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When You Step on it, You Won't Be Happy...

Brian Calkins - NSCA-CPT, ACE | Cincinnati, Ohio

As you begin (or continue with) an exercise and healthy eating program in an effort to lose weight your, don't step on the scale for at least a month. In contrast to what we've been conditioned to believe, the scale is a lousy way to measure changes with the body.

And regardless how many times I encourage people to "stay off the scale", they always jump on to see how much progress they've made in the past day, week or month. What's worse, if we aren't happy with what the number reads, we become deflated, and many times give up. Don't do it. Don't weight yourself; the scale will not give you an accurate measurement of the improvement you're making.

Your scale can only tell you how much you weigh in total, but it just simply cannot tell you if you've lost body fat. And on the journey of developing a lean, toned, energized, highly functional and healthy body, you're going to add some necessary things to your body that the scale will record as "gains" in weight.

The following will add to the reading your scale gives you and are ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY if you want a body that looks and feels great and functions at optimal capacity:

  1. Connective tissue - specifically, tendons and ligaments. Connective tissue adapts through resistance training to allow you to function at higher levels, and it will not adversely affect your body's appearance in any way.
  2. Muscle tissue - As you add lean muscle tissue to your body, you'll burn more calories and stored body fat during exercise as well as throughout the day doing normal activity. And the additional muscle tissue allows your body to look and feel firm and toned.
  3. Glycogen - when you consume whole grain carbohydrates you're body will store glycogen (the reserve fuel that gets converted into glucose, the body's primary source of energy). And with each gram of additional glycogen, your body stores several grams of water along with it. This is a very beneficial process, but it will add to what your scale reads.
  4. Blood Volume - as we become increasingly fit, we add blood volume.

In addition to these positive gains in weight, your scale can vary as much as 3-6% on any given day based on digestive contents and your hydration level.

Here's how you can determine real progress:

  1. Answer the following questions: Do I have more energy? Are my clothes fitting more loosely? Have others commented that I'm "looking good"? Am I starting to like what I see in the mirror?
  2. Measure your body composition - discover how much of you is made up of body fat versus lean body mass. All the methods of measuring body composition are subject to some error, but if you stick to the same method and tester, you'll find that change over time is reliable.
  3. If you're up for it, take a picture of yourself before you start your fitness and fat loss program. You don't even have to look at the photo (yet). Save it for later. After a few months of exercise, take a look at the difference between the old and new you.

It's ironic that the increases in connective tissue, lean muscle tissue, glycogen and blood volume - the things that are crucial to improving how your body looks, feels and functions - can be the same things that initially make you think you're making no progress.

Toss your scale into the trash can. It's truly useless.