Monday, April 21, 2008

How to Use a Scale

A while ago I posted about scale addiction and how often you should weigh yourself. It was my opinion that while losing once a week, stark naked, before breakfast, after pee on Wednesdays was my preference, and that while maintaining, daily was a good idea.

Today I'm going to take it further and explain how to deal with the number you see staring back at you.

Firstly if you're trying to lose weight it's important before you step onto the scale, to ask yourself how you're doing. After all, what does the scale know? How you're doing depends on how you're living, and the scale frankly knows nothing about that. If you're happy with how you've been living and feel that you're making the healthiest choices you can enjoy, even if the scale goes up, it shouldn't take away your pride in your accomplishments.

So once you've decided how you're doing, next you step onto the scale.

Looking at the number, you've got to remember a bunch of stuff. You've got to remember that scales measure a lot of extra stuff. Clothing (if you're wearing any), constipation (can weigh up to two pounds), water retention (time of the month, after a salty meal, from sore muscles) and it doesn't know if there have been great reasons to have Calories - celebratory and comfort reasons that definitely call for indulgences.

Ok, now you're looking at the number. If you're happy with it step down and you're done.

If you're unhappy with it, you've got to ask yourself two questions:

1. Am I doing something about it?
2. Do I know what I'm doing?

If the answers to those questions are "Yes", then there's nothing to worry about, even if the number's not doing what you want. Remember there is the law of averages at play too meaning that some weeks you'll lose far more than you'd expect and some weeks far less and that at the end of the day, doing the best you enjoy, not the best you can tolerate, is truly the best you can do sustainably.

Going back to that question number 2. What does knowing what you're doing mean? Well to me it means knowing how many Calories you're eating, otherwise it'd be like getting upset at your Visa bill despite having gone shopping without looking at price tags.

Bottom line, you may not love the number you see staring back at you, it may be distressing to you, but at the end of the day, if you're doing something about it, and you know what you're doing, you're doing great.

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  1. Great advice.

    I just have a question about home scales. Are the digital ones better or more accurate than the older types with the little hand that bobs around? Is it preferrable to have a digital scale. I've been disgruntled with my 'older style' scale and wondering if it is worth the cost to upgrade to a digital scale.


  2. Good advice, thank you.

    I am currently trying to lose weight and step on the scale once a week, at the same time wearing the same clothes before eating at my Weight Watchers meeting.

    The ladies there are so good about being encouraging even if the number has gone up a little bit over the week. They're also great at reminding us about healthy, sustainable weight loss and lifestyle changes.

  3. Thanks middlevillage,

    It doesn't matter digital or analog so long as the scale agrees with itself.

    Meaning, get on and off it 5-10 times in a row and possibly with some minor repositioning on the floor too and if the number's roughly the same each time, it's a decent scale.


  4. Anonymous1:24 pm

    And keep in mind that the scale isn't the only measure of how you are doing. In the last two months, the scale has been hovering around the same number for me (I've lost more than 100 lbs and have another 40 to go). I know that what I've been doing is right, though, even if the scales haven't budged much recently. I got verification of this when I retook my mesurements on the weekend. While the scale hadn't moved, I noticed my clothes felt looser. Sure enough, my waist is down 1-1/2" and my hips are down 1" from the same time 2 months ago. So even though we worry about what the scale says, it is but one instrument in telling whether you're doing the right thing or not.

  5. I love this post. You're stuff is always so encouraging and insightful but this one was GREAT!

    thanks so much for putting everything into perspective. I've been having problems with my scale lately. This advice really helps.


  6. This type of post is the reason why I read your blog. Thanks doc and keep it up!

  7. Michelle8:41 pm

    I love the end of this post. I have some really 'off' days where I eat way (way way way) too much. The next day I weigh myself and I might be "five" pounds heavier - even if I know that a lot of the weight is probably just the food itself, and water retention, it's still hard to deal with. The hardest part is starting over, instead of just thinking, "I'm ruined", lets just eat more. Thank you for posting this.

  8. Rose S8:44 pm

    Hi Dr. Freedhoff - I'm a university student currently trying to recover from an eating disorder (bulimia) right now. I was wondering if you would be able to shed some light on strategies, or where I might want to start with this. I'm an out-of-town student so I don't have a family doctor. I have seen a GP for a referral to an eating disorder clinic but it looks like the program is backed up for months. I'm starting to feel really defeated about this - any tips on what to do?

    Thanks for posting everything that you do. Always reading, fist time commenting though. Cheers :)

  9. Hi Rose,

    While not geared specifically for bulimia, Overcoming Binge Eating by Christopher Fairburn may be a good place to start while waiting for your visit with the eating disorder folks. It's a self-directed cognitive behavioural therapy approach to binge eating which some folks think of as purge-free bulimia.

    I'd recommend putting your focus on preventing hunger by eating every 2-3 hours and having a minimum of 350 calories per meal and a minimum of 150 calories per snack and I'd also ensure there's protein at each and every meal and snack. Don't have any forbidden foods as that can lead to binging. Your focus should not be on weight management, but rather on working on the eating disorder and weight management can come later.

    Best of luck,

  10. Hi Yoni,

    Thanks for the advice. I've been trying to manage my calories more or less like that, since I know I'm prone to binges when I get too hungry or when I feel like I have eaten too much at a meal. I have a lot of good days, and definitely a few bad ones, but I'll definitely keep trying with this.

    Thanks for the book recommendation also, I will definitely check it out. :)