The Scale

This might come as a surprise to most of you, but the scale is the number one contributing factor for people quitting their weight control efforts. Yet the factor that leads to most failures is the single most important measurement that everyone focuses on.

I know in our office that we weigh patients weekly, but after their weigh-in I bet I spend a third of my time de-emphasizing the scale in an effort to help patients deal with their negative reaction to the scale. I have said countless times to many patients that I would have liked to have run my program without a scale and instead go by improvements in their behavior and feelings, along with improvements in their clothing (i.e. passing the “blue-jeans test”). If I would have done this back in 1988 and not had a scale, people would not have understood and most likely my program wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. However, thankfully through ongoing counselling and reassurance, a great number of patients have learned to put the scale in its proper perspective.

Think about how often has it happened to you that a week of perfect dieting and vigorous exercise has led to a weight gain on the scale. Your immediate reaction: anger, frustration, despair, and thoughts of quitting. On the other hand, what if you deviated a few times that weekend and the scale goes down. The lower scale weight would then reinforce your negative behavior. Therefore your behavior in either case is reinforced by an insensitive machine that didn’t ask whether you were wearing different clothes, were having your menstrual cycle, when your last bowel movement was, whether you were under a lot of stress, whether you drank more or less water than you usually do, performed a lot of exercise or if the weather outside has changed.

All of the above will affect fluid shifts in our body and keep in mind that up to 70% of our body is composed of water. I often describe that our body has its own water cycle (similar to the tide in the ocean). The tide comes in and the tide goes out. When we step on the scale, we are basically measuring at what stage the tide is at. We can have an hourly tide, a daily tide, a weekly and certainly a monthly tide (as most women will attest to with their menstrual cycles and resultant water retention). All of the above tides can be affected by the factors mentioned in the above paragraph.

The single heaviest factor in our daily, weekly and monthly oral intake is the water we drink. As a test, weigh yourself holding an empty pitcher. Then weigh yourself again with the pitcher containing 12 glasses of water (96oz.). This is the usual recommended daily optimum water intake. The extra weight should be approximately six pounds. What if some of that water is retained over the course of one day? Naturally, the scale will go up. Then try filling a big bucket with an entire week’s supply of water. This should weigh over 40 lbs. This is the weight of water alone that you would drink in a week and should some of that water be retained, again, the scale will go up (even if you have lost body fat and your clothes feel looser). Some of you might think from the above examples that if you were to retain some of the water it would be best not to drink as much. The opposite is true. Remember, the more water you drink the less you retain.

Another area where the scale affects most patients is when they know that they have gained weight (e.g. after a holiday, or after a month has gone by between visits to the office). They fear coming in to the office to weigh and often continue to procrastinate returning day after day, week after week. They feel guilty, ashamed, and worry about what we might think about their weight gain. Again, over the years I have told countless numbers of patients that they do not have to worry about weighing in. Just come back to the clinic for a friendly, encouraging visit and some positive reassurance. They can get on the scale whenever they are ready. Likewise, if after repeated visits, a patient is still very uptight about the scale, we get them to avoid weighing for a while and get them to focus on their positive behavior and attitude. I can’t emphasize enough that the focus of our program is not the scale… the focus is on you, your behavior, attitudes and feelings.

The key to weight control is changing your behavior. Improving your behavior will lead to good feelings about yourself, causing better compliance with your eating and exercise plan, which will translate into noticeable inches lost in your clothing. As a last measure of success, check the scale. It will take practice, but one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself to achieve long lasting weight control success, is to learn to put the scale in its place… and many times perhaps, the best place for the scale – is out the window!

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