Last week, Yitzchak walked into my office with a half-smile on his face. When I asked him how his week went with his eating and exercise, he gave me a very positive report. I asked him if he thought his weight went down and he replied that based on the way his clothes feel, he’s sure of it. Then he got on the scale and that half-smile disappeared. He actually gained 200 grams? What? He was pulling his belt tighter! A day later Esther came in for her weekly visit and weigh-in. She told me how “good” her week was. She too said her clothes were feeling better. She predicted at least a half kilo lost if not more. When she stepped on the scale she was also disappointed. There was no change in her weight. What happened with Yitzchak and Esther and how important is what the scale tells us?
Other Measures of Weight and Health
There are a lot of ways to measure our health Vis a Vis our weight. Aside from weighing yourself, our BMI-Body Mass Index, waist and hip circumference and even how our clothes fit give us a good indication as to whether our body is getting healthier in terms of weight or not. Weighing also has certain variables from day to day: How accurate is our scale? Most home (bathroom) scales, digital or not, may not be as accurate as the scale in your doctor’s office. Also weight fluctuates throughout the day. It can be as little as half a kilo but as much as 2! If you just had a couple glasses of water, the weight is up. Did you just sweat a lot during your workout? If so, your weight is artificially low on the scale until you rehydrate.
Your body fat percentage is a measure of your fat tissue versus lean mass, specifically muscle, bone and connective tissue. A higher body fat percentage, even if your total weight is normal, means you are vulnerable to the same health problems associated with obesity, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Having a body fat higher than 23.1 percent for men and 33.3 percent for women is particularly dangerous. When you measure your body fat every month or two, and it decreases, you know you’ve lost fat weight. Bioelectrical impedance scales are not relieable in their readings. Seek out a certified personal trainer at a fitness facility who can check your body fat using body calipers that pinch the skin at various sites, including the triceps, abdomen and thigh. This is a more reliable measure. A DEXA scan, which is primarily used to measure bone density, or underwater weighing are most accurate, but usually require visiting a special facility and that can be pricey.
When it comes to cases like Yitzchok and Esther, it is something else entirely. They are both exercising and building muscle. The muscle they are building is taking the place of the fat they are losing and muscle weighs more than fat. The scale can’t tell the difference! Hence the discrepancy between feeling thinner (looser clothes) and the scale not going down (and even going up a drop). This is a case where the scale doesn’t go down but the improvement in health is there. This is more common than you think amongst exercisers.
How Often to Weigh
There has been a dispute amongst the experts as far as how often and when to weigh ourselves. Until a couple of new studies came out a few years ago, the standard was to weigh once a week, preferably in the morning on the same day each week. This gave people a good feeling. The amount they were losing each week was significant enough to give people motivation to keep going. Also, it avoided becoming obsessed with getting on the scale. But the most recent research has told us that for many people, weighing daily has benefits. It creates more awareness as to what is going on with your weight all the time. In a way, it can set off needed alarm bells. If you see your weight go up a couple days in a row, you should take action to reverse that. But on the other hand, if once in a while you go up a little bit, it can’t make you crazy. For those that need to weight daily, it should become like brushing your teeth—you do it daily. I am very selective as to which advice I give my clients. This is, to an extent, personality dependent. Therefore, I advise some of my clients to do weekly weigh-ins and some for daily weight-ins. Either way, you are being accountable to yourself.
Behavioral psychologist Dr. Judith Beck gives three main reasons she has her weight loss patients weighing daily:
First, they quickly bust the myth that if you do everything right on your diet, you should lose at least a little weight every day or every week. Unless you’re on a starvation diet this simply isn’t true. Even if you’re perfect on your diet, the number that registers on the scale may stay the same or go up on any given day. You probably can’t figure out why and it doesn’t matter, but it may have something to do with how late you ate the day before, how well you slept the night before, whether you retained water, and/or hormonal factors. Once they bust this myth, our dieters don’t get discouraged and throw in the towel when they weigh more than they expected, despite having followed their diet religiously.
A second reason is to keep them motivated. It’s much easier to resist that second piece of cake when you know you’re getting on the scale the next morning. If you know you’re not going to get on the scale until the end of the week, it’s just too easy to say to yourself, “Oh, it just won’t matter if I overeat today.”
The third reason our dieters weigh themselves every morning is to get them over the cruelty of the scale. They learn that the scale shows a data point, a measurement, just as a height rod measures how tall they are or a blood pressure gauge measures their blood pressure. Your weight has nothing to do with who you are. But if you’re like many dieters, you define yourself by the number on the scale. If it’s higher than you want it to be, you may call yourself “weak,” or “a failure” or even “bad.” These pronouncements demoralize you and sap your motivation. Weighing yourself daily and reminding yourself that it’s just a number, not a reflection of who you are, helps desensitize your to the number. And if your weight is up for several days in a row, as we said, it may call for some problem-solving.
Make sure your scale is in the same position on the floor each time you weigh and don’t move it around too many times. Find that place and keep it there. Be sure it is the same time of the day each day and with the same type of clothing each time. Keep in mind it won’t go down every day and that is normal. Keep a chart or data base on your progress.
Yitzchok and Esther will continue to weigh themselves, but they also know that often the scale needs to catch up with their muscle building. They won’t be disappointed because they will keep that number in perspective. When it does catch up, it will keep going down because their metabolisms are getting faster. Your weight is an important part of your health but it is one aspect of your health. The type of foods you eat, exercise, activity, stress management and hydration are all important too. So, buy a good scale, and whether you weigh yourself daily or weekly, work on getting those numbers to a healthy zone. Having your weight in a healthy place will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.