There’s a little device in every home that has the potential to seriously get you down. When it comes to measuring your progress, it’s not the best tool you can use. We’ve all been guilty of paying a little too much attention to the little number on the scale, believing that if only we hit a certain weight we would suddenly find happiness.
Unfortunately, scales and aiming for numbers can create ‘all or nothing’ mentalities where training enjoyment hangs off an arbitrary figure that may not be the best place for us. People can certainly rely too heavily on the scale number, especially if that number then dictates how that person feels or acts.
I’ve been working out for weeks but nothing’s changed on the scale – what’s going wrong?
The main reason why the scale isn’t the best tool to measure your progress is the simple fact that it can’t differentiate between what is muscle, what is fat, what is water or anything else – all it does is measure the relationship your body mass has with gravity.
So when people start hitting the gym for a few weeks, and then step on the scale to discover the number hasn’t changed at all, they can be disappointed – but there’s a whole bunch of reasons why that happens.
Sometimes body composition can change without any change on the scale, for example, someone who starts gaining additional muscle, loses some body fat and starts improving hydration could see very minimal change in kilograms.
For example, I have client who has been with me for 8 weeks but has lost only 1kg, but they have lost 13 inches from their body. This is a huge success.
If you’ve put on a bit of muscle and lost a bit of fat, it’s very possible that you’ll be even heavier than when you started – despite looking and feeling better. One kilo of fat is roughly four times larger than one kilo of muscle, meaning you could very well be smaller and heavier.
But that’s not all, because your new-found exercise plan has probably also got your appetite firing.
Sometimes starting exercise can make you hungry, it is easy to replace energy burned at the gym with an extra snack or two. In some people more than others, the body can resist weight change and a drive-in energy expenditure results in a drive-in appetite, which is a normal physiological response.
Your body weight can fluctuate wildly every day
The reasons why your body might be heavier or lighter over the course of a day are incredibly varied and complex. Between the morning and the afternoon your weight can fluctuate up to six kilos depending on what you eat, what you drink and how you exercise.
Just think about how much water you drink on average – let’s say, for example, you drink two litres. That’s exactly two kilos’ worth, but how much do you pee, sweat and breathe over the day? It’s impossible to measure.
Our bodies are mainly water so change in hydration can cause significant weight fluctuations that have nothing to do with weight. A fibrous or salty meal, full bowel, hormonal changes can all influence weight and cause greater daily fluctuations that normal fat loss would show over a week so real change can easily be hidden.
Focus on behaviours, not numbers
The best way to measure if your diet and exercise plan is truly “working” is to focus on how you feel, and how you’ve adopted healthy habits. The more natural they feel, the better your progress. Behavioural outcomes are always a better option than relying on the scale.
For instance, people should be asking themselves what they can do to be healthier, like going to the gym three times a week, walking 10,000 steps a day or cutting back on alcohol intake. By analysing your behaviours, and asking yourself if you’re actually enjoying these healthy activities and how they make you feel, you’ll begin to focus on yourself – not what you think society wants you to look like (or weigh).
How your own body will respond to exercise and change in nutrition is not the same as another person despite similar actions so expecting the same results can create unnecessary dissatisfaction.
Furthermore, body composition ideals in society, Instagram doesn’t help this at all, are not necessarily the healthiest and often create unrealistic expectations, over restriction and negative self-image. Go by what you see in the mirror and ignore those scales.
If you are aiming for consistency in exercise sessions and achieve it, you are a winner no matter what the scales say. For the rest of us, your focus should be on eating well and training hard, and not letting any old mechanical device decide on how happy you should be.
For the average Joe at the gym, throw away the scales and train hard because it’s fun and good for you! Any questions at all please don’t hesitate to contact @shanewalshfitness on Instagram or email Shanewalshfitness@gmail.com.