The number on the scale

How many of you live and die by the number on the scale? Does it make your day if it is a smaller number and crush you if it is a larger number? Do you weigh daily? More than once/day? First thing in the morning on an empty stomach or after an hour of cardio (both weighings, nude)? Do you have a magic number…the number that would make you completely happy?

That number on the scale changes for a variety of reasons. You may be dehydrated or well-hydrated. Maybe your digestive system is irregular. A tough leg workout can cause water retention. Are you menstruating? Did you eat more salt yesterday than usual? Or drink more alcohol? Weight is one way of measuring body mass and over a longer period of time, can give you information about trends (e.g. losing or gaining mass).

The problem is that people put too much emphasis on the number. If you have ever used the heart rate measure on exercise equipment, you know that your heart rate changes depending upon how fast or slow you go and on the level of incline.  If you were to measure every 5 minutes across a high intensity interval workout (HIIT), you would likely see wildly fluctuating heart rates. If you averaged the numbers across time, you can would get an average heart rate for the workout. That’s not terribly different from what you may see when you weigh yourself daily or even more frequently.  Each discreet measurement tells you something about that moment in time. It does not necessarily give you an accurate measure of the direction your weight is trending. 

In order to better understand your weight trends (depending on your goal to gain or lose or maintain), regardless of how many times you choose to weigh throughout the week (and I definitely do not recommend more than once per day), chart your weekly weigh in at the same time and day each week – wearing the same or similar clothing. This chart, over a period of at least 4 weeks, will give you a clearer picture and will allow you to adjust your workouts, diet, etc., to suit your needs.

But there is a part two to this discussion. You are not that number. Weight, BMI, body fat %, are all ways of measuring the content and/or mass of your body. They are numerical measures. They are not qualitative. They do not define your personality, your self worth, your character, or your integrity. These numbers don’t make you a good mom or an awesome brother. They don’t identify you as a hard worker or a slacker at work.

I know people who see very high numbers when they step on the scale; yet they are generous and kind. Conversely, I know people who are strong, thin, and athletic with low numbers on the scale; yet I would not willingly spend time with them. One may say that the former will have a shorter lifespan and more ill-health than the latter. That is probably true. And some would argue that the latter is happier. That may or may not be true.

In the end, it is a balancing act. If your value is physical fitness, you may choose to spend all of your time working out. If you value socializing and friendships, you may spend many more hours eating and drinking with people you like. On Monday morning, the person who spent time working out may see a smaller number on the scale. But that number, is really just a number. Only you can decide what it means to you.

2 thoughts on “The number on the scale

    • That’s a good reason to stop weighing for a while and measure change in a different way. Are you doing any resistance training (i.e. weights)? Stay with it, any changes should be kept in place for 4-6 weeks to see if they make a difference.

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