The only time I have a good relationship with the scale is when I don’t get on it…or when it’s broken…or “lost.” (I’ve gone so far as to have my husband hide it from me.) Inevitably, I find that stupid scale again and the dance begins, especially when I know that I’ll be going to the doctor in the near future. Why can’t doctor’s offices measure us another way, perhaps assessing our desire instead?
The assessment could go something like this. You say: I really want to have a certain number on the scale.
The scale readout says: That’s the correct answer. It’s yours! You are now the proud owner of ‘X’ pounds!
I digress a bit. Seriously, how do we deal with this? We can’t stop going to the doctor.
I suppose we could choose not to look at the number on the scale. I found myself in an Urgent Care Clinic on my 40th birthday and I told the nurse, “Hey, it’s my 40th birthday, so I really don’t want to know what the number is. I’m not about to let it ruin my Fabulous-at-40-Vibe.” While that tactic was just fine in the moment, making a regular habit of not looking at the number still gave the scale some degree of power over me.
It’s time to put the scale in its place, which requires a deliberate mental shift.
Here’s the thing: the number on the scale is merely a data point, amidst many other data points that comprise a picture of our health. We tend to put way too much emphasis on this ONE point, and we lose sight of the bigger picture, sometimes at the expense of other more important numbers. Other data that make up our health pictures include: waist circumference, body composition, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar A1C, inflammatory markers, strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and just plain HOW WE FEEL. Truly, these data points give us far more information than the number on a scale. In my own life, there have been times when I was “overweight” or at my “ideal weight” and was quite unhealthy in both scenarios. Obsessing about a number is flat-out dangerous.
The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) studies people who have lost 30+ pounds and have kept it off for more than a year. They have found that participants who weigh themselves daily are the most successful at keeping the weight off. I’ve been a participant in NWCR’s database for many years; I lost 55 pounds more than a decade ago. Did weighing daily help me keep the weight off? Sure. But it came with a hefty price: a very unhealthy relationship with the scale, food, and exercise. Very unhealthy. Yes I weighed every day, not at the suggestion of NWCR (they make no recommendations to their participants), but due to my own desperate need for control and an obsession to reach some arbitrary “ideal” weight. That number on the scale dictated my mood for the day, my sense of security and control, and my self-worth. It even affected my personal relationships, AND my health took a nose dive. That is a stiff price to pay just to be a certain weight or size! I came out of the experience just plain angry that a small piece of equipment had such power over me.
Let me illustrate something that I hope will forever change your relationship with the scale. Below are two pictures of me at different times in my life, but the number on the scale was nearly the same. In the first one, I’m holding one of my nephews who is now 17 years old. I weighed 145 pounds and was a size 12. The second picture is me today, at 142 pounds, and a size 4-6.
This difference is explained by body composition. Muscle weighs more than fat, but takes up less space. (I’m a big fan of lifting heavy things, but I’ll save that for another post.) Muscle mass also makes the traditional BMI (Body Mass Index) irrelevant, because BMI does not account for lean mass. It only accounts for total weight. Therefore, I can’t put much stock in the recommended weight range for my height. The number on the scale tells us very little about what’s going on in our bodies!
So, the next time you step on that blasted scale (because let’s face it, you probably still will, but hopefully with a deliberate mental shift), remember this: it’s just a number that tells you almost nothing, one tiny piece among many bigger pieces of the puzzle. At the end of your life, there is no medal for achieving or maintaining a certain weight. Consider spending more time and effort on the other data points mentioned earlier. You will be in a much healthier place, and able to live life to its fullest.
Why should such an insignificant number have so much power over us?
Let’s put the scale where it belongs.