Every day I see people obsessing over the scales. They weigh themselves as soon as they get to the gym and again when they finish training. They jump on before they go to bed at night, then again as soon as they wake up.
And as the scales fluctuate so too do their emotions. If they like the number they see they’re happy, confident and motivated. But if that digital display reveals a number they don’t like, their energy levels plummet.
The thing is, the digits on that small screen of that mindless, emotionless device don’t reflect how you look and feel. They don’t factor in whether you’ve recently eaten or are retaining fluid. And they don’t consider the fact that you may have reduced your body fat but increased your lean muscle mass.
If you rely solely on the feedback you get from the scales you’ll never get an accurate read on your progress. Sure, you may weigh a kilo less at the end of a workout than you did at the start. But that doesn’t mean you’ve burnt a kilo of body fat. If you trained hard (and smart) you will have burnt SOME fat. But you will also have shed a LOT of fluid in the process. That will obviously mean you weigh less. But as soon as you rehydrate that weight will come back up.
Of course, it goes the other way too. That piece of chocolate cake you had last night isn’t solely responsible for the 1kg gain you’re seeing on the scales this morning. Thanks to various factors – including nutrition, hydration, recent activity and inflammation – our bodyweight can fluctuate by as much as 3kg during the course of any one day!
Despite all of this we still hang our hats on what the scales tell us, leaving ourselves at the mercy of that little digital display.
So what’s the alternative?
Without delving too deeply into the science, it’s important to recognise just how much is going on in our bodies every day. We lead busy, often stressful lives. And stress causes the body to produce cortisol, which can have a huge impact on our hormone levels. This can cause our body weight to fluctuate wildly.
That’s why my team and I rely on other methods to monitor progress, including girth measurements and caliper testing, both of which are better ways to track whether you’re reducing body fat and building lean muscle.
You can’t out-train a bad diet.
If you really want to see results you have to get your diet right. If you eat a clean, whole-food diet you’ll find you rapidly reduce inflammation, decreasing your measurements around the hips and waist.
It’s not really rocket science. If you’ve ever accidentally put diesel into your petrol car you’ll know what it’s like. Your body was designed to eat natural, whole foods. It knows how to break these foods down, and how to use their nutrients as fuel.
But when you fill it with artificial, nutrient-poor ‘foods’ your body becomes confused. Rather than systematically breaking them down and turning them into energy it chooses to store that food. And when it stores it, it stores it as fat.
Focus on the big picture.
I know what you’re thinking: if scales don’t tell the whole story, why do trainers insist on creating "weight-loss" challenges?
The thing is, whether we like it or not, society is obsessed with the numbers on those scales. But if the idea of lowering those numbers is enough to get people into the gym – where we can start educating them about strength and conditioning, proper nutrition and the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle – then that’s the language we need to use.
We tend to find that people whose sole aim is to drop the numbers on the scale invariably end up dissatisfied with their appearance. It’s one thing to lose 5kg. But it’s another thing to lose 5kg of fat without sacrificing muscle mass. And if you follow heavily restricted diets or indulge in high volumes of long, slow cardio/endurance work that’s exactly what will happen – you’ll lose muscle from places like your arms and legs, without shifting the stubborn fat from your belly and hips.
So here’s my advice...
- Lift weights often (three to four times a week if possible). The more muscle you have, the more energy your body will burn.
- Perform short, sharp, high-intensity cardio at least once or twice a week.
- Keep your diet clean 80-90% of the time.
- Never get hungry, never feel full. Consume a sufficient amount on a regular basis, rather than sporadically binge eating.
- Eat lots of protein and lots of veges, nuts, seeds, berries and healthy fats.
- Get plenty of sleep and try to limit stress.
- And stay away from those scales!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Reece McCaffrey, a strength, conditioning and weight loss specialist, has been helping athletes to stay at home mums enhance performance and get in the best shape of their lives for the past 10 years. By developing a training and nutrition systems with a no BS approach, Reece has built respect and positioned himself as an industry leader in health and fitness. Find out more at http://www.recreate.co.nz/.
"If you have a body you are an athlete".