“I’m a big fat disgusting pig” declared one of my clients. It’s not the first time she has said it either. She seems to overlook how she has raised wonderful children, is a successful business woman, maintains a happy healthy marriage, always looks immaculate, plus, on top of all that is a genuinely lovely person to be around. Her view of herself was generated and maintained by one simple thing… What the scales say when she stands on them.
The bathroom scales are a funny thing and have a lot to answer for. I have been a Personal Fitness Trainer for around 20 years and I struggle to remember meeting someone who didn’t, on some level, define themselves by how much they weigh.
Weight vs Composition
Another lady I train lost 5% body fat in 8 months. She worked so hard on both her diet and training for an event she was attending… She looked and felt amazing. I was so proud of her. We had focused on developing muscle and cutting body fat, so her weight dropped a little, but not much, despite losing all that body fat and completely transforming her shape. I asked her how she felt about the outcome of all her hard work and she replied “I feel good, however, I would feel better if the scales said I was lighter”.
While it’s great to congratulate yourself for good achievements and normal to be disappointed by not achieving what you set out to do, it’s important to focus on being healthy and fit, and to set yourself other targets besides a reduction in weight when you stand on the scales.
I have had clients pat themselves on the back for a half stone (7lb) weight loss, just to discover they have been starving themselves to reach that outcome. This kind of action results in muscle and water loss, and is incredibly unhealthy. Likewise, I have had other people I work with feel glum and disappointed because the scales haven’t shifted as much as they would have liked despite gaining lean muscle and becoming both slimmer and fitter.
Yes, it’s important to measure your success from your training and healthy eating regime so we can see the results we are achieving… Or change the course of our actions if we consequently are not achieving what it is we want. I do, however, have a huge problem with this ‘weigh in’ culture for three main reasons:
1. Gaining Weight Can Be a Good Thing
If you often feel flabby, unfit, weak or suffer from parts of you wobbling you may feel shouldn’t wobble… You probably have a poor body composition. This means you could have a high body fat to low muscle ratio. It would explain the wobbly bits (ex-Mr Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was famously quoted saying “If it wobbles, it’s fat”) and so the low muscle ratio would leave you feeling weak, un-toned and your muscles feeling ‘soft’.
Turning that around means working out and eating a healthy, low sugar, high protein diet. This will cause your body to burn fat and slim down plus develop muscle tone which, in turn, will make your muscles firmer and harder.
The thing to remember here is muscle weighs more than fat… So, if you base all your success on the scales telling you that you’re losing weight, this may make you feel like you have failed despite feeling fitter, leaner and more toned.
2. Don’t be Defined by What You Weigh: You May Have Fat, But You Are Not Fat!
I heard a saying once which sticks with me “You have fat, but you are not fat. You also have fingernails, but you are not a fingernail”. So, let’s say you haven’t been pumping iron, doing your cardio and eating clean and your body fat has indeed crept up a bit. Does it change who you are? Does it make you less kind, less caring, less loving? Does it make you less competent at your job or a worse person? Does it mean your skills and abilities become compromised? No, of course not.
In this context, we judge ourselves by one measure and base our entire success or failures on one simple thing; What the scales say. Surely, wouldn’t it be better and healthier to focus on the other things we are achieving, such as; How much better you are feeling, a new Personal Best, the extra session you managed to get in this week or simply the fact you are physically sticking to your exercise plan and enjoying it…?
Surely, this mind-set would make getting fitter and healthier a much more positive and fulfilling experience and less of a reactive, arduous chore.
3. Weighing is an Inaccurate Measure
Weighing yourself is probably one of the most inaccurate measures when it comes to recording and measuring your success from exercise. This is because around 70% of you is water. If you dehydrate, your weight goes down. Hydrate again and your weight goes up. I have lost around 6lbs in a single afternoons training session before from water loss, simply to put it straight back on again as soon as I re-hydrate.
Ladies weight will go up and down at certain times of the month for no other reason than increased water retention for the few days of their monthly cycle. Hydration is also one of the main reasons you will weigh different amounts depending on the time of day you weigh yourself. In short, weighing yourself is inaccurate and it’s frustrating… Maybe best just not to focus too heavily on it.
So, What Should I do Instead?
What won’t lie to you is the tape measure. Measure your waist, thighs, chest, back and arms. Over time, if you want to ‘slim down’, you will see inch loss. If you want to build up, you should see your arms, chest, back and legs getting bigger but your waist should still be slimming down. You could also use clothes – That pair of jeans you have given up on trying to get into could once again have a new lease of life.
The second measure is to use Body Fat Scales. Instead of simply relying on what you weigh, these clever scales also tell you how much fat you are holding in terms of a percentage and some will tell you your water weight percentage too. This is a much more efficient way of revealing how lean you are, or, indeed, are not. You can pick up a decent set of Body Fat Scales at a reputable online retailer like Amazon.com, for example.
We live in a culture where skinny is celebrated and to be of a ‘normal’ build is to be considered ‘fat and unattractive’. Magazines are sold up selling images of celebrities looking in their words ‘perfect’ or, in their words, ‘less than perfect’ which leaves the rest of us ‘normal folk’ feeling even more hopeless.
Please remember life is short and, therefore, should be enjoyed. Work your body hard and feel better for it. Enjoy every mouthful of your food and savour the indulgence of occasional little treats, guilt free. Stay focused and train for athleticism rather than weight loss. You will be much more motivated and successful by achieving fitness milestones than reactively staring at the scales hoping for a change.