Scales, What are they Good For?

Let’s discuss scales and why they may not be the best way to track your health.

Scales have traditionally been used to help monitor your progress concerning your “health.” The problem is when we rely on scales to indicate health progression, and we leave out so many other factors and focus on a number that doesn’t give us a well-rounded sense of how our health is progressing or regressing.

Before we dive into everything a scale isn’t telling us, let’s first talk about the information it provides. When using a body weight scale, the only information provided to us is weight. This number doesn’t factor in influences like hydration, time of day, amount of food consumed, or type of activity within the past 2 to 3 days. For individuals with uteruses, it also doesn’t factor in where you’re at in your cycle.

An excellent example of how the scale can provide us with an inaccurate read on progress, especially in reference to physical activity, is two days after a challenging workout. Two days after a tough workout, your body works hard to repair muscles and prepare for your next training session. While this is happening, you are likely to lose definition of said muscles, and the scale may increase simply due to inflammation. This can leave many feeling like they aren’t making gains through their training, and the scale can further solidify this feeling of defeat. 

My personal favourite scale misdirect is the menstrual cycle. Depending on where an individual is in their menstrual cycle, they will weigh more or less. The closer you are to your period or actual menstruation, you will likely carry 2-10 additional pounds. Is this real fat gain? No, it is likely water retention; however, if we only use a scale to indicate health and weight fluctuation, we are left feeling like we messed something up.

If a scale is so unreliable, what other tracking or measurement tools can we use to give us a more accurate depiction of our health and wellness progression? 

Use these instead of a scale:

  1. Measurements. As an anti-diet culture nutritionist, measuring and chronic weigh-ins are not my favourite measurements; however, measuring with a measuring tape will provide a more accurate representation of whether or not you are losing inches and building tone through your body. This tool will be more helpful in noting if all those big booty workouts are growing your booty. 
  2. Measure actual progress. What I mean by real progress is identifying things that signify health, habit or lifestyle shifts to you and tracking how they are shifting. Want to walk more? Start recording when you go on walks, how long they are and how you feel during/after them. Want to lift heavier weights at the gym? Track the weight, reps and frequency of your lifting. Want to sleep more? Track when you go to sleep, wake up and how restful you’re feeling. Tracking actual progress and changes to your habits will provide you with a better understanding of how your patterns are shifting.
  3. Visceral fat. We’re all so concerned about bodily fat. However, the stuff we should all be more concerned about is visceral fat. This fat gets in and around our organs, and it isn’t dictated by caloric intake but by inflammation, stress and lack of sleep. Someone’s weight can’t quantify the visceral fat they carry. 
  4. Hydration levels. Hydration is a significant predictor of health. If you are chronically dehydrated, your body is being asked to work double time to perform regular daily tasks. You can experience small things like dry lips, skin and eyes to more significant things like creaky joints, sore back and fatigue. 
  5. Actual body fat percentage. Unlike weight or BMI, a body fat percentage considers the individual, which factors in hydration, lean muscle, bone, organ, and fat mass. It provides you with a more accurate representation of overall health. It is essential to note that body fat percentage and what one body carries healthfully differ across all spectrums. Therefore, body fat percentages are ranges and should still be viewed about other health matrices such as activity, rest, and stress.

Hopefully, at this point, you are starting to see various health factors, points and tracking perspectives. Weight is one of the least significant factors in overall health and well-being. If you use it as an indicator, I strongly recommend you pair it up with a couple of the more valuable points listed above.

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