Should You Throw Out Your Scale?

June 2, 2012 in Categories: , by

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It is all the rage in paleo circles:  throw out your scale, stop looking at the numbers.  The idea is that we should be gauging how we’re doing based on performance at the gym, how we look and feel, and how our clothes fit.  I like that idea in principle, but in practice it just doesn’t work for me.

I have lost 120 pounds, but not all at once.  There were lots of plateaus and little ups and downs. There were even some big ups as my habits slid before I could get control again.  A scale keeps me accountable and I notice a small change on the scale long before I notice that my pants are getting tight.  When stress or fatigue results in my eating habits slipping (for me that means more snacking, snacking late at night, finding excuses for dessert or that spoonful of coconut butter after lunch, and generally just eating way more carbs and fats than I should), the sudden 3 pound weight gain will often shock me into noticing and admitting that I’m slipping.  And it is much easier for me to reign in my habits after slipping for a week and gaining 3 pounds versus slipping for 3 weeks and gaining 9 pounds, which is about when I would typically notice the tight jeans and the more difficult chaturanga (that’s a yoga pose, basically a slow tricep pushup).  I am not ready to throw away my scale.  And I doubt that I ever will be. 

I do look at the number on the scale with a grain of salt.  I weight myself every day, sometimes more than once, and have come to have a fairly good understanding of the normal fluctuations of my weight.  My exact weight depends on my hydration level, time of the month, time of the day, and of course, whether or not I’m wearing any clothes when I weigh myself.  The difference between the highest and lowest is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-5 pounds.  I have a pretty good gauge of when to expect the scale to read a bit higher and when to expect it to read a bit lower within that range.  Between knowing the heaviest and lightest I normally am, and by being able to somewhat predict where in that range I should be given other circumstances (like whether I’m weighing myself before breakfast or after), I can quickly pick up on whether or not there is a problem.  I’m not obsessed with the scale by any means.  For me, it’s part of the constant vigilance that I need at this time in my life.  My body is still metabolically deranged and my hold on this weight is still tenuous.  This will eventually change.  Eventually it will be much easier for me to maintain my weight loss and I won’t need this heightened state of awareness.  But for now, my scale is a tool that I use to keep me on the straight and narrow.

But I don’t think that weight should be the only metric of success in weight loss or health in general.  In fact, weight by itself is an extremely myopic way to evaluate health.  All those other tools for gauging success are essential to form a complete picture.  I have a scale that also measures body composition and I find this to be extremely useful.  While those numbers also fluctuate, it means more to me to see a drop in my body fat percentage than it means to see a drop in my actual weight.  As I evaluate my health long term, body composition becomes far more important to me than what weight I eventually manage to achieve.  There are some other questions that I ask myself that can let me know if I need to make a change in my diet or lifestyle even if the numbers on the scale are favorable.  Weight loss is not the only goal after all.  It is actually far more important to me to be healthy and fit, to regulate my hormones, and to prevent disease.  These are the questions I ask myself:

  • Do I lots of energy? 
  • Do I experience a dip in my energy in the afternoon? 
  • Am I enjoying exercise?
  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • Is my sleep quality good?
  • Do I have food cravings?
  • Do I crave coffee? Or sugar?
  • How do I handle stressful situations?
  • What is my default mood?
  • Do I have fun?
  • How do I feel?  And look?

So, when you read a book or blog post encouraging you to throw away your scale, take that recommendation with some skepticism.  There are studies that show that one of the key behaviors of people who successfully lose weight and maintain their weight loss is weighing themselves frequently.  Think about whether or not it’s a good tool for you.  I know it’s a very important one for me.

 

Comments

I agree that the scale keeps me accountable. I got into the habit of weighing in weekly, same time, same amount of clothes (or lack thereof). I did this while on Weight Watchers a couple of years ago. Now that I’ve been paleo for 6 months or so, I’m finding it much easier to maintain my weight – and now that I’m down to where I want to be, I can more easily tell if I’m up or down. I step on the scale every 2 or 3 weeks now.

You might consider trying a scale-detox for a few weeks (or at least a few days)… you already understand your typical daily fluctuations. It’s as mentally freeing as taking off your watch :)

This is a great post, and you’re not the only one who feels that way. I too notice the scale numbers way before I notice my clothes. And yes, it is only one metric (for me, the others are stomach aches and clicking knees!), but it’s a helpful one. I feel like I can keep vigilant about my weight and stay on top of my health better by stepping on that scale every day. It’s not obsession: it’s just a little check in with myself, no different that looking in the mirror to see if my ponytail is smooth, or logging into my bank’s website to make sure I have enough money to cover the mortgage!

Thank you thank you. I feel the same way and am tired of being told that I’m too obsessed with the number. I’m not but it helps keep me accountable. What kind of scale do you have and would you recommend it? Mine is an old cheapie and I like the sound of yours.

There’s a link in the 4th paragraph of the post above to my exact scale (well, mine is black but other than that it’s identical). I definitely recommend it.

I would love to hear more about your journey to lose 120 pounds. I am currently your “before” and, while I love to hear about what you do that helps you maintain your loss, I would also love to read more about the transformation itself.

Thank you for all of the excellent information you provide. You are a great source of both information and inspiration!

I love this post…I have struggled with this. My scale is a very important tool for me, not only in helping me maintain my weight but it also helps me identify when I am eating the wrong foods for my body, I am very sensitive to inflammation and my scale will tell me immediately if I am eating something that doesn’t agree with my system…I don’t believe I am a slave to the scale, I simply use it as tool just as I would use my blood glucose monitor or blood pressure cuff. I actually tried the “get rid of the scale” method for about 6 months and gained 10 pounds…I am one of those that needs to keep a tighter reign on things.

Thanks for suggesting the Ozeri scale. I have always been skinny-fat, but committed the last year to daily yoga, and have been Paleo for 3 months. I feel better than I ever have, after years of wrecking my knees and back through running. But the scale kept creeping up the last three months, not down — and even though I know muscle weighs more than fat, it can still feel alarming. Now I feel like I have a better handle on what the numbers mean.

(And thank you for all the fantastic recipes! Your post on yeast was incredibly helpful and I think your yeast end Paleo bread is the only good bread recipe out there!)

Sarah,

I just discovered your blog and really love it. I was an early adopter of Paleo, ditched it, and am now coming back to it (with my own modifications for the present, such as dairy kefir).

Regarding the scale, for me, it is indispensable. Weight isn’t just a number on a scale – it’s what you weigh!! I look way different (sorry for the pun) at 137 than I did at 156. It’s not the end-all and the be-all, but it is a necessary starting point. I think you scientists call it, ‘necessary but not sufficient.’ Ignoring the number on the scale is delusion.

I totally agree with this entry! I have been Paleo with minimal dairy for almost 3 years and the only way I lost weight was tracking my food intake and weighing myself. I have read some things saying ‘throw out the scale’.. NONSENSE! it is a necessary tool to stay accountable! Yes do not obsess over it but use it as one of your tools if you seek to lose and maintain a certain weight.
I find if i disregard it when I finally do get back on it i have gained! So yes I agree, use it to stay on track. i love paleo btw…

Gayle, Exactly, “a necessary tool to stay accountable.” People can really fool themselves even with things like clothing, etc. Seeing that glowing number on the scale teaches me things that buttoning up a shirt does not. You can get obsessed with anything but that’s not the fault of the object, it is what is going on between your ears.

I still have my scale, but it still messes with my mental game if the numbers aren’t what I think they should be. I did a 30 day challenge back in October and refused to weigh in for almost 6 weeks. =D I couldn’t bring myself to do it. When I did, I had a weight loss, not as much as I’d hoped, but I didn’t let it sway me. I talked myself through it. (Normally, the ‘old me’ would have been overwhelmed and found a bag of chips to help.) So, I have made progress!! Yay! I love the way I feel and keep that in the forefront of my brain! SO, I will keep my scales for now as I do weigh in about once a week, and so far, I’m good. For me, right now, how I feel carries much more weight than the number on my scales. Thank you for all of your articles. You are helping me on this journey more than you will ever know.

I agree. I’ve lost 83 and still heading down. I know on Friday I weigh hand the loss hits myfitnesspal. Yes I track too! I know that is highly un Paleo of me but it keeps me aware of what I’m eating, and what works and what doesn’t (cracking out on nuts!). I had a lumbar fusion 5 weeks ago and feel so good staying Paleo. I tried to eat a piece of bread, yuck! Protein promotes healing so I am doing great on Paleo.

I really enjoy weighing myself and do so every morning…it is fun to see the scale drop because I burn calories in my sleep. :-) I don’t count calories, I don’t pay attention to portion sizes…I am just learning about Paleo—so the only thing I do is try to include a healthy omega-3 oil/fat at every meal or snack, non-starchy colorful veggies and an organic protein…and the weight keeps falling off and the energy is up.

If I didn’t have to work, I would sleep better though. Still working on sleeping more…

Thanks I needed that I stopped for a while and gained and gained.These past few weeks I have seen the weight come off but I just got my sleep apnia device 2 weeks ago so my body has been in stress for years .still taking 6 meds, but will soon be off if this turns me around.I thank the good Lord for your faithfulness and the great love you show to all of us.Thank you God bless happy Easter.

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