We can all agree that there are many different relationship styles: The toxic relationship that is completely smothering and manic. The healthy kind of union that is positive and calm. And finally, the avoidance style, in which you simply refuse to engage in a relationship whatsoever, usually out of fear of being hurt.
Full disclosure, I’m not talking about romance. Rather, I’m referring to the different relationships we have with the scale. Yes, many of us have experienced many different evolutions when it comes to how we feel about weighing ourselves. At some points we may be obsessively scale-driven and at other points we couldn’t be less interested.
As a personal trainer and health professional, clients often ask me how much they should actually be stepping on the scale in order to achieve weight loss. The truth is, there are many different schools of thought on this. But before we get to my personal take on it, let’s look at the recent research. This summer, Cornell University released a study that indicated that the most effective way to lose weight is to weigh yourself every day. In the study, the group who stepped on the scale daily lost more weight and were able to keep it off for a year, and those who avoided stepping on the scale for over a week usually gained weight. So, there is strong scientific support for making weigh-ins a part of your daily routine.
Of course, I can’t deny the benefits of regularly tracking progress. When my clients engage in a new fitness or nutrition plan, it’s clear that one of the most motivating parts of their new lifestyle routine is seeing positive results. It is extremely important to continually track these changes not just to keep them focused but also so I can assess whether what we’re doing is actually working for them.
Knowing all this, it might come as a surprise that I strongly discourage my clients (and friends and family) from stepping on the scale daily. From my experience, in my own life, as well as in my work as a fitness coach, it can wreak havoc on our emotions.
Back when I was a competitive boxer, due to weight-class requirements (you can only fight someone who is within 10 pounds of you), much of my focus was on numbers. Rain or shine, I would weigh myself every single day, sometimes multiple times a day on multiple scales. I became obsessed. If my weight was up in the morning, my whole day would be ruined and I would spend the next 24 hours beating myself up over it. (No pun intended.)
It’s not just me, or you. Other women I speak to share a similarly negative experience with the scale. One friend who is in the nutrition business admitted that she still weighs herself every day, sometimes twice a day, and wishes she didn’t. She describes it as a form of torture while another colleague used the words “mind warp.” Others admit that they used to engage in obsessive scale behaviour but noticed it was becoming unhealthy so they stopped. Almost all the women I polled agreed that nothing good comes from having 24-hour access to a scale.
But it’s not just these awful emotional effects that cause me to question the benefits of regular weigh-ins. Stepping on the scale does not give an accurate picture of health and wellness. Firstly, weight fluctuates, a lot—especially for women. One day you’re down four pounds, the next day you’re up two. WTF?! Good news: much of the time these changes have nothing to do with gaining mass. A few extra cocktails, a little extra table salt, lack of sleep, that time of the month—so many factors can play into the number on the scale and these daily changes are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Secondly, for those who engage in regular strength training sessions as part of their wellness plan, it is not uncommon for your weight to stay the same due to building muscle. Just because the number on the scale isn’t budging doesn’t mean that the fat isn’t melting off, that the waist isn’t getting smaller and that the fitness and wellness goals aren’t being met.
For all these reasons, I track my clients progress using body measurements, which gives a better indication of how much fat they’re losing. This is a much more accurate and much less emotionally draining tracking system. I will weigh them once a month for my own records but refuse to let them see the number. I want them to focus on feeling positive and proud of themselves.
As for me, I no longer own a scale. I gauge my fitness developments on how I feel and how my clothes fit. When my favourite jeans are a little tight, I know I’m slightly off track (that is, if I bought the right size in the first place!). I pull up my socks, wear stretchy pants for a few days, make a few tweaks to my eating regimen (read less wine, more water), and then try them on a few days later. When they slip on with ease, I know I’m back where I want to be.