It never fails to astound me even to this day and age, with the internet and all the information that is out there, that people still depend on their bathroom scale to tell them if they are overweight or not?!
The scale only tells us part of the story. It cannot distinguish how much of our total weight is muscle, fat, water, food, bones, organs, wastes etc.. We’re not made of only one element and as such weight loss or gain can be muscle, fat, food, water, wastes etc..
Here is why the scale is deceiving us:
1) The Scale is lying to you on your true weight loss and progress:
You want to look great, correct? Then you would want some muscle tone and have less bodyfat. In order to have muscle tone, you need to develop lean muscle and reduce your bodyfat.
If you go about training and dieting incorrectly, ie., on a very low calorie and plenty of cardio scenario; chances are the scale would show that you have dropped some weight. However, the weigh loss here is mainly attributed to the loss of water and muscle. But of course the scale doesn’t know that..
Weight loss does not always equal fat loss!
2) The scale shows that your weight is static or you have even gained some weight!
Although you look and feel better than before you started, the scale doesn’t seem to agree!? In this scenario you have lost bodyfat and at the same time gained some lean muscle. Lets say if you gained 2Lbs of muscle and lost 1Lb of fat (muscle is denser and weighs more than fat), your total weight would be higher but your body composition has improved and so you look and feel better even when the scale says that you’ve put on weight!
Weight increase or remaining static does not equal fat gain!
3) The scale shows that you’ve lost a significant amount of weight in the first week and then you plateau and can’t lose anymore?
Its very easy to lose weight. Most of the weight lost during the first week is mostly water and muscle glycogen depletion (muscle fuel), not entirely fat and in some cases none at all. All the weight lost here at this point is only short term and you will gain them all back when you start eating normal again as your body replenishes its water and glycogen stores as its first priority. This is synonymous to yo-yo dieters where their metabolism gets damaged. This is another topic in my article here.
Weight gain/loss can be due to water & muscle glycogen depletion/replenishment which the scale doesn’t know about.
4) Your total weight loss is no where near as significant as you expect or what you had initially planned even tho you are happy with your new body.
The scale does not know about your body composition change! As you body shape changes due to fat loss and muscle gain, all the weight lost that is attributed to fat has been evened out by the gain in muscle weight. So your ultimate loss in total body weight is not as high as you would expect.
Bottom line is that our bathroom scales cannot measure our body fat, which is ultimately what we are trying to lose. Even the scales with built in bodyfat testers or handheld testers are flawed. It determines your bodyfat by the resistance in your body as it sends a current through it. This reading can be affected by the amount of water that we hold, and the amount of water in our body changes frequently. It does not measure the subcutaneous fat (fat under our skin) directly and this is the fat that we see and try to get rid off.
SO HOW CAN WE TELL IF WE’RE REALLY LOOSING BODYFAT ALONE OR HOW MUCH OF IT WE’RE LOOSING?
The are a variety of fat calipers. The one pictured is one of the simplest but does the job. The accuracy of the reading does not so much depend on the type of caliper, but on the experience of the fitness professional taking the reading. It measures the actual fat under the skinfold on various points on your body. This total skinfold is then cross referenced with a fat % table to determine your total bodyfat %. This is an accurate and practical way of measuring bodyfat outside of a lab environment.
So if you are exercising regularly using both weights and cardio and dieting sensibly, you can expect a change in your body composition by the increase in lean muscle mass and a reduction in bodyfat. Don’t read into your bathroom scale entirely as it only tells you part of the story. Unless you are obese or have a significant amount of weight to lose. A better gauge for your progress is how well your clothes fit on you.
Stay Healthy & Strong,
Steven Wong – CPT, Pn1
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