There are many subjects in health and fitness that undoubtedly have “strong” opinions one way or the other. Most are based on popular thought or shoddy science or carry the “this is the way it has always been done’ label. But one particular subject haunts millions of people every day and as much as they would prefer to avoid it, they simply can’t. After all, it’s one of the first things your doctor orders when you go for a visit. Our society’s obsession with weight has become unhealthy on many fronts but it’s important to understand that weight is really just a number, not an absolute measure of success or failure.
The Weight of Things
Are scales bad? No. They are merely a tool to measure what they’re supposed to measure and that is weight. In the case of the doctor’s scale or your bathroom scale, it measures your total bodyweight. But what exactly does that number mean and is it fair to use that number as an assessment of your health? The answer is unquestionably no yet people will live and die by that number. Without getting into the complex science of weight, mass, and volume, our weight is simply a measure of the amount of gravity it takes to keep you firmly planted on the ground here on Earth. For fun, if you’d like to see what that number is on other planets in our solar system, you can do so by clicking this link and see the wide disparity you’ll come up with. Interesting I’m sure which leads me to tell you about why the scale is such a poor representation of your health.
Would you measure the success of your investment portfolio on daily fluctuations? I doubt it. Your bodyweight can fluctuate as much as 3 to 7 pounds in a 48 hour period for numerous reasons. A single measurement is never an indicator of success or failure. Here are some of those possible causes:
- Water Retention: Your body will naturally retain fluid if you consume a meal higher in sodium than your usual diet. This can cause the scale to read a few pounds higher the following day.
- Hormonal Changes: Particularly for women, bloating and fluid retention during menstruation can add a few pounds on the scale. Also, an increase in estrogen during this time of the month can increase levels of aldosterone, which can cause the kidneys to retain fluid, promoting weight gain.
- Dehydration: Almost sounds counterintuitive but dehydration can cause the body to protect itself by retaining water. Several hormones exert profound control over fluid regulation. If you’re dehydrated, your body works harder to retain water, leading to weight gain.
- Glycogen Storage: Glycogen is how the body stores carbohydrates for energy and just as the name suggests, where there is “carbon” there is water (hydration). Glycogen has water bound to it, so healthy hydrated cells, can show up on the scale. After a hard strength workout, muscles also store glycogen to re-build, which is why the scale may actually shoot up after exercise.
- Constipation: It may be uncomfortable to discuss, but if you’re having a difficult time in the bathroom due to changes in exercise or diet—or lack of fiber or fluids—it only makes sense that you might see a higher number on the scale.
- Diets: After just 24 hours on a restricted diet, you can decrease your metabolic rate by 15 to 30 percent! When you go on a restricted diet, your body goes into starvation mode, slowing down your metabolism. This can actually cause you to store extra calories, causing you to hold more weight.
If you are still so inclined to use the scale, at the very least make the data relevant. To do so, always use the scale under the same conditions; (i.e. first thing in the morning after a bathroom trip, unclothed, same day of week, same time, etc.); plot and chart your numbers to see a pattern develop over time (weeks, months) not days; set realistic and attainable goals that the scale is an asset to and not a drawback.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.