Why You Shouldn’t Obsess Over the Number on the Scale

Step away from the scale, people. It's not the only thing that matters in weight loss.

Everybody has a morning ritual. Some wake up and have their coffee as they listen to the birds sing. Others turn on the news as they iron their clothes. But those who struggle with their weight tend to have the same old routine: You wake up, go to the bathroom, get on the scale. Does this sound like you?

“Oh no, I actually GAINED weight!” you think to yourself. “This can’t be right, let me try again.” So you step off the scale and try again only to see the same result. “Maybe if I move the scale over it’ll be better. This tile looks uneven.” But the scale reads the same number yet again, and your day is off to a not-so-great start.

If this sounds like you, I have some good news: You don’t need to step on the scale to see results. The number on the scale is only a fraction of the story.

Ask yourself this question: Would you be happier if you lost a couple pounds but didn’t see any difference in your pants size, or would you be happier if you lost a pants size but didn’t lose a pound on the scale? Most, I’m assuming, would choose the latter. So I ask you: Why even bother looking at the scale if that’s not the end result that will make you happy? Why worry about a number that no one else (besides your doctor, maybe) has to know?  Last time I checked, people don’t walk around with signs on their back saying, “I weigh 142 lbs!”

Let’s talk about another topic of obsession in the weight-loss realm: body mass index, or BMI. What most people don’t know is that your BMI is just your weight in relation to your height. So if you agree that we shouldn’t obsessing over our weight on the scale, you should also agree that that you shouldn’t obsess over BMI, and I’ll tell you why: BMI does not account for muscle mass, so it is a flawed measurement. Since muscle is more dense than fat, those with a high amount of muscle will have a high BMI—it’s as simple as that. I don’t know anyone who would consider LeBron James or Tom Brady to be overweight, yet their BMIs are both fall squarely in the overweight category. This is because their body composition is made up of more muscle than a typical person.

And professional athletes aren’t the only ones who can have a higher BMI while still being healthy. A woman who is 5’5″ and weighs 155 pounds with only 20 percent body fat (in the normal, healthy range for females) will still be considered “overweight” according to her height and weight. That’s just wrong, no?

If cold-hard data is a must for you, a better measure of health and fitness is body-fat percentage. With regular exercise and a proper diet plan, you should see inches come off and the fat percentage of your body decrease. How can you track your body fat percentage?  You can buy a body-fat analyzer for around $50 or $60, or you can have a trainer or other fitness professional run the analysis for you. Just like with the scale, this is not a number you should check every day. It takes time to drop even 1 percent of body fat, so avoid the anxiety by only checking every few weeks to make sure you’re on track.

The truth is, I’ve had many clients who have gone down a pant size (sometimes two sizes), clients who were pre-diabetic and are now at normal blood glucose levels, and clients who have come off their blood pressure medication, without losing more than two to three pounds. So whether you’re looking for a smaller waist, more defined arms, or a healthier checkup with your doctor, just remember that weight isn’t everything.


Brian Maher is a personal trainer in Center City Philadelphia who specializes in weight loss and nutritional counseling. He is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a company offering convenient in-home personal training packages to busy individuals looking to improve their fitness levels. To learn more about Brian and his services, visit www.phillypersonaltraining.com. Read all of Brian’s posts for Be Well Philly here.

Photo: Shutterstock