To Weigh or Not to Weigh

One of the most difficult challenges for any health care practitioner involved in the weight management sector is convincing the clients to not weigh themselves. Ironically, we are asking the client to abstain from doing the very thing they want us to change. And here is why.

What are you actually weighing?

All matter has weight: water, feathers, salt, fillet steak, cell phones; and so does each individual component of the human body. These components, such as fat, water, bones, muscle tissue, organs etc each contribution to the reading on the scale. Water makes up roughly 60% of the weight of a grown man, muscle mass approximately —%. These components add up together to give you one scale reading. But the scale doesn’t tell you how much of each component it is reading. It just gives a total measurement of all the components combined.

So, when standing on a scale, how do you know how much fat (adipose tissue) you actually have? You don’t. Most people have a “rough idea” of what they want the scale to say but they have no way of knowing exactly how much fat they have, how much they need to lose or if they are, in fact, actually losing adipose tissue and not other body components in the process of dieting. In fact, a limb amputation will also drastically reduce the scale reading, however, it may not evoke the joyous response clients were anticipating even though a leg may contain a lot of unwanted fat.

Let’s take it a step further. We place a subject on the scale and get a reading of 60kg. Now we tell the subject to drink 2l water and return to the scale. The scale now reads 62kg. The scale does not tell you what was gained it just says a weight increase.

The reality is that scales are a very inaccurate means of measuring fat. Daily fluctuations occur as metabolic processes have lag times, hormone levels, certain medication and electrolytes influence water levels in the system and all these factors affect the scale reading. But the scale does not tell you this. The scale “lies”. Now what?

What should we be measuring?

It’s not about what you weigh it’s about what you wear”. This little cliché of mine has opened the eyes of many frustrated dieters. The difference between what people see in the mirror and what they want in reality is a “size” issue, not a “weight”. The fat that most people hate is the fat that sits underneath the skin. It’s that bulgy, wobbly, dimply fat that we all despise. The muffin-tops, love-handles and beer-bellies. This fat is technically stretching the skin and makes you wider. This means your size, or your shape is changing. Remove the fat and your size reduces. Simple. Therefore the most accurate way to measure fat loss is to track the change of your body size, and the easiest way to do this is to watch your wardrobe sizes decrease (or increase).

When size changes so will weight. The reduction of size causes a reduction in weight. But the reduction of weight does not always equal a reduction in size. Losing body fat will directly affect your size as you literally start “shrinking” laterally, however a reduction in weight (scale measurement) can be due to the loss of any number of bodily components (muscle, water, limbs etc.).

Don’t wail on the scale

Once a patient has received ambiguous information from a scale reading, they take dieting matters into their own hands and can cause more damage.

Health practitioners will use a variety of ways to measure and track your progress. Trust them. Be patient with the process and track your own progress through the correct means i.e. reduction in clothing size. The biggest frustration for health practitioners is removing the “scale mentality” for patients. By educating the client and arming them with the correct tools, dieting does not have to be a fearful process.