If you’re like the rest of America, it’s a safe bet that you took a peek at the reading on your bathroom scale this morning. If this is true, you’re not alone. Almost every family in the U.S. owns a bathroom scale. Unfortunately, 80 million women and girls get on the scale each morning only to step off feeling badly about their bodies. If the numbers are lower than normal, they might think to themselves, “I did great, keep it up!” or “I can do better.” If the scale reads the same or higher than the day before, they might say to themselves, “I am not working hard enough,” or “I’m not good enough; I’ll try harder.” These negative thoughts can exponentially multiply when the numbers on the scale are not kind. Feelings of failure, disappointment and being out of control quickly begin to take over. And this all happens before the day has even started.
Everyday use of a scale can destroy a person’s self esteem. Why torture yourself?
Here’s an example of two days that begin on the wrong foot because the person’s first step was on a scale:
Like all mornings, I start my day off by going to the bathroom and jumping on the scale. It reads two pounds higher than it did yesterday. I can’t take it anymore. I even exercised and ate well yesterday. Today, I am determined to start my diet. I secretly vow to myself to eat less throughout the day. I start my new diet by skipping breakfast. For lunch, I order a Diet Coke and a small salad. I have a cup of coffee for my afternoon break. By the time dinner comes around, I am famished, so I eat pretty much everything I can get my hands on. The eating doesn’t stop until bedtime calls.
The next morning I wake up. Get on the scale, and the needle has moved up another pound. Yuck! Now I’m really depressed. All of a sudden I’m really hungry. I think I’m hungrier knowing that I have to deprive myself all day to get the scale to be my friend again. No excuses. I can gain control. I know I can! Today is my day. For breakfast, I choose a low-fat muffin and a small cappuccino. I skip lunch, and instead drink coffee all day. By 3pm I feel tired, sluggish, and have a pounding headache. I wish the thought of food would just go away, but it doesn’t. I surrender to my hunger, eat a piece of chocolate, and feel immediately better. For dinner, I’m going to eat out with some friends I begin by ordering “lite”, but before I know it, the wine has taken over and I order extra food. That’s okay, I’ll start my diet tomorrow.
This two-day scenario might sound familiar to many of you. For people who fall into this mentality, it may have helped if their first step had not been on the scale. Instead of feeling negatively, they could have thought about how they felt as a result of exercising and eating right the previous day. Chances are that this positive association would have given them a much greater chance of repeating the good behavior traits of exercise and eating right. Do not let a mere number sabotage your efforts.
Improving one’s behaviors consistently over time will definitely lead to better results, no matter what the scale might say on any given day.
People need to think about breaking this vicious reliance on the most dreaded object in the house. Why? Realize that a scale is not the best determinant of one’s health and fitness, and it certainly is not a measure of one’s self worth. Actually, a scale doesn’t reveal much of anything. It doesn’t reveal how sick or healthy a person is, how rested or tired, how stressed or relaxed, or whether the person is fit and eating healthy. The scale tells us nothing more than how much the person’s skin, bones, organs, water, fat, blood and muscles weigh. Big deal!
So if you have to weigh yourself, remember one important fact: the numbers on the scale are not reading just fat. When you lose weight, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have lost only fat. A scale does not have the ability to tell you the composition of the weight you have lost. Losing muscle is nothing to celebrate. Since the muscle is metabolically active tissue, we need to build and increase this component as much as we can, especially as we age. If you exercise well, and are increasing your strength and muscle-mass through weight training, you will gain weight. That’s good news and a good thing. Just by adding 3 pounds of muscle, your body requires an extra 9000 calories a month to break even. For additional information on gaining muscle, see the two articles Cardio Alone Doesn’t Cut It, and Secrets of Strength Training, in the fall 2000 issue of Results Magazine, available at the front desk at Mitch’s Gym.
One factor that influences the scale’s reading is total body water. To begin with, 60% of our body’s total mass is made up of water. Two factors that influence water retention are sodium intake and the amount of water consumed. A common mistake most individuals fail to realize is the less water one drinks, the more one’s body retains. If even slightly dehydrated, the body will hold on to every single drop of water possible. This degree of retention is enough to cause the unfriendly needle on your scale to creep upward. Excess salt in the diet can also play a dramatic role in water retention. It’s wise to stick to the basics when it comes to decreasing sodium in your diet. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, lean cuts of meat, beans and whole grains and cut down on processed foods, as the basis for a balanced diet. Also, remember to drink plenty of water (at least 64 ounces per day).
Another factor that can influence the scale is glycogen. Glycogen is the body’s energy reserve. It weighs more than a pound and is packaged with up to 3 or 4 pounds of water when stored. It’s completely normal to experience glycogen and water weight shifts up to 2 pounds a day with no change to diet or activity level.
People also tend to forget about the actual weight of the food they eat. Swallowing a bunch of food before you step on a scale is very similar to putting a bunch of rocks in your pocket. The 5 pounds you gain right after a meal is not fat. More likely it is the actual weight of the food and drink consumed, and it will be gone several hours later after digestion has occurred.
It should be obvious by now that so many variables can influence the reading on the bathroom scale. Here is the bottom line: it is ridiculous to think that fluctuations in weight are due only to fat gain or loss. If the scale goes up 3 or 4 pounds overnight, it’s most likely attributed to water, glycogen and the weight of your dinner.
Why did we ever get into the habit of letting such a small appliance rule our lives day in and day out? The history behind bathroom scales is ironic. Scales were first used for military purposes to make sure men weighted enough to be sent to war. Somewhere along the way we became obsessed with scales. Think about it, the first thing the doctors do when we are born is place us on a scale. Every health-related checkup thereafter starts by checking your weight with some judgement made based on the scale’s reading. Also, almost every level of sport, child through professional, continues to use the weight reading from the scale as a determining factor for participation. Sadly, however, the rate of obesity and eating disorders has escalated in the United States ever since we began placing an emphasis on scale values. Ironically, while researching information regarding weight and scales for this story, the majority of information was primarily found on web sites pertaining to eating disorders. All of a sudden our disordered actions don’t seem so healthy anymore?
Most savvy nutrition educators will agree on this valuable piece of advice: Don’t dwell on the scale. Not only is it an inaccurate tool, but it leads to further frustration and destructive feelings of failure. Assessment tools that measure body fat, such as the “Bod Pod” (measured with air displacement), skin fold calipers, hydrostatic (underwater) weighing and bioelectrical impedance, provide a much more accurate assessment of your body composition. Seek out a fitness club or healthcare-facility that can provide these useful measurements. Most importantly, find more productive ways to determine how to feel about yourself. One of the best measurement tools everyone possesses is eyesight. How do you look? How do you feel? How do your clothes fit? These are the true indicator of success.
The next time you step on the scale, if you must, just remember to keep it in perspective. It is, after all, its just a number.
How to Lie to the Bathroom Scale
Okay, if you feel absolutely compelled to do battle with the sly little scale in your bathroom. Here are a few tips to outwit the evil weigh master.
- Weigh yourself with your clothes on after dinner, then in the morning, weight yourself without clothes, before breakfast, because it’s awesome to see how much weight you’ve lost overnight.
- When weighing, remove everything, including eyeglasses. In this case, blurred vision is an asset. Don’t forget the earrings, these things can weigh at least a pound.
- Exhale with all your might BEFORE stepping onto the scale (air has to weight something, right?).
- Always go to the bathroom first.
- Never weigh yourself with wet hair
- Stand with arms raised, making pressure on the scale lighter.
- When weighing in the morning, don’t eat or drink in the morning until AFTER you’ve weighed in, completely naked of course.
- Weigh yourself after a haircut, this is good for at least a half a pound of hair.
- Use a cheap scale only, never a medical kind, because they are always five pounds off to your advantage.
- Start out with just one foot on the scale, then holding onto the towel rack in front of you, slowly edge your other foot on and slowly take your hand off of the rack. Admittedly, this maneuver takes time, but it’s worth it. You will weigh at least two pounds less than if you’d stepped on normally.
Did You Know?
- 90% of all women overestimate their own body size
- 69% of the female characters on TV are thin; only 5% are overweight
- 79% of all girls want to be thinner than they are by the time they reach sixth grade
- By the age 13, 80% of girls have dieted
- 60% of all models or ballerinas have an eating disorder
- Women comprise 90% of all eating disorder cases; males account for 10% (but risinng)