I’ve been quite vocal about this on social media recently and I think it’s time I wrote a piece on the subject.
As Personal Trainers and Nutritionists, people often come to us to lose weight. When they say lose weight, they actually mean lose fat (am I right or am I right?). When people are succeeding on a fat loss diet the scales will ultimately go down over a period of time. But if you’ve ever been on a fat loss journey, you will probably know that the loss is almost never linear. I find myself explaining this on a daily basis to clients (even those with a scientific background!) but it so ingrained in our brains that scale weight is all that matters that it takes time and patience to change their attitude towards that number.
My mission today is to change your mind or at least be a little more open-minded about the subject. Many moons ago, before I entered this industry, if I were on a diet I used to weigh myself on a Friday morning. If the scales went down I used to reward myself with a “treat” – usually some chocolate or something I had been restricting that week. If the scales stayed the same or I gained a pound or 2, I would punish myself by eating that very same food I had been restricting. That’s quite messed up, uh? I know I am not the only one out there who used/uses food like this, I know better now and want to help put some perspective on it!
I know what you are thinking and I can hear you screaming at the computer “but you put people on 12-week transformation programmes and get them to weigh themselves, you even plaster their successes all over social media!”. You are right, we do this BUT most of our aceTRANSFORMERS are uncomfortable with their photos in underwear being shared so publicly on social media and we understand and respect this! Weight loss is just a number, it isn’t as personal as photo and we want the world to see how great our aceTRANSFORM is and that it works!
Let’s discuss the full picture. Yes, we ask our aceTRANSFORMERS to weigh themselves, but we also get them to take measurements and multiple photos throughout the programme. When determining if someone is succeeding at losing fat, you must look at the full picture – body composition is the full picture, not the number on the scale. Inch loss and how someone looks and feels in their clothes (or out their clothes) is a much better indicator than the scales which can fluctuate massively. If you’ve been following us for a while you will know that the success stories that make us really emotional are those of people that tell us how amazing they feel, how fit and energised they are and how their relationship with food has improved.
I want to talk to you a little about the science behind the scales and why it’s so confusing. The number on the scale won’t give you a reading of your body fat – no, not even those at the gym that promise to measure body fat! Sorry to break it to you, but they are highly inaccurate. The scale shows you the total weight of muscle, fat, organs, blood, water, glycogen stores, bones etc. But what are we actually trying to lose? Just fat! Given that your weight is made of so many different factors, how can you be sure that the fluctuation is only related to a change in fat mass? So, let’s break that down for you and see why scales could move on any given day.
Food: Let’s start with the actual food in our stomach. Let’s say you have been out for a meal the evening before. Your weight is up 1 or 2 lb the following morning. Is it possible to have put on 1-2lb of fat in one meal? NO! You have the actual food still in your stomach that will be digested and a trip to the toilet is likely to bring you back to where you were.
Salt/sodium: Did you know salty food encourages your body to retain water? It’s easy to see how this could have an impact on your weight. It still doesn’t mean that you’ve put fat on just because you had an extra packet of salt and vinegar crisps the night before weigh-in!
Glycogen stores: this is one variable that you might see the biggest change. Did you know we store glycogen (fuel) in our liver, muscles and blood alongside water? Imagine we have little petrol tanks in our body. When we fuel up (eat) we fill those tanks. But we also empty those tanks when exercising, walking or just living. Guess what happens when those tanks are empty? The scales go down! Have you lost fat? NO! You’ve just run out of petrol! Is that something to celebrate? Absolutely not, by the time you eat your next meal, they will be refilling themselves. Fun fact: an 80kg person can hold as much as 4.8kg worth of glycogen. Which means your scales could fluctuate A LOT!!!
Menstrual cycle: We all know it – the scale won’t fail to let you know that your period is on its way. Some people are a few lbs heavier during or just before their period! These are normal hormone fluctuations, water retention, possibly even some additional sugar cravings, or lack of exercise during that time. Have you put weight on in the long term? Nope! Will the scales show that you weigh more that week? They certainly will, but they’ll be back to normal once it’s all over.
Muscle: ever heard the expression muscle weighs more than fat? Well, this isn’t entirely true because weight is weight, but what people mean when they say this is that lb for lb, muscle takes up less space than fat. If you are trying to lose fat, it’s likely that you are exercising more than usual and this will inevitably result in muscle gain (more so if you are a beginner!). At the same time, a calorie deficit will mean that you are losing fat. When these two processes are happening simultaneously, you might not see the scale moving or moving in the right direction, but you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the process is not working! You might just be building muscle faster than you are losing fat. This should explain why measurements and photos are so helpful!
I really hope that next time you jump on the scale you’ll take the number with a pinch of salt. A scale alone cannot give you the full picture of your progress, so don’t let it affect how you feel about yourself. Take pictures, measurements, pick a set of clothes and try them on regularly to see how they feel. Take that old skirt or shirt out of the “I’ll never fit in these again” box and see them fitting better and better over time!
I threw my scales away many years ago. I have literally no idea what I weigh. I gave them up because I now understand the science behind fat loss. I also understand that I am someone who can self-sabotage based on my scale weight. It messes with my head. I have a much healthier attitude towards food and exercise and if my clothes feel a little tight, I know it’s time to cut back a little. Otherwise, it’s all about a healthy balanced life. It is as simple as that.
It took me a long time to get to this point, but we can help you take the first steps in the same direction with our aceTRANSFORM programme! Email us back for more info!