What the Scales Don't Tell You

Victoria's day begins by stepping on her bathroom scale. How she feels that day depends on what the scale tells her. Victoria has a number in her mind that corresponds to what she thinks is her ideal weight. No matter how healthy or fit she feels, she is not happy unless she weighs that weight. She berates herself for not having the willpower to reach that "magical" weight. She feels like a failure because her friend, Anna, who is her same height, weighs less. But is she really a failure, or is she a victim of unrealistic expectations and misconceptions about ideal weight?

Many individuals, like Victoria, have a distorted perception of how much they should weigh. And this misconception usually starts with height-weight tables. These tables tell us how much we are supposed to weigh depending on our sex, age group, and height. What these tables don't take into account is your body composition, how much of you is lean (muscles, bones, skin, blood, internal organs) and how much of you is fat. Being overweight does not automatically mean you are overfat! Victoria may weigh more than her friends but actually have less fat because her muscles and bones are heavier.

Weighing scales are not very reliable both because they can only measure your total weight and cannot differentiate between lean muscle and fat tissue. Many new exercisers are horrified, when after a few weeks, they find that their clothes fit better, but they weigh the same or more than they started. What's going on inside the body is that exercise makes the muscles heavier as the fat cells get smaller. This is a positive body composition change because the heavier your muscles, the more calories you burn.

The scale, also, cannot differentiate between fat and water loss. Our bodies are approximately 60 percent water; therefore, our weight is affected by anything that disrupts our fluid balance. The scale may register a loss of five pounds after using a sauna, but those lost pounds are only water! You may weigh more the day after gorging yourself on green mangoes and bagoong but that will only reflect water retention from the high salt content of the bagoong. Be aware of these fluid shift fluctuations if you weigh yourself every day.

Many gyms and weight management clinics now use techniques like skinfold measurements or bioelectrical impedance to measure changes in body composition more accurately than just height-weight tables and weighing scales. They do a wonderful job of seeing improvements in muscle gain and fat loss.

But not everybody has access to these places that offer these techniques. So, here's a practical guide to stop being a slave to your bathroom scale:

A healthy weight is one that is just right for your health, performance, and appearance. If your existing body weight prevents you from doing everyday activities or playing recreational sports or is causing complications in your blood pressure or blood sugar levels, it is not a healthy weight for you. A healthy weight range is one that can be maintained with sensible eating and moderate exercise. If you have to starve or exercise till you drop, chances are that is not a realistic weight level for you.

Body weight is highly influenced by genetic factors. Take a good look at your family's body build. Most of us do not have the genetic potential to look like the fashion models we see in magazines. Worrying about those "last five pounds" is a form of bondage we can all do without!

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