It’s Just a Number: Why the Scale Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

December 23, 2013

Those who struggle with their weight are probably familiar with the love-hate relationship with the scale. The magic number that flashes before you, usually first thing in the a.m., can either make or break your day. But obsessing over the number on the scale won’t get you very far in reaching your weight loss goals because it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Your body is made up of fat, lean body mass (muscle, bone, and organs), and water. A standard bathroom scale will give you the measurement of all three factors combined. However, someone with more lean body mass may weigh more than someone with additional fat because muscle is more dense, meaning it takes up less space. Professional athletes, for example, often weigh more because they have little fat and a lot of muscle mass.

But again, you won’t know that by stepping on a bathroom scale. A body composition scale breaks down the percentages of all three factors. Ultimately, the goal is to decrease fat and increase lean body mass. During initial weight loss, it’s common to lose mostly water weight as opposed to fat. Often times patients get frustrated when the weight stops coming off as quickly, but this is actually a sign fat percentage will start decreasing at a faster rate, which is exciting and encouraging.

A CMWL physician monitors your progress using a body composition scale. Knowing where you’re losing weight helps your physician determine how to tailor a plan to your needs. If you’re losing muscle mass, he or she may recommend adding strength training to your routine, for example.

The biggest problem is when people let the number on the scale define them. A number shouldn’t measure your happiness. Of course, you should celebrate when you reach milestones or have a good weight loss week, but when you don’t, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. Weight loss, like everything in life, is a journey that comes with ups and downs. If you have a down week, try to pinpoint where you went wrong, make a change, and look forward to get back on track. Dwelling on the past won???t get you anywhere, but focusing on what you can change in the present will.

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