Understanding The Scale
Ahhh the scale. There is so much that I love and hate about this anxiety inducing piece of equipment. It helps keep us accountable. It allows us to check in often to see how we are, or are not progressing in our fitness journey. Traditionally, the scale has told us either "Hooray you're losing weight! You're winning!" or "Shit girl, it's time to pack up the gummy bears and BBQ nights and sign up for another round of dieting hell." I can't even believe that a piece of machinery has the power to make us feel either so blissful or so tortured in a fraction of a second when that number blinks back up at us telling us our entire life's worth.
Are you seeing where I'm going with this yet?
The scale is data. We love it because we trust and rely on it to tell us the absolute, unbiased, hard and fast truth that our friends and family are just too loving to tell us. We expect it to tell us how we fit into society's version of "healthy" and to assert whether what we have been doing for 2,4 or 8 weeks is actually worth our time. Y'know, whether we are "winning" the fat loss/body image game. Now, you may or may not know this about me but I am a major advocate for wearing your body however you damn well please. Skinny, fat, voluptuous, muscular, tattooed, pierced, tanned, pearly white, enhanced in ten different places, whatever - it all flies just fine with me and that's the honest truth. But regardless of what you choose, there is an inherent problem with using the scale as a way to measure your body composition and I'm gonna make it super easy for you to understand.
Let's say I use my little kitchen scale to measure how many grams an orange weighs. Let's assume it weighs 160 grams. Then, I decide to measure how many grams the apple sitting in the bowl beside it weighs. Low and behold, they weigh the exact same - 160 grams. Does this mean that my apple and orange have the same interior makeup? Could this possibly be the root of the saying "you can't compare apples and oranges"? Because here's the thing - if you open up that apple and that orange, within seconds you are going to realize that one of these fruits (both are fruit, so they must be the same, right?) yes, one of these will probably have more seeds inside. And even those seeds will be different in size and weight. And one of these fruits is going to have a thicker skin. One will have more pulp. Another difference will be in the amount of water they hold in their flesh as well as the actual amount of flesh under their skin. So while they are both fruit, they really are very different in composition. Well guess what folks, the same thing applies with humans! You and your friend may weigh the same but have a variety of differences within you that could still add up to the same total weight. Some things to consider:
1) Bone density
2) Water content in your cells
3) Lean muscle mass
4) Organ tissue
5) Visceral fat
6) Subcutaneous fat
7) Unicorn blood
Okay no, no, I'm the only person on the planet with unicorn blood so that doesn't really count.
But seriously - let's assume you have a 160 pound pal who eats only veggies, grains, avocado, cheese, etc... and spends her time training at spin class and on the treadmill. You (also 160 pounds, for argument's sake), eat lots of lean protein, lift heavy weights and do HIIT cardio. Needless to say, you guys are gonna probably be pretty different when you break things down on the inside. Your insides will likely have a higher muscle vs. fat ratio, simply because you are training and eating specifically to build more lean tissue. Your bone density may be higher from weight training, your muscle mass will likely be higher from a higher protein diet and your body may be storing more glycogen in the added muscle tissue and therefore hanging onto more water. Your friend may look lean enough, but she is probably carrying less muscle and therefore possibly less body water, meaning she is carrying more fat in relation to muscle. She likely has less muscle tone because quite simply, she has less muscle mass under her surface layers of skin and fat. So you can see that this is where the "scale weight" argument quickly falls apart.
What I'm saying here is, your body composition really needs to be measured by more than just the scale. The changes you see in the mirror and in how your clothes fit day-to-day are truly the best indicators of progress. A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat (hello... they're both one pound!) but that fluffy pound of fat takes up a lot more space than a densely packed pound of muscle does.
If you are eating and training to support the creation of lean muscle tissue and keeping your overall calories in check, you are going to see your body composition change the way you want it to, gradually over time. You will look and feel leaner, regardless of what the scale says. You will be changing and improving your RATIO of lean mass vs. fat which is where you will get more "toned and defined", as they say. Above and beyond that, you will feel other awesome things like being stronger, having more energy, sleeping better, reducing stress and the ability to eat more calories, because your muscle bound body will have a higher daily energy cost to sustain your daily activities like breathing, fidgeting, walking and just throwin' down a dance party every once in a while at the office. And if you keep lifting weights and moving often with calories in check, over time you will continue to lean out because ya' know, if we drill it right down, more lifting = more muscle = more fat burning.
Don't get caught up in the scale weight, even if your goal is a significant amount of fat loss. If you've been sticking to your program for weeks and your weight isn't budging, BE PATIENT. It takes time for your body to do these amazing things:
- grow new fat burning, lean muscle tissue
- flush out inflammation and drop any extra bloat
- mobilize fat stores and flush them out of the body
- adapt and "catch up" to what is going on in your cell metabolism
Stop allowing the number on the scale to define you, your success, or your happiness. YES, the scale can be a great tool if used correctly over time in conjunction with progress pics, measurements and weekly average data trends. But if it only serves to make you anxious and miserable, throw the f*cking thing in the closet and start focusing on what really counts: consistency in the gym, consistency in the kitchen, and consistency with sleep. Make time for more self love and ways to de-stress. Your body is different from every other human on the planet from the inside out, so let it change on it's own schedule and resist the temptation to place your worth into the number it blinks back at you. The body is a complicated machine that takes time and patience to change, so in the meantime, keep being the kick-ass human you are, and let your light shine regardless of what size, shape or number on the scale you represent. Not a single person will give two shits if your weight increases 5 pounds overnight, and if they do, they're not worth your time. But you already knew that... it's you who needs convincing.
Now go be your awesome AF self.