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I was speaking to a colleague of mine at the hospital the other day, who casually mentioned how she currently can’t step on a scale and would avoid one at all costs.

I asked her why, and she said at the beginning of last year, she weighed around 80kg. As the months went on, come Christmas time she was already 10kg heavier.

“I can’t step on it now because I don’t even want to imagine what the number will say.” It’s now been almost a year since she last stepped on the scale.

Most of us tend to have a love-hate, emotional rollercoaster – type of relationship with the scale. More commonly than not, it tends to be thought of with disdain, sort of like the “bringer of bad news”. An update when stepping on it can throw our whole mood off for the rest of the day.

Majority of us put a very high emotional attachment to the number we see on the scale. I am here to share with you instead how to bring the scale on to your side, why people who successfully maintain their weight loss over time tend to keep a scale and use it regularly- and how you can too.

The Scale Is A Messenger

The weighing scale is looked down on because it brings objective and direct information of what you may not be happy with, yet tend to avoid. It will be a reality check, and there are a lot people who live in the land of delusion about their weight – which is one measure of their health overall.

A story tells that an ostrich will stick its head in the sand when trying to hide from a predator. It thinks because it can’t see the enemy, the enemy can’t see it. Which is completely ridiculous because the ostrich is the size of, well, and ostrich.

It’s the same way we tend to see the scale – if we don’t step on it, it won’t tell us just how much weight we’ve gained. Even though we are already getting out of breath when climbing a flight of stairs, or our shirts have tightened, and the buttons on our favourite jeans don’t close so easily. In everyday reality when we don’t actively work on our health, the scale can make us face truths we don’t want, but actually need.

However this shouldn’t matter purely on a health journey. It’s true, scale weight is not the be all end all of any fat loss journey – there are so many better markers of progress: your energy levels, how you look in the mirror, your gym progress, lost inches on the waist while keeping the same scale weight (body re-composition)

Here are some facts that explain why we shouldn’t put all our eggs in the basket of the weighing scale:

  • Your scale weight fluctuates daily – taking weekly averages and the trend of each week is the most reliable way to assess – may be within 1-2 kgs a day eg if you had a high sodium meal which you don’t usually take.
  • Women experience more weight fluctuations – due to hormones that change throughout the menstrual cycle – hence don’t trust daily weights – trends are more accurate.
  • Your scale weight doesn’t tell whether its fat or muscle – you may be “overweight” but have gained muscle and lost fat (have you seen that picture comparing 5kg of muscle and 5kg of fat? You will be leaner with more muscle but may weigh more.)
  • It’s one of the least reliable ways to measure progress at the early stages of weight loss (eg if reducing carbs in the beginning such as keto, loss of glycogen and water may show up as a 4 kg loss in a week – around 3.5kg may be water, and only 0.5kg of actual fat loss)
  • It is a better tell of fat loss if your diet isn’t very fluctuant in carbohydrates and salt (which lead to water retention) – yo yo dieting, juicing, cleanses and binge episodes would increase the fluctuations more and not give good accuracy.

When To Use The Scale As Your Barometer

At the beginning of a weight loss journey, the focus should be on developing better habits including eating more protein, more vegetables, drinking more water and finding physical activity that you enjoy that you can maintain easily.

It’s not a focus to use scale weight in this stage because it’s better to create systems and create good habits rather than look at only the scale as a sign of progress. If you look only at the scale and feel good when the number goes down – keep in mind the number is always fluctuating and isn’t accurate (as explained in the points above).

However if one month your scale puts you at 75kg, and 2 months later, you are now at 87kg, this is most likely fat gain and can and should be a wake up call for you to fix up your diet.

Another scenario is if your weight trends as follows over a 12 week period:

Week 1: 65.5kg, Week 2: 66kg, Week 3: 66.9kg, Week4: 66.7kg, Week5: 66.3kg, Week 6: 67.1kg, Week 7: 67.5kg Week8: 67.8kg, Week 9: 67.9kg Week 10: 68.3kg, Week 11: 68.9kg, Week 12: 69kg.

This kind of weight gain is slow, insidious, and all too often what happens to most of us. Over a 3 month period, “only” 3.5kg was gained. However if we expand it over a year, it could mean a 10kg unchecked weight gain.

(Click here for a post about weight gain that creeps up on us and how to intervene.)

Its in cases like this I believe you should use and thank the scale instead – once you see this and notice it, you can now take action on it.

The action is commonly to reduce the weight – however there are people who find they might be underweight and keep losing weight and it could also be a signal to eat more. As you take action (reduce portions, walk more, etc) you then continue to use the scale and over the weeks you will be able to see if your numbers have reduced (if you want to lose weight) or going up (if you are underweight).

How It Is An Easy Maintenance Tool

In addition, the scale is to be used not just for now, but as a lifelong strategy to keep an “eye” on where you’re at – once you are at a weight you are happy with, as a self-check.

The biggest challenge once you have lost the weight/gained the weight as per your own goal, is that we tend to relax and settle into the ease of things. You release pressure to keep your portions in check and make time for the gym. This is why it’s important to build good habits and systems as these will become your base minimum.

How you lose it is how you’ll maintain it.

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Even with that, life happens and we might deprioritise our health. And we are back to weight creeping on us – so to avoid this long cycle of trying to play catch up, step on the scale from time to time, as if its a compass, simply to obtain the data and adjust accordingly.

It’s a simple tool to use, and does not need the negative connotations it usually gets. Remember, the scale is just a messenger – it is YOU who has to take the responsibility for your health.

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