We know scales don’t have the capacity for thought, but often we’re left standing on the things thinking ‘Why are you doing this to me? Why won’t you move?’ In all honesty, here is exactly what the scale does:
- It sits in the bathroom drawer every day.
- It blinks to life when I touch it with my toe.
- It groans in agony every Friday when I step on it. (Scales can’t groan, but it would if it could. It would probably also roll its eyes.)
- It displays a number that reflects the amount of work I’ve put into my exercise and nutrition program. (Ooops. Therein lies the problem.)
I know the struggle with the scale. I have gone from both extremes: I have checked my weight multiple times a day to ensure not an ounce of movement occurred on the scale (not healthy), and I have avoided the scale like the plague, hiding it in the darkest recesses of my bathroom cabinet for fear those digital numbers might reveal why my pants no longer fit (also not healthy).
People everywhere have strained relationships with the scale, and it likely goes all the way back to how we’ve been taught to think about losing weight, eating, and getting healthy. We know those old ways aren’t working, yet we’re still turning to the scale to tell us differently. You’ve likely heard the saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” (It’s often credited to Albert Einstein, but no matter who said it, it makes a lot of sense in this particular instance.) Those of us who have been doing the same things over and over—and then stepping on the scale hoping for positive results—are defining…well, you know the rest.
Approach the scale like it’s a shark. It’s not something you see every day, it’s probably not going to bite you, and you may learn a lot from it. Diving with sharks is fun, but you have to know what you’re doing and know what to expect from the experience. Same thing with the scale. It’s not going to tell you everything about your body composition or your performance; it’s simply one tool to help guide you on your journey.
In 8 Nutrition Myths That Need to Die, Eat to Perform mentions that one of the myths people have been taught is that scales lie, so we should just ignore them. I have willed the scale to go down many times. (Many, many times!) But the truth of the matter is, it’s not going to go down if I don’t do what I need to do in order to make that happen.
The article goes on to explain that the scale is just ONE in an array of tools for measuring progress, which include body fat analysis, tape measurements, performance testing, and simply looking at how well our clothes fit. The scale is a tool and should be used as such, but it’s also possible to avoid it because we simply don’t want to see what it says. It displays the truth in harsh black and white—in numbers that can’t be avoided. And while we may be working to build lean muscle and lower our stored fat, as Eat to Perform confirms, typically when the numbers on a scale go down, we’re looking at fat loss; and alternatively, when they go up, we’re looking at fat gain.
The scale can offer us definitive numbers to fill in the blanks about how we’re doing when it comes to nutrition and fat loss, and avoiding it altogether can leave out a piece of the puzzle we may need to see. To quote the Eat to Perform article, “The simple fact is that you don’t want to check the scale because you can’t handle the truth.”
Let’s look at it another way. While there are a number of ways to measure performance and progress in body composition, if you use the scale wisely and understand what you’re learning from it, it’s a great tool that can help you measure progress. Building and preserving lean muscle is the goal, and if you keep the difference between weight loss and fat loss at the front of your mind, the scale can help to give a balanced picture of what’s going on.