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.