Many people have a love/hate relationship with weigh scale. Approximately one third of adults weigh themselves at least once per week (that includes me). And a similar number are trying to lose weight at any given time. Even a visit to the doctor may result in you getting weighed. So there must be some value to that number on the scale. But what does your weight really tell you?
Your Weight and Your Health
When a doctor, nurse or other health professional weigh you, their using weight as an indicator of your health. The most common reason is to determine your potential risk for future disease. Along with that, you may have your height measured to calculate body mass index. A body mass index equal, to or greater than 30 kg/m2 is the diagnosis for obesity. And a higher value increases the chances of getting diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
However, from a health point of view, it’s not weight that matters, it’s the amount of body fat a person has. Weight is a measure of bone, muscle and fat mass. So having a high body mass index doesn’t necessarily mean one has excess body fat. Look at heavyweight boxers. Many of them have a body mass index in the obesity range.
But excess fat isn’t the only concern. Where one carries their fat is also important. Fat around the waist is more problematic than in the thighs, legs and arms. That’s because it usually indicates more fat around the organs. As a result, current guidelines for assessing and managing obesity have started moving away from the use of weight and body mass index. Instead, it’s only one part of an assessment for obesity, which includes disease risk factors (such as cholesterol and blood sugar), weight history and a psychological assessment.
The Benefits of Regular Weighing
The practice of weighing oneself regularly is often called self-monitoring in the health care field. Self-monitoring is done in a number of chronic diseases. For example, people with diabetes measure their blood sugar. People with heart failure or kidney problems may have their doctor tell them to weigh themselves regularly. In these cases, the concern is water retention, not how much fat someone has.
However, for many people, weighing themselves and weight loss go hand in hand. While weight is a measure of muscle, bone and fat, changes in weight most likely reflect changes in body fat. Muscle can change as a result of changes in exercise but isn’t as common.
People who weigh themselves regularly are more likely to lose weight. And are also more likely to keep the weight off and maintain their weight. In these situations, it’s not that weighing yourself leads to weight loss, but rather it’s the outcome of your weight loss (or maintenance) program. Essentially weight is the goal of that program. Weighing yourself can also provide accountability and keep you focused on your weight loss behaviours such as diet and exercise.
But weighing regularly may not be for everyone. A key reason people weigh themselves and want to lose weight is for looks, not for health. Some of these people weigh themselves as an indicator of their self-worth. In these cases, the number on the scale is taken personally.
The concern with attaching personal value to weight, is it can be damaging to one’s mental well-being. This can lead to feelings of shame, guilt and frustration. In women who regularly weighed themselves, over half reported it impacted their mood. And mental illnesses are more common in people who are unsatisfied with their weight.
There are also of lot of other factors beyond diet and exercise involved in weight changes. Day to day fluctuations are normal. Things such as how much sleep you get, time of day, hormone changes and bowel movements can affect your weight. In addition, all scales have some error in them. For example, if the error is 2 pounds, then a change in weight less than that may reflect the error and not any change in your body. Therefore, it’s the trend in your weight over time that’s important.
If you are going to weigh yourself…
If you are going to weigh yourself regularly, do so using the same scale and at the same time of e. Different scales can give you different numbers. While most scales aren’t 100% accurate in terms of your weight, they’re usually a good indicator of any changes, which is what you’re likely looking for.
The other factor is your weight changes throughout the day. We’re generally heavier at the end of the day than in the morning. This is due to the timing of food and fluid intake. When you wake up, you may not have eaten anything for 10 or more hours. Likely the best time to weigh yourself is in the morning after going to the bathroom and before eating. Ideally in the same clothing (or none). This provides the most consistent conditions for comparing weight from one day to another.
Also recognize that there will be bumps along the way. It may be a family vacation, a change in work schedule or something else that affects your routine. A lot of times these are temporary and once you get back to your routine, things may settle back in. Also, the scale is only a tool to measure the outcome of your routine. We can’t always control the outcome, so focusing on the process (such as diet and exercise) may be a more positive approach.
Alternatives to Weighing
Checking out your weight isn’t the only way to go. Measuring your waist circumference (or pant size) may be even more valuable. Most people gain and lose body fat around their waist. Unlike weight, which is influenced also by muscle and bone mass, your waist isn’t. Losing an inch around one’s waist is substantial, but it might not show up on the scale as much.
How you feel is also important. And may be more important than what the scale says. If you’re maintaining a routine of healthy nutrition and exercise, there are so many benefits beyond just how much you weigh. You might feel you have more energy. And if you do lose weight, you may find it easier to do things such as walk and climb stairs.
Deciding whether to weigh yourself comes down to how it makes you feel and what you use the information for. Do you find it a good way to be accountable and track progress? Or does it affect how you feel? If the number on the scale isn’t what you want to see, does it ruin your day? If so, regular weighing may not be for you. And always keep in mind that how much you weigh isn’t a measure of who you are.
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