Do you ever get on the scale and feel like it’s yelling at you? Does how your day go depend on the number on the scale? But what does that number on the scale really mean? The scale is not a good way to measure your fitness progress even though so much emphasis is put on weight loss. The scale tells what the package weighs, it does’t tell what is in the package. If you really are just interested in losing weight, that’s easy–cut off your leg. Ridiculous, right? What you may be losing when you show a drop on the scale may be just as essential.
Body weight consists of fat mass weight as well as the fat-free weight which is water, minerals, and proteins that make up muscles, connective tissues, organs and body fluids. A person who has less fat and more muscle may actually weigh more according to the scale than a person who has a higher percentage of body fat and less muscle. The goal for health and fitness should be fat loss, not simply weight loss.
Quick weight loss is due to loss of body water. A pound of body water is equal to 16 ounces, or 2 cups of water. A loss of as little as 2% body-water weight leads to dehydration, which causes fatigue, headache, sluggishness and impaired performance. Muscle consists of approximately 70% water. A low carb diet is like taking a sponge and wringing it out. When carbs are eaten, the fluid is replaced in the muscle and the weight is regained, leading to dieting frustration.
A drop in weight on the scales may also be caused by a loss in bone mineral density. Research has shown that low carbohydrate/high protein diets may lead to a decrease in bone mineral density, increasing the risk for osteoporosis.
Losing lean muscle tissue will also show as a weight loss on the scale. Lean muscle takes a lot more calories to maintain than fat. When muscle is lost, calorie needs decrease which leads to yo-yo dieting. Go back to eating the calories you did before the diet and you will gain back the weight you lost plus more because you now need fewer calories. Muscle loss also leads to decreased energy and strength. To maintain muscle while on a weight loss program, exercise is key. Any program that advertises “no exercise necessary” is setting you up to lose muscle and leads to yo-yo dieting.
The bottom-line is that the scale is only a tool, and not a very good one, to gage fitness. Body fat testing is a much better way to show your progress. There are many inexpensive body fat scales on the market and many facilities offer hydro-static weighing as well as the Body Pod which uses air displacement. An even easier method is a tape measure and a tight pair of jeans. Don’t get hung up on the number on the scale. Go by how you look and feel.