The Scale is a Liar! This has almost become a cliché’ because so many people are driven stark-raving mad by lack of weight loss or by wild fluctuations in their daily or weekly weigh-ins. But what do you do about it? Many people think the answer is throwing away the scale (read Weighing in on Weigh Ins: Why They Sometimes Don’t Work). I sympathize with the frustration, but don’t ditch your scale just yet. There’s something you should do instead.
Focus on Body Composition: Your ratio of fat to muscle is known as body composition and it’s one of the ideal ways to judge your progress. Instead of obsessing over the reading on the scale, shift your focus to body composition. The scale is not your enemy. It can be your friend if you know how to use the results as feedback data, not something to get emotional about. Obsessing over what the scale says without considering body composition is where the trouble begins, because body weight alone can deceive you.
How the Scale Lies to You, Part 1: Weight & Fat are Not the Same. The only thing the scale can do is measure your total body weight. That includes everything: fat, muscle, bone, organs, blood, water, gut contents and muscle glycogen. The scale lies doesn’t tell you how much of that weight is fat and how much is muscle. Most scale-focused dieters assume that weight loss is good and weight gain is bad. But what if the weight gain is 100% pure muscle? What if half the weight you lost was muscle (that can happen if you don’t use strategies to build and feed muscle while you’re losing weight). Muscle is the weight you want to keep. Fat is the weight you want to shed. (Interesting reads: Best Way to Lose Weight: Fat Burning Zone or High Calorie Burn? and Weight Loss Debate – Burn More Calories or Reach the Fat Burning Zone?) (photo credit)
How the Scale Lies to You, Part 2: Water. Your body weight can fluctuate 2-4 pounds a day or more from shifts in water alone. That shift could be even greater over the course of the first week on a diet, especially a reduced-carb diet. The heavier you are to start, the bigger the first week’s weight loss (including water) is likely to be. Losing water weight is easy. When I was in college, I had wrestler friends who would drop up to 15 pounds overnight to make a weight class, using natural diuretics, saunas, sweat suits and other dehydration tricks. If you’re not a weight class athlete, what good is it to lose water weight only to gain it back as quickly as you lost it? That’s how diets fool you.
How the Scale Lies to You, Part 3: Carbs + Glycogen. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle as glycogen and water is stored along with them. That’s why your weight can tick up a few pounds when you eat more carbs. Add sodium and you may gain even more. For those wanting fat loss, the sudden increase on the scale without knowing about body composition could be cause for freaking out. For those wanting muscle gain, the increase on the scale without knowing about body composition could be cause for celebration. But both the panic and the celebration were premature. The scale lied again — in both directions. The burner didn’t gain fat weight and the builder didn’t gain muscle weight. It was just glycogen and the water that came along with it.
How the Scale Lies to You, Part 4: What’s in Your Gut. Everything in your gastrointestinal tract has weight, so if you’ve eaten some “heavy” meals recently, you’ll weigh more than if you haven’t been eating much. If you don’t eat anything for a day, you could lose a lot of weight, literally overnight. But rest assured, the weight you lose is not just body fat. You can’t lose that much fat in only one day. This also explains weight loss seen with colon cleansing. Why people feel the urge to cleanse their colons (unless their gastroenterologist told them to), I’ll never understand. Yet this is one of the oldest weight loss scams in the book. The weight lost is not fat.
Body Weight Alone is Deceiving. If you’ve dieted before there may have been days you wanted to smash your scale with a sledgehammer or hurl it out the window because you worked so hard but the scale didn’t budge. However, if you weren’t tracking body composition, you may have made progress that the scale didn’t reveal. You may have lost body fat that was masked by gaining water weight or glycogen, or, if you were lucky, you may have gained muscle and lost fat at the same time. At other times, you may have rejoiced to a drop on the scale, but what really happened was not worth celebrating (you lost water weight or muscle weight).
Yes, the scale lies to you, but it’s not that tracking body weight is useless, tracking weight alone simply doesn’t give you the full picture. Keep weighing yourself, but don’t stop there. Track your body fat percentage as well. If you track your weight and your body fat, with that information put together, you see the true composition of your body.
Body Fat & How to Measure It: One easy way to measure your body fat is the skinfold caliper. A health and fitness pro can do the test for you at the gym, or you can test your own body fat at home with an inexpensive caliper such as an ACCU-MEASURE. Also known as the pinch an inch test, you grab a skinfold on the side of your waist, and the calipers measure the fat and skin thickness in millimeters. You use a conversion to chart to calculate your body fat percentage. Next, you multiply your total body weight by your body fat percentage to determine how many pounds of fat you’re carrying. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds and your body fat is 20%, then you have 30 pounds of fat ( 150 X .20%). To calculate your lean body mass, you subtract the fat weight from your total weight (150 pounds minus 30 pounds of fat equals 120 pounds of lean body mass). Now you have a clear picture of what matters the most: body composition, not just body weight.
Don’t Throw Away Your Scales! Tracking body weight by itself has value. In study after study, people who self-monitor progress by tracking their weight almost always do better than those who don’t. But combining body fat testing with weight measurements is even more valuable. One caveat: don’t obsess over body fat numbers either. Simply remember these lessons about the difference between body weight, muscle weight and fat weight. This knowledge alone will change the way you think about diet and exercise and in turn change the way you act. You’ll act smarter! You’ll start thinking about muscle!
Look at it this way: If you were solid muscle and nothing jiggled (unless it was supposed to), and you were totally thrilled with what you saw in the mirror, would you care what the scale said? Didn’t think so.
A guest post by Tom Venuto, Author of “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: Transform your Body Forever Using the Secrets of the Leanest People in the World.” Tom Venuto is a fat-loss expert, transformation coach and bestselling author of “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle.” Tom holds a degree in exercise science and has worked in the fitness industry since 1989, including fourteen years as a personal trainer. He promotes natural, healthy strategies for burning fat and building muscle, and as a lifetime steroid-free bodybuilder, he’s been there and done it himself. Tom blends the latest science with a realistic, commonsense approach to transforming your body and maintaining your perfect weight for life. For more information please visit http://www.