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Rules of the scale

November 23, 2008

The scale is a touchy subject. A lot of people reading this blog probably have experienced the scale as the great decider first thing in the morning. The numbers on the scale decided whether it was going to be a good day or a bad day. They decided whether our food choices the day before were wonderful or obviously terrible and never to be repeated. The numbers ruled how we thought of ourselves and could act as a catalyst to disordered behavior of all kinds.

So can the scale be useful to someone trying to lose weight without all that crap?

Personally, the answered is a qualified yes. The most important thing is that if any sign of disordered thoughts start intruding on my life, my scale is the first thing to go. So far that hasn’t been a problem so as it is, I have some general guidelines to just using my scale as a tool and not the arbiter of my worth.

1) Daily/weekly measurements are utterly meaningless. I’m looking for a pattern over time. The trend of my weight over months is what I’m looking at, not focusing on the fact that eating Chinese food can reliably cause my weight to go up a pound the next day.

2) Body fat isn’t the only thing that moves that needle on the scale. Eating salty foods, hormones, and stress can all move my weight up. So can gaining muscle. Likewise, the number going down too quickly can be a sign that I’m probably losing too much muscle/lean mass. This is why number 3 is my most important rule.

3) The scale is always the loser when it comes to ways to measure health improvements and weight loss. If my clothes are a bit looser and I’m feeling really good and I can see more muscle definition or my lifts are all improving, then fuck the scale.

So why is it useful at all? I’m not always aware of changes in my weight so it’s helpful for that. It can also help me figure out when it’s time to rework my estimates for my caloric needs. Since I don’t notice if I lose 4lbs in a month, I also don’t notice when I don’t. The scale can help me figure out too if something I’m doing is causing me to lose weight too quickly.

Let me be clear that I don’t think the scale is necessary, but I also think it’s gotten a bad rap. A tape measurer, near constant attention to the fit of one’s clothes, or a body fat analyzer can all become tools people use to punish themselves. There’s no reason to use any of these if they bother you, but they aren’t inherently evil or anything.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. janedoefour permalink
    November 23, 2008 11:07 pm

    I recently read on a more conventional “fitness” blog about “Mary Lou’s Weigh”, a scale that never actually tells you your weight, only the change from start. Interesting attempt to solve the scale dilemma (which you outlined quite accurately), but still facilitates obsessing over short-term variations if that’s what the user is inclined to do. I agree that the goodness vs. evilness of measuring devices depends mostly on who’s using them and how.

  2. November 24, 2008 6:38 am

    I weigh myself, but have never actually owned a scale. I weigh at the gym once a week just to keep tabs. It has the crazymaking component, but it also makes it hard to rationalize. So things even out. But having a scale in my house would be like having hazmat material.

  3. November 24, 2008 9:56 pm


    That’s an interesting idea. I agree with you that it probably won’t stop weight obsession if someone is inclined to do so. But still, it might help people whose goal is slow weight loss because I can see where it would be helpful to see that your weight has gone down 7 pounds over 2 months rather than you (general you) went from 258 to 251 – especially for people who beat themselves up about their weight.

  4. November 24, 2008 9:58 pm


    The gym scale has generally been the only one I use. However, my new gym has the scale in the workout area, in front of rows of elliptical machines. I can’t claim to be so comfortable with my weight that I can weigh myself in front people working out.

  5. November 25, 2008 5:40 pm

    I weigh every day, but accept that my weight goes up and down with salt, hormones, etc., also. I just like to see that the general trend is headed down. A few months ago, when I started to actively trying to lose weight, the scale didn’t budge for 3 months, very frustrating, but I kept at it anyway, now it goes down at a slow but visible pace.


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