Friday, January 15, 2010

Being "good" doesn't show up on the scale

For some reason, threads on internet message boards come in clusters. So for the past four days I have read thread after thread were someone was complaining that either they had been very good and the next day the scale didn't reflect it or that they were very bad and the next day the scale didn't reflect it.

These threads tend to drive me a bit mad, to be honest. I take this as a sign that I've been on the internet too long ... I'm now at the point where 90% of the discussions are not new to me and I am intolerant of repetition. But I digress. I do have a point to make and it is this:

Scales don't reflect whether or not you are good or bad. You can eat only healthy food and exercise all the time, but, if your calories in are greater than your calories out, you will gain weight. Likewise, you can eat crap food all the time and never exercise and, if your calories in are less than your calories out, you will lose. Of course, someone who eats crap food and doesn't exercise will eventually have other problems and the person who eats healthy foods and exercise gets other benefits from it. That's why it's not all about the scale.

But, still, this bears repeating: scales don't tell you how good you are.

So what do scales measure? They reflect your absolute mass at a particular point in time. This is made up of a combination of your lean body tissue (muscles, organs), your bones, your body fat and water -- lots and lots of water. And that mass can be impacted by so many things including when we last peed and pooped, what time of the month it is (for women), how much sodium we consumed, when we last exercised and how hard, and a host of other things to numerous to mention.

That means that the scales fluctuate all the time due to factors that, if all you care about is how much the combination of your bones, lean muscle mass and body fat weigh, are totally irrelevant.

The other big problem with looking to the scales to reflect your goodness is that the stuff we do doesn't show up on the scale the very next day.

That's because, even without the noise, it takes longer than that for changes to show up on the scale. Eat a big meal the night before and the next morning your body is still processing it. Since our bodies rebalance our energy stores at night while we sleep, the total impact of that meal won't truly be felt until the day after that when all the calories are fully extracted. If you drink alcohol, the immediate impact is to lose water weight because it acts like a diuretic. But, once the alcohol fully makes its way through your system, the water comes back and the fact that alcohol has so many calories and also inhibits fat burning is now fully reflected in your body and on your scale.

Last Monday I had my own experience with this. Due to my injury, I didn't workout much in December. Due to the holidays, I wasn't as successful at eating healthy as I'd have liked. So my weight is up about 3 pounds from where I like it to be. Not a big deal and I'm sure all I have to do is get back to training 10 hours a week and it will drop off. But, just in case, I decided to join in on some sort of "back on track" effort going on at one of my Obesity Help groups.

So for one week, I drank all my water, got in all my protein, and increased my exercise. I kept to my calorie limits too. I got on the scale on Monday for the official weigh in and, guess what? I weighed exactly the same as I did the week before!

I started to pout, but then I had to laugh. I've been on the other side so many times telling people that it just doesn't work like that. Yeah, I'd been "good". But I didn't eat few enough calories to lose a pound and noise from increasing my workouts (which can cause a temporary gain in water weight) was probably blocking whatever I may have lost, if any.

So I'm just going to have to suck it up. I could drop the weight on the scale in one week by going on a drastic diet or "cleansing" and I'd probably lose 5 pounds of water. But what would be the point? The water would come back; it wouldn't be a real loss. For a real loss, I'm going to have to be "good" for longer than one week and I'm going to have to be more than "good" but actually cut out some calories or at least not eat all the ones I burn in exercise.

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