The REAL Weight Problem
Want to ruin someone’s day?
Ask them to step on a scale.
Nothing prompts an instant change of expression — all the way to the eyes — quite like the numbers on that inanimate piece of junk. Not many people get excited and rush to hop up, watching with a gleam in their eye as the counterbalance settles into place.
(If you ARE one of those people, congratulations. This isn’t the article you’re looking for. Move along.)
No. Most of us grimace, shuffle our feet, and spit out some variation of, “Do I have to?” Because scales are the enemy. Those cold, unfeeling, HURTFUL numbers fuel one of the biggest mental and physical health industries out there.
And it’s a complete and utter sham.
If you’re anything like me, a trip to the doctor’s office involves a process. No, not to get an appointment (that’s a different topic). I’m talking about the preparation before leaving the house. Because even a recheck requires setting foot on a scale. Doesn’t matter what specialty you’re visiting. They want a reported weight. Oh, sure, you saw them yesterday, saw a colleague down the hall last week, went to the ER two days ago — whatever. We live in a digital age where computers refuse to communicate with each other. So, yeah, you get to stand on a scale EVERY TIME.
I’m not a vain person. The clothes I wear every day? I usually grab them at random. But when contemplating a doctor visit, I stand in my bedroom and go through a minimum of twelve outfit changes.
- This shirt feels lighter than that one.
- Wait, a skirt weighs less than jeans.
- I’ve got it — a dress HAS to mean fewer ounces than a top and bottom put together.
- Don’t even touch the platforms; you KNOW they weigh a ton.
- Best to stick with sandals.
- Think I can get away going barefoot?
Then I spend endless minutes attempting to wring every last drop of water out of my hair. (Probably the only time in my life I curse not owning a hairdryer) Because if I can shave off even a SMIDGEON of a pound, I’m going to.
The ridiculous routine doesn’t stop there, either. No way am I edging one toe onto that scale without putting down everything I can FIRST. So I need a time out to set aside my purse, jacket, and book. (Cut me some slack, R.N., I’m a reader! Have you seen this tome? It’s two pounds!) And if the nurse won’t offer a convenient spot, I stack everything on the floor.
All to wince and cringe as that square slides further to the right. (As if I don’t already know where it’s going to end up) And right beside the condemning number, the computer helpfully pops up the OTHER number I despise: my BMI.
Time for another lengthy discussion with the doctor — guaranteed to end with at least one of us with elevated blood pressure.
The Great Weight Debate
Yeah, I’m one of “those people.” I’ve battled weight for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I topped the other girls in my class. (How fun is that, to make kids line up in order of weight? Does WONDERS for self-esteem, let me assure you) My parents received notes cautioning them to increase my physical activity.
While I spent seven days a week in the pool, swimming competitively.
The pattern continued through high school. PE classes put us through the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge, recorded our BMI, and then frowned over the results. I couldn’t manage a single pull-up, my V-sit-and-reach sucked, and I landed solidly in the overweight category. Were my parents aware of the problem?
It didn’t matter that our (swim) relay team was undefeated, I competed AND coached, or could swim 50m with a single breath. Those failings counted for more.
My BMI? It’s STILL overweight. Even with the so-called correction using a waist measurement. My doctors trot out the stupid chart and launch into sermons on the health risks all of my “extra weight” poses. They hand me brochures of ways to improve my eating habits and incorporate exercise into my life.
But I engage in HIIT and strength training workouts six times a week for a total of 4.5 hours. (Well above the 150-minute minimum) My resting heart rate? It sits at 50bpm. (Hysterical when I end up in the ER and it sets off the ECG alarms) I go on 5–7 mile hikes through various terrains without a problem. Kayaking around the rivers in our area? It’s a favored pastime.
But, yeah, I’m CLEARLY unhealthy and about to drop dead.
Pound of Fat, Pound of Muscle
The actual “weight crisis” out there is people fixating on numbers:
- What does the scale say?
- What’s my BMI?
- How many calories is that?
- Why’s my activity tracker alarming?
And doctors are some of the worst culprits. They stare at a screen without looking at the patient in front of them. The BMI (the WORST indicator of health I’ve come across) tells them an individual is too fat or too thin, and they run with it. Without taking two seconds to look UP and take into account body shape, muscle definition, or bone structure. It’s easier to make a snap judgment.
Then one more person falls victim to the “weight crisis.”
When you work with strength training or take on a new workout program, you PUT ON WEIGHT. It’s a fact. Not the most fun part of a health regime, but a true one. Fat displaces more room than muscle. As you slim down and get rid of the fat you don’t want and sculpt and shape the muscle you DO, your body changes.
“Think of a pound of feathers compared to a pound of marbles. The marbles are going to take up a lot less space. So, while muscle and fat look the same on the scale, they’ll look different on your body.” ~Anytime Fitness
One glance from a doctor, and they’d notice. Then they could ignore that stupid BMI and move on to congratulate you on your chiseled legs or flat stomach. Instead of handing you a pamphlet on walking around your neighborhood.
(Way to make you feel like the fat kid again)
Ditch the Scale
So how do we fix the problem? (After all, I promised that simple trick in the title, didn’t I?)
Easy: throw away the scale.
Unless you have a medical reason to track your weight (I’m talking note-from-your doctor reason here), you don’t need it. Scales cause more problems than they solve. All that number captures is one second in time. If you look at it in an hour, your weight will change! Morning, night, before a meal, after a meal — everything causes that monster to fluctuate. But the damage that results? Yeah, not so much fluctuation there.
There are better ways to monitor the progress of a person’s health journey.
Measurements, for one. (And I’m talking more than just the waist) You can track those changes over time and see improvement. Even better, if you’re looking to build your strength, you WANT to see the numbers increase! (When do you ever say that about your weight?)
I get excited about seeing my measurements each month. They correlate with the changes in the way my clothes fit. And let me tell you: seeing my arms and legs turn into muscled beauties? I’ll take that over arguing with a doctor about my asinine BMI any day.
Time yourself as you walk or run. Are you getting faster? Guess what — that’s progress! And you can plot it in a graph to show the progress. What you won’t see (outwardly) is the improvement in your heart and your increased lung capacity. Both will extend your life expectancy, though. And you get to feel better about yourself in the process.
You have options that DON’T involve an archaic system that doesn’t make sense. Use them.
Every time you turn around, you see advice on losing weight. People offer exercise programs, dieting recipes, or even meditation techniques. We’re obsessed with dropping the number on the scale. But that scale doesn’t reveal the truth of what’s going on with our bodies. Fixating on the scale — to the exclusion of the rest of your system — is what pushes people into the UNHEALTHY category.
So join me in banishing the scale. You don’t need it. And if your doctor trots out that BMI number or tries to lecture you about your creeping death? Interrupt them with a list of everything in your life you’re doing RIGHT.
Maybe then they’ll look up and start paying attention.