I can hear your response to the title of this article already:
“That is NOT going to happen.”
“I NEVER weigh myself.”
“The scale is evil and must be destroyed.”
The scale evokes intense emotion in most women and it isn’t even a living thing! It is a hunk of metal that is judged, blamed and booted all for giving women a number that simply reflects their relationship to gravity.
Contrary to popular belief, the scale is not telling you about the state of your health, your abilities or your worthiness as a human being.
The scale gives you a very small sliver of insight into your greater health story and, if you are anything like the millions of women who loathe the scale, you try to extract your entire health story (and your worthiness and your possibility) from that tiny bit of information and then use that number to weave intricate tales of your struggle to succeed with your health goals and, sometimes, with life in general.
The scale is not the problem but your interpretation of the data the scale is giving you most likely is.
Consider these two scenarios:
The woman who does absolutely nothing to take care of herself. She eats a diet rich in processed foods, does not exercise, is sleep deprived, stressed to the max in every arena of her life, and gets on the scale every morning to see that her weight is always holding between 125-130lbs. She fits into her clothes well and by all “appearances” she looks healthy.
Her REAL health story, however, is this: her body fat percentage is 40%, her blood pressure is through the roof, she suffers from anxiety attacks, severe constipation, and has chronic fatigue. She is in a state of dis-ease but the scale gives her a number, which she interprets as GOOD, because…by golly…that is what she weighed in high school! So…she does not take initiative to improve her health, which is screaming for help.
The woman who is taking full responsibility for her health. She is fiercely committed to eating clean nutritious food because she knows it makes her feel her best, she workouts daily and enjoys doing so, she gets 8-9 hours of sleep a night, meditates daily to manage her stress and gets on the scale to see that her weight seems hell bent on staying at 155. She thinks she should weigh 135 (because the diet culture tells her so) even though her body fat is already 20% (well within a healthy range), so she does not focus on all that she is doing well, but ridicules herself constantly for not being enough.
The scale gives her a number, which she interprets as BAD. So she criticizes, judges and abuses herself mentally despite taking excellent care of herself and being in a state of fantastic health.
Does this sound familiar?
Are you one of the millions of women that allow the scale to define you, regardless of what you are doing to take care of yourself? When the scale weighs you a bit lower than you expected, are you thrilled beyond measure, even though you know your self-care has been lacking?
Or when you do take great strides to take better care of yourself, do you fall into a deep pit of despair if the scale gives you a number higher than you expected?
THIS. IS. MADNESS. And a monstrous barrier to achieving long term-health.
Our interpretations of the data the scale gives us are, unfortunately, not based on HEALTH but on cultural beliefs about what health should weigh or what HEALTH looks like, which are largely false and misguided.
I have known my fair share of unhealthy, very fit looking, athletes over the years (hell, I was one of them); people who looked fit, push themselves to the max, but can’t sleep at night, have digestive issues, severe joint pain and, frankly, aren’t all that fun to be around.
Looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to health!
It is gut-wrenching as a health coach and trainer to witness a woman working so hard to improve herself, who also inappropriately uses the scale for validation of her progress or lack there of.
So I spend a lot of time educating them on these three basic concepts, in order to stop taking the data from the scale so personally:
#1 Body Composition Over Body Weight
Body composition is a far superior indicator of health than the scale could ever be. We know that having a body fat percentage higher than 32% (meaning your total mass is more than 32% fat) can carry with it come serious implications for possible health issues: diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, joint pain etc.
I have seen many clients lose fat gain muscle and stay the same weight! Does that mean they aren’t progressing? Of course not! But had they only been using the scale for validation of progress they would have been a hot frustrated mess!
Personally, I carry the same amount of body fat that I did 2 years ago, but because of some dramatic shifts in my training, I put on about 8lbs of muscle in the past 2 years. So I weigh MORE than I did 2 years ago, but I am stronger and much more capable as an athlete than I was back in 2013. This is something to celebrate, not to get depressed about.
Now, if I hadn’t measured my body composition as my weight was going up, I would have probably freaked out a little, but I knew better. I made sure to measure my progress in many ways (body composition included) so I could respond to the WHOLE story of what was happening with my body…not just my weight.
#2 Keep Your Integrity In Check
You know if you are doing the work to take care of yourself or not. Please don’t get on the scale when you aren’t doing a darn thing to take care of yourself and use that number as rationalization for why you don’t need to do anything. Your body needs you to be proactive about its care every single day, and there is not a number on the scale that can make that LESS true!
Eating clean food, moving your body daily, hydrating, sleeping and training your mindset, are not things you “might need” to stay healthy, they are precisely what every-BODY does need to stay vibrant and engaged with life.
And if you working hard at improving your health; your energy is increasing, you are sleeping better, you FEEL stronger and your clothes are fitting better, stop giving the scale so much damn power. If the only way you are measuring success is by the number on the scale, you will most likely quit your health journey pre-maturely because you will define no movement on the scale as no progress, which simply isn’t true.
#3 Evil Device or User Error?
Maybe the scale isn’t the demon we have made it out to be. Maybe…just maybe… we are using it for the WRONG reasons.
Personally, I think the scale can provide a lot of valuable information in terms of inflammatory responses a body may be experiencing due to lifestyle choices.
When a client has been consistent about implementing their healthy lifestyle practices and suddenly their weight shoots up 5lbs overnight, we do some detective work to identify the cause of that inflammation (no one gains 5lbs of fat overnight). We know that chronic inflammation is a precursor to many diseases, so we want to limit those types of responses in the body as much as possible.
To get to the root of an inflammatory response, these are some things you may want to consider:
What did you eat in the past few days that was different?
Food can cause inflammation
Has your sodium intake been higher than usual?
Too much sodium can cause inflammation.
Have your workouts changed?
Intense workouts can cause inflammation.
Are you dehydrated?
Dehydration can cause inflammation.
Are you close to your period?
Hormones can cause inflammation.
Are you feeling ok?
Illness can cause inflammation.
Have you been sleeping well?
Lack of sleep can cause inflammation.
Are you more stressed than ususal?
Stress can cause inflammation.
Inflammation isn’t personal, it is chemical!
Look, I get it…there is a war cry stemming from our diet and fitness culture to “burn the scale”, and maybe that is precisely what you need to do to get healthier, but before you light that fire, I would challenge you to use the tools above to see if you can’t shift your mindset around the data the scale is giving you.
How might your relationship with the scale change if you were also measuring body composition, being honest with yourself about the work that you were or were not doing, and using it as a guide to identify and modify lifestyle choices that weren’t serving you?
I know this is a hot topic in the world of women’s health and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Thank you for reading this and feel free to share!