Why the Scale Doesn't Always Matter and Other Things to Know About Weight Loss

Think you know it all about dieting and weight loss? Think again

It might be time to toss your scale...

We are constantly inundated with messages about our bodies that tell us what to do, how to work out, and what to eat. In the world of diet and health, the experts always seem to flip-flop between what is good and bad. Heck, we aren’t even sure how many times butter has been named both a saint and a sinner! But as creatures of habit, we get stuck in routines.

Why the Scale Doesn't Always Matter and Other Things to Know About Weight Loss

Dieting for most people means no sweet treats, more working out, and keeping track of your progress. But sometimes, after doing everything you’re supposed to, you step on the scale and see the needle hasn't really moved. Suddenly, you feel deflated and unmotivated, and you start going through the vicious cycle of dieting all over again.

Before you start punishing yourself for “failing,” you need to know: the scale (and many other health tropes) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

“Standing on the scale doesn't always matter, because a scale can't distinguish between muscle, fat, lean body mass, bones, protein, or all the other factors that go into your total weight,” says Ryan Walters, communications specialist for InBody USA, a fitness technology company. “Someone who stands on the scale may have a ‘normal weight,’ but if this person doesn't exercise and has a body fat percentage exceeding 20 percent for men and 28 percent  for women, they run the risk of a host of health complications, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and more.”

And if you’re working out a ton and are seeing results on the scale, don’t celebrate too soon: you could be shedding the wrong weight.

“If you're shedding weight, but you aren't exercising correctly, you can shed lean body mass in conjunction with fat, keeping your percent of body fat at the same level,” says Walters. “This is why many women who do high amounts of cardio become what's been termed ‘skinny fat.’ They burn away their lean body mass as well as fat.”

Another major concern is the emotional damage a scale can do.

“Daily weighing can be detrimental to our health in that it reinforces the notion that seeing a lower number on the scale is the most important thing,” says Alexis Conaso, a private practice psychologist in Manhattan who specializes in overeating issues and body image concerns. “It encourages weight loss by any means necessary, including unhealthy, dangerous tactics.”

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t check your weight ever, but rather to reinforce that the scale may not be telling the whole story. To help you successfully achieve your weight-loss goals, we asked experts to tell us what most people do not know about losing weight — for instance, TV-watching may ruin your workouts, and sleep is essential to your diet. Check out more helpful tips and start your weight-loss journey well-armed with knowledge!

Begin with a Plan

“Self-mastery is the most important variable in an effective diet. Many people achieve this through food journaling, although journaling is only one aspect of self-mastery. The most important aspect of self-mastery is setting a daily menu and then following through with it. Self-mastery can also be described as dieting 'compliance.' Everything else is secondary to this.”

Dr. Ben G. Adams, clinical psychologist and creator of the Creative Process Diet

Eat a Low-Fat Diet

“Equally important is following a low-fat diet, which appears to be beneficial for several reasons. First, fat contains nine calories per gram compared to four calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein. Second, high-fat foods are often dense, making large portions easy to consume. They’re generally more tempting, so it is easy to eat more than intended.”

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— Rene Ficek