Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ditch the Scale?

I can't tell you how many articles I've seen lately encouraging me to 'ditch the scale.' Tons of them.  And they all use the word 'ditch.' Does no one have a thesaurus?? I do. And I'm going to make full use of it in this post.

Not that I'm cracking on the articles, necessarily. There are some great reasons for giving the scale the old heave-ho, both physical and psychological.

On the physical side, there are some very cogent arguments for scrapping the scale. The main, and most compelling, being muscle. If you're strength training, you're building muscle, and muscle weighs something. (While we're on the subject, I feel the need to point out that muscle does NOT weigh more than fat. Really, I hear that all the time and let's just think about that for a second.... a pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat: a pound.)

Muscle is, however, more dense than fat. See?
So a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. That's why it's possible to weigh the same, but wear smaller clothes. You may be eating well and building muscle and scale weight remains the same (or might even tick up a bit), but your body composition is changing. You have more muscle and less fat.

Dieters who do not strength train often lose muscle mass along with fat. You might congratulate yourself on a 20lb. weight loss, but when you realize some of that was muscle, the party's over. That lost muscle is also going to slow down your metabolism. Increasing muscle mass pays dividends, but many people still get discouraged when they don't see the scale number going down. If that's you, then please, shelve your scale. It's got a hold on you, but it's not giving you the whole picture.

And that brings me to the psychological side. A lot of people get really hung up on their weight, and often choose their ideal weight very arbitrarily. I've know women in their late 40's who want to weigh what they did when they were 25. Never mind the fact that they were poor graduate students living in a fifth-floor walk-up in Alphabet City with six other girls subsisting on ramen noodles. Were they healthier and stronger at 25? No. They were just thinner.

I heard of a woman wanting to weigh X because it's lighter than her sister, another wanting to weigh what she did on her wedding day, even though she was so thin from having stressed out about the wedding and hadn't eaten in three weeks. And I've been there. At one point in my life, I wanted to weigh 125lbs., simply because that sounded like a nice number to me. If I weighed 125 lbs., I'd be downright scrawny. For me, that's an absurd number not based in any kind of reality.

I know people who step on the scale, and if the number they see is 'too high' in their minds, it ruins the day. If this is you, please, deep-six your scale. (See? Aren't synonyms fun?) Your weight is so not the sum total of your worth as a person. The state of your soul is undeniably more important than the number you see on a scale, a measuring tape, a body mass index chart, etc. Sometimes you'd never know it from our culture, but it's true.

Despite all these great arguments for jettisoning your scale, I still have mine. I've arrived at a peaceful place with my scale. It lives in my closet and from time to time I'll step on it and see what it says. If it's higher than usual, I don't panic. If it's lower than usual, I don't rejoice. Whatever I see, I plug it in to the rest of the data pertaining to my physical self. Because I really just see my scale weight as information. That's all it is. It's information, just like my cholesterol numbers, my blood pressure, my height, my age, my degree of flexibility, etc. (And yes, my cholesterol, BP and other numbers are more significant than my weight!)

Some scale detractors tell you your weight is 'meaningless,' which is ridiculous. It's not meaningless--it means how heavy I am. It's certainly not the whole picture, but it's part of it. We just have to put it in it's proper place. If you can't do that right now, then sure, get rid of it. But I don't think we need to discount weight altogether.

Recently I saw a news report about a family that had quite regrettable eating habits. The wife said something I found compelling--"I don't know what I weigh. I don't ever weigh myself. I don't need a scale because I know I'm overweight." Her doctor finally cajoled her onto a scale. It turns out the number was even higher than she expected. She was not heavier because she had been hitting the weight room. She was heavier because she had been eating three times her daily caloric needs in processed convenience foods and she felt lousy. In her case, not weighing herself was the result of denial. And once she saw the scale weight, along with a host of other numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, waist circumference, etc.) she had a more complete picture of her state of health. It motivated her to make positive changes.

Are we really going to say that wasn't valuable? It's just not the only thing that's valuable. I believe in cultivating healthy habits, ones you can live with, and then see where the needle on the scale falls. The scale, the blood pressure cuff, the cholesterol numbers, the measuring tape.... they're all tools we can use. The key is to use them, not let them use us.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the scale? Enquiring bloggers want to know!


  1. The scale and I had a very rocky relationship for over a decade. Then I decided to put it away and only ever pull it out if I wanted to know the weight of something large. My decision was recently backed by my 8.5 year-old son's "fat" complex. Yes, he is heavier than his brother and he is younger. Yes, he may even be off the charts for all I know, but his doctor says he's healthy and emphasis should be on his activity and nutrition, not his weight.
    I guess I've never made peace with the scale, so I'm one of those people who is better off without it in my life.

    I have been in denial about my eating and exercise-movement habits, and it wasn`t the scale that brought the denial before my eyes. All I need to do is reflect on how I'm feeling, what I'm putting into my mouth, and how much I'm moving. I'm not denying the wake-up power that a high number on a scale can have, but, in my experience, while that wake-up lead to positive changes, it also lead to all sorts of weird behaviors to try and get that number lower (eating disorder).

    I think that a deep desire to feel good and have control over one's nutrition are more conducive to lasting changes. They have been for me.

  2. Certainly whether or not the scale weight is helpful information very individual! I actually began to make peace with the scale by using it--I found my weight fluctuated so much based on so many arbitrary factors. It definitely helped me see it isn't the most important health indicator. I'm glad you've found a better use for it for you--weighing suitcases before a plane trip!

  3. I agree. It's very personal.
    The scale never told me what I wanted to hear, and more often than not it spoiled my day.
    We use it to weigh heavy packages and suitcases, of course! (not that we travel that much). I couldn't even find the scale when my SIL needed it last Christmas! It's well hidden in the attic to keep the kids from finding it and ds worrying about his weight.

    1. You're a good, wise mother! Sounds like the scale doesn't serve you, so the attic is best place for it! I like the point you made above about the wake-up call not necessarily leading to the best behaviours. Glad your scale is properly shelved. :)