We’ve all heard weight loss experts encourage us by saying “when you’re working out to lose weight, don’t worry if your weight goes down slowly, you’re building muscle, it isn’t about the number on the scale.” This is true, and it’s an important idea I hope everyone grasps. When you’re training to lose fat, your body weight can actually go up as your muscles get stronger. This is normal, and healthy, and the way it’s supposed to be – please don’t severely restrict calories while you are strength training just because the scale isn’t doing what you want. Definitely pay more attention to inches than the scale. Starving your hard working muscles is not the answer!
However. There’s something I want to say to you who are in the trenches with me. I understand that the number on the scale DOES matter to you. It matters to me, more than I’d like to admit. The only time it didn’t matter to me was when I gave up on my health, and even then it still had power to make me feel bad about myself.
Here’s why it matters – for most people, it’s the only way we’ve had to measure our health and our progress over our lifetime. I’m going to bet that very few of us knew our waist circumference when we graduated from high school, let alone our bicep measurements. We may have read an article in Cosmo about how to calculate BMI, to determine if we were “healthy.” Over the course of years, the one place we’ve gone to see “where we are” is the scale.
When I moved to Idaho, I weighed 195 pounds. I don’t know what my waist circumference or body fat percentage was. Over the next almost 6 years, I gained nearly 30 pounds. Those 30 pounds were not muscle. When I started working out on my own, I was discouraged at how slowly the weight was coming off – even though I’ve read more and I know that muscle tissue is denser than fat, and it has to build up before it can increase my resting metabolic rate, and that eventually my strong muscles will take over the fat burning…… that number on the scale still mattered to me.
When I started the 21 Day Fix, I knew that I was already 13 pounds below my heaviest weight. I knew that meant 17 pounds to my “move to Idaho” weight, which was about 30 pounds above my top weight for a healthy BMI. For me, being able to watch those 17 pounds tick off on the scale was really exciting and encouraging. Because I could see long term progress. I started to see the drop in my measurements (I lost 11 inches on my first round of 21 Day Fix), I felt my clothes feeling looser, but now I had confirmation of a downward trend, and I knew that I was making progress with the help of proper nutrition and sustainable fitness.
So here’s the bottom line – don’t hang all your hopes on the scale. Don’t weigh yourself every day. For some people, even once a week is too often. If you’re doing a set term program like the 21 Day Fix, weigh yourself at the beginning, the halfway point, and the end. When you’re strength training and building muscle, it will mess with your head to weigh yourself more often than that.
But (separate paragraph because I don’t want you to miss it) DO use the scale as one of your many tracking tools. It’s like your tape measure. It’s like your BMI calculator. It’s like your perceived exertion, and that feeling that maybe you need heavier weights. It helps to mark your progress; just don’t let it be the sole indicator. Set your milestones and realistic expectations for weight loss, and use all the tools in your bucket to see how close you are to reaching your goals!