow you to score well on your nightly checklist, you are virtually guaranteed to achieve fat loss.
By measuring HABITS instead of scale weight, you are you far less likely to make counterproductive interpretations of what is happening with your body, or to cause yourself unnecessary stress (which is also counterproductive).
On top of that, I promise you that measuring your HABITS will be WAY more effective for fat loss than measuring your scale weight.