In the past few weeks you may have seen this story floating around on various social media outlets – Weight is Just a Number – Huffington Post
A woman who is a proponent of weight lifting shows how her body noticeably changed and leaned out while the number on the scale moved by only a pound. Her transformation and message is powerful. Weight truly is just a number and only one piece of the wellness puzzle. Like any other metric, it should be used to gauge progress in conjunction with other indicators. Sidenote on International Women’s Day – I especially love that she is setting an example for her children about what a strong, healthy woman looks like (as opposed to 90% of what we see on social media).
As someone studying wellness, nutrition and fitness, I don’t think looking at someone’s weight or BMI number is the bellwether of a healthy lifestyle. A sedentary, 135-pound woman who eats processed foods and smokes to manage stress could have a BMI within the ideal weight range but we know that she’s not “healthy” based on her lifestyle choices. Meanwhile, a 160-pound woman who runs three days a week, eats whole foods 80% of the time and practices yoga to manage stress may be labeled as overweight or unhealthy based purely on weight and BMI but I’d consider her to be the healthier of the two. So, numbers are just that and we can never look at them and judge a person’s wellness without a holistic view of their lifestyle. That said, what’s with our obsession over the scale and how can we use it as ONE tool to measure our overall health and well-being?
First, let me say that I’m a recovering scale-aholic. I still struggle. I used to weigh every day. Sometimes more than once a day. It was ridiculous. Now, I try very hard to weigh once a week. Why once a week? Because it gives me the accountability but I’m not obsessing about the number from day to day. But that’s just me…what does the research suggest and what do experts recommend?
As with any wellness/diet topic, there are various schools of thought and opinions. A Cornell University study found that people who weighed themselves daily lost twice as much weight as those who did not and kept it off. A researcher in that study compared it to other daily habits, “Stepping on the scales should be like brushing your teeth,” says David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University.
However, many nutrition and exercise experts disagree citing that weighing every day can be discouraging and frustrating. Celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels counsels people to “weigh themselves once a week, at the same time every week.”
Then there is a whole movement of people who say, ditch the scale and gauge your success based on other factors or “non-scale victories” such as:
- Increased energy
- Greater strength, muscle tone and flexibility
- Improved sleep habits
- Reduced stress
These are all signs of living a healthy lifestyle and are definite indicators that you are improving your health and wellness.
In addition to weighing in or being mindful of how you feel, there are some other ways to measure physical progress that don’t require you to put even a toe on that scale, including:
- Tracking your measurements. Waist, hips, biceps and thighs. Fat takes up more space than lean muscle. You can weigh the same and still makeover your body composition to be more fit (like the weight-lifting mama in the Huff Po article). When you lose fat and develop more muscle, your body becomes smaller, tighter, leaner. Keep track of your measurements once a month to monitor progress (or lack thereof).
- Using the “jeans test”. Or any piece of fitted clothing. You know how your clothing fits when your eating and exercise is on point. Keep yourself in check by putting on those favorite jeans or form fitting dress once a week to see how they fit. If it’s tighter than you’d prefer, you know you may have to adjust your habits.
- Take a picture. I know, sounds like torture…standing in front of your spouse, friend or significant other in your bikini and taking a “before” picture and subsequent progress pics. Trust me, though, a picture will literally show progress you cannot see (aka your booty, back, and other hard to see places). You’ll be surprised at your results and you’ll likely stay more accountable knowing you’re taking another picture in 30 or 60 days!
Finally, if you’re similar to me and like weighing in (ok, maybe like is a strong word), you want to know how to get the best, most accurate reading every time. Here are a few tips:
- Weigh yourself on the same day – i.e. Each week on Monday, or the first Friday of every month.
- Weigh in the morning. Before eating breakfast or working out (strenuous exercise causes your body to retain fluids for hydration and glycogen for energy so it can make it appear that you are heavier even after sweating it out for an hour!). Just be consistent for the most accurate readings and tracking.
- Place the scale on a flat, hard surface. No carpeting and be sure to change the batteries every once in a while if it’s digital.
- Don’t move it. And, if you do, allow the scale to re-calibrate.
- Upgrade your equipment. If you really want an accurate account of your weight and body composition, buy a scale that measures body fat as well. This is a better indicator of health than simply a number on the scale.
When it comes to your overall health and wellness, you are MORE than a number flashing at your feet. While tracking your weight will keep you accountable, it’s not the be all, end all for measuring your health. Use the scale wisely and sparingly in my humble opinion and focus on the feeling you have when you are eating well and moving more.
Have a great Wednesday!