Any nutrition or health coach will tell you: Don’t step foot on a scale.
Whether the number you see is “good” or “bad”, you’ll:
- Lose motivation.
- Lose focus on what matters.
- Lose the mental strength it takes to stay the course.
But do you listen?
How can you possibly resist the instant satisfaction of seeing that three digit number that means EVERYTHING?
So I’m not going to tell you to avoid the scale.
Instead, I’m going to walk you through a manic 26 hours when I couldn’t avoid it either.
But first, a quick background on my weight, relationship with the scale, and habits over the years.
This section is TLDR (too long, don’t read).
But it helps in understanding what my scale did to me (and can do to you).
So either read the next few paragraphs. Or jump down and skip ahead. 🙂
My Weight and Me
I’ve never struggled losing weight.
Growing up, it was impossible for me to gain any.
Fast forward to high school, I’m a fully grown 6’1″.
Before lifting weights, I was about 175 lbs. After lifting weights (and eating these smoothies), I was about 185 lbs. Lean and mean!
(For this section, we’ll use a bunch of visual aids. Otherwise, it would be horribly boring. Here’s the first:)
College came and I didn’t want to be the buff kid anymore. Too many requests to help lift heavy things. So, I stopped lifting weights and the scale said 175 again.
Three years into a consulting career (read: road warrior), I capped out at 210 lbs.
(Enter my story of losing 40 lbs and turning my life around.)
175 was a bit thin for my (and the ladies’) liking, so I loosened up on my diet. I indulged in bread every now and then, and got back to about 185 lbs.
My weight’s been around 185 lbs for a couple of years.
My driver’s license says 190, so let’s meet halfway and call it 188.
So, let’s say my “normal” weight is 188 lbs. Or, at least, that’s what I expect the scale to say most days.
The Scale and Me
I’ve never cared much about jumping on the scale.
Anytime I did, my reaction was usually, “Hmph.” Interested and observant, but not much more. I never lived and died by what the magic machine told me.
- 8 weeks into lifting in high school: “185? Hmph. I’m kind of a beast.”
- Sophomore year of college: “175? Hmph. I’m not the hulk anymore.”
- Third year of consulting job: “210? Hmph. I’m a big boy.”
- One year of Life is NOYOKE: “175? Hmph. This really works.”
So the scale has been more of a novelty to me than anything.
Even when there was a scale at my disposal, I never cared much to use it.
That is, until I had a goal in mind.
This happened just the other day. I had a goal in mind.
The scale became an obsession.
No different than obsessing over realtime sales data or your Facebook notifications or your fantasy baseball team’s cumulative batting average.
You might not have an addictive, obsessive, compulsive personality like me.
But if there’s even a tiny bit of that in you, this story will hit close to home.
With that, let’s cover a bit more background.
Looking at Last Year
Over the last year, I haven’t wanted the scale to move.
Somewhere between 185 and 190 was fine.
That simple formula kept the scale at 188.
Except last week was not very disciplined. It was a fun one.
Looking at Last Week
Ever had a really fun week?
You know lots of “lunch meetings”, several nights out, and little-to-no significant exercise?
Well, that was my week last week. And I have ZERO regrets. I:
- Ate amazing food.
- Enjoyed the incredible summer sun with drinks in hand.
- Had a great time catching up with friends and family doing the aforementioned.
It was a fun week.
If this was you, Sunday might be where you would turn things around, right?
I ordered Chinese food.
Salty, carb-heavy deliciousness.
To recap: I’d eaten, drank and indulged all last week.
Now, it’s Monday.
And we are ready to discuss my crazy 26 hours jumping on and off a scale.
The Day I lost 8.5 lbs (and my mind)
You already know the ending of this story. I lost 8.5 lbs in a little over 24 hours.
But let’s recap how we got here.
I weigh 188 lbs, have never cared about my weight, don’t care about the scale, per se, but could given my personality; I indulged all last week and capped it off with lots of Chinese food on Sunday night.
Now it’s Monday morning.
And somehow, I got the crazy idea to jump on the scale. Here’s what happened.
Scale Log: Weigh-ins, Reactions, and Mindset
This is a log of all the times I jumped on the scale over the past 26 (ish) hours.
- “Things I said.”
- Thoughts I had.
- (General narration.)
Ready? Okay, let’s go.
Note: Every scale reading is a separate time on (and off) the scale.
Monday Morning (Easy Wins)
“Oh, you weighed yourself? I want to do that, too! I bet it’s the same as always. I’ve been unshakably 188 for a while now.”
196.5 lbs (8:00 AM)
Haha! No way.
196.5 lbs (8:01 AM)
Hahahahaha. I’m closer to 200 than I am to 190. This is crazy.
196.5 lbs (8:02 AM)
“Baby, you would not believe what the scale says.! 196.5!”
196.5 lbs (8:04 AM)
I wonder how long it will take me to get back to ‘normal weight’.
196.5 lbs (8:05 AM)
“It’s not a mistake. I’m a monster! Haha.”
196.5 lbs (8:06 AM)
“Maybe I should take off my shirt?”
(Takes off shirt.)
196 lbs (8:07 AM)
“Great! Half a pound. That was easy! This is fun!
(Eats breakfast, drinks some water, and has some coffee. Poops.)
Okay, that was a big poop. I bet I lost a pound.
195 lbs (8:30 AM)
“Yes! Hahaha. Babe, I pooped out a whole pound! This is so easy! And fun!”
(Does approximately 13 minutes of work.)
Let’s see how I’ve done.
194.5 lbs (8:44 AM)
“Yes! I lost another half pound by doing NOTHING. This is so easy!”
Monday Afternoon (Unexplainable Swings)
“I just did four sets of pushups and whatnot. Let’s check now.”
193.5 lbs (12:30 PM)
Yes. One more full pound, bitches! Wait, my shirt is still on!
(Takes shirt off.)
192.5 lbs (12:31 PM)
“Yes another pound! Two pounds, actually!”
(Takes shower, gets dressed.)
Okay, it shouldn’t have changed. But what the hell, let’s just be sure.
193.5 lbs (12:45PM)
WTF?!? I didn’t eat anything? Maybe I should poop?
Note: I don’t have the ability to poop on-demand. I just happened to have another in me, probably thanks to the previous night’s Chinese food.
193.5 lbs (12:50 PM)
No change?!? That wasn’t my best poop, but certainly at least 1/2 a pound? Whatever.
Monday Afternoon Continued (The obsession is growing)
I kinda want to jump on the scale again. Fine, I’ll do a bit of work.
(Does approximately 22 minutes of work. Is interrupted by finding a giant ball (realistically .01 lbs) of ear wax that falls onto desk.)
Woah. That’s a massive chunk of ear wax. Maybe I should jump on the scale!
194.5 lbs (1:13 PM)
WTF? I GAINED a pound? But that ear wax ball? Ugh.
(Does approximately 16 minutes of work.)
I REALLY have to pee. I’ll go pee then jump on the scale.
(Takes epic piss.)
193 lbs (1:30 PM)
I lost 1.5 lbs in urine? That should excite me. But it doesn’t. I’m aggravated.
(Works for one hour. Pees.)
Okay, I’ll weigh myself after this pee.
192 lbs (2:32 PM)
Seriously? Another pound?
(Fiance notices yet another weigh-in. Adjusts placement of scale one inch to the right.)
193.5 lbs (2:33 PM)
“What? That’s all it took to GAIN 1.5 lbs? Moving the scale across the bathroom floor one inch?”
193.5 lbs (2:34 PM)
“Maybe it was because I put my right foot on first?”
193.5 lbs (2:35 PM)
“Baby, I’ve weighed myself a million times today. I should write a post about this.”
Monday Evening (Sick of it)
(Forgets about the scale for a few hours. Eats reasonably-sized, healthy dinner.)
195 lbs (8:33 PM)
“Okay, one more time before bed.”
193.5 lbs (10:45 PM)
Good thing I’m writing these down. I don’t even remember what the scale said last time.
(Sleeps 7.5 hours.)
Tuesday Morning (Temporarily re-inspired)
Okay, I’ll go pee, brush my teeth, and then jump on the scale.
190.5 lbs (8:00 AM)
Woah. I lost 3 pounds in my sleep? Huh? How?
(Does some yoga.)
190 lbs (8:40 AM)
(Eats breakfast etc.)
191.5 lbs (9:10 AM)
Tuesday Afternoon (Enter compulsion)
(Does some work. Drinks some water. Poops.)
189 lbs (12:01 PM)
(Chugs 20 oz of water.)
191 lbs (12:03 PM)
189.5 lbs (12:40 PM)
189 lbs (1:00 PM)
190 lbs (1:40 PM)
Oh, shoot. I was going go weigh myself before drinking my smoothie. Oh well, I’ll weigh myself now and again after finishing the last few sips.
190.5 lbs (1:42 PM)
(Goes to park.)
Let’s see if it changed after my trip to the park!
190 lbs (2:08 PM)
(Works for approximately five minutes.)
190 lbs (2:14 PM)
Okay, the scale is not broken.
(Works for two minutes. Small urination.)
190.5 lbs (2:18 PM)
Wait, what? Why did it just go up?
(Takes epic, mildly uncomfortable piss.)
188 lbs (2:36 PM)
What? That can’t be right.
188 lbs (2:36 PM)
I lost 2.5 lbs from taking a piss?
188 lbs (2:37 PM)
C’mon. That’s silly.
188 lbs (2:37 PM)
Maybe I’m doing it wrong?
188 lbs (2:38 PM)
188 lbs (2:38 PM)
Hahaha! I gotta get a picture.
188 lbs (2:39 PM)
“Baby! I’m back to my normal weight!”
So after all that, what were the takeaways?
Summary of the Scale’s Impact on my Psyche
Did it come across in the weigh-in log?
If not, here’s the reality:
Using the scale to measure my weight-loss progress turned me into a monster.
Sure, I could have been more disciplined — stayed off for at least 24 hours.
But I was convinced the extra pounds were just temporary (they were) and wanted to see them go away.
The results were a lot of destructive behavior.
Let’s walk though each.
- Shock and awe. Seeing the scale say 196.5 freaked me out. I was on a mission to get it back to normal. Nothing was going to get in my way.
- Thinking it was going to be easy. I dropped a few pounds immediately without really trying. I thought it was going to be fun.
- Feeling disappointed. I expected the scale to say one thing, but it said another.
- Being confused. My actions had unclear consequences.
- Acting apathetic. At several points, I stopped caring. But I always went back. Why?
- Getting out of control. I found myself jumping on the scale compulsively. I weighed myself 50 times!
- Inaction. I’d see a number and just walk away. No action plan come from it.
And when it was all done, I reached my goal. Yet, I still was not satisfied.
I haven’t been on the scale for days now. I don’t plan going back anytime soon.
Avoid the Scale to Avoid Going Crazy
The scale is not your friend.
The scale does not encourage you or inspire you or motivate you positively whatsoever.
The scale is a manic monster.
There are several reasons your weight will materially fluctuate throughout the day. We’ve alluded to all of them.
In the short term, they all have to do with water (and nothing to do with fat / muscle composition).
Let’s talk about the things that trigger water levels to go up and down.
Your body tries to maintain a balance. It needs some salt but avoids having too much.
If you have too much salt, your body retains water.
So all that Chinese food you ate on Sunday night was delicious.
But it was incredibly salty.
And so your body compensated by retaining water.
For simplicity, think of carbs like salt. Your body hangs on to water when it has a lot of them to deal with.
So not only was your Chinese food salty, it was carby.
Remember the (highly unrecommended) Atkins diet? Zero carbs ever? It works initially because you lose a lot of water weight.
Specifically, for every gram of carbohydrates you ingest, your body stores 3 grams of water. That’s four grams total (one carb, three water).
Here’s a good example. So let’s say you eat 750 grams of carbs. Your body holds onto 2,250 grams of water. That’s 3,000 grams which equals a bit less than 7 lbs (full example here).
(That’s why it’s not sustainable in the long term. Eventually, you’re gonna need SOME carbs and you’ll quickly balloon again.)
Your poop and pee weigh something. Enough said.
Women cycle through big changes every month.
And feeling bloated is a real thing. Your body is retaining water. Weight goes up.
Think about the last time you drank a few beers.
Did you pee a million times?
That’s your body getting rid of water to balance itself out. Booze acts the opposite as salty food.
That’s why you get so dehydrated when you drink. And that’s how you can pee 3x in the middle of the night without having any water.
Booze makes the scale go down temporarily.
Maybe your scale is on an inconsistent surface. Maybe you’re standing at a weird angle.
Whatever it is, your scale is probably not precise.
Take what it says with a grain of salt (and then lots of sips of water!).
Remove water from the equation
You can expect to lose one or two pounds per week.
Muscle and fat composition doesn’t change any more than that.
So when the scale can fluctuate as much as 8.5 pounds from meaningless changes, why bother using it?
Take it from Oprah
Oprah never weighs herself.
Because she doesn’t want it to sabatoge her weight loss efforts.
“If her weight is up, she gets discouraged and loses motivation to stick to her eating plan. If her weight is down, she winds up eating too much because she figures she can afford to cheat.” (source)
If her clothes fit well, she’s doing fine. If they’re tight, then she gets a bit concerned.
What to Expect if you Fire Your Scale
Let’s take all the bad stuff from above and turn it into a positive.
When you get rid of your scale, you’ll be:
Who doesn’t want that stuff?
Use a scale, if you must. Saying you should throw it away is just a waste of words.
But know this:
If you do weigh yourself, be sure to be consistent. Once per week at the exact same day and time. That way you can compare REAL changes.
Having a scale at home can help, assuming you use it right (and have a plan in place).
But when you do use it, be sure not to give the reading much weight.
(See what we did there?)
Nutrition on the Run: http://www.nutritionnutontherun.com/2012/01/17/why-i-hate-the-scale/
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