The Scale- Friend or Enemy?

March 8, 2014
by Dr. Edward Shadiack, DO

Ever diet and not lose weight?  Or more appropriately, have weight loss slow down?  Ever exercise to exhaustion but find your weight increases?  Has this ever discouraged you?  Has it discouraged you to the point of giving up?  Has this happened multiple times, or EVERY time?  Do you feel like the scale is lying to you?  Have you felt as though your losing weight only to see the same number come up again, and again, and AGAIN?!

Well, if you’re anything like me (or anyone else whose tried to lose weight for that matter), then of course you have.  This effect is absolutely natural, and I want to point that out.

You can diet and exercise til your hearts content and the scale may show you lost weight, lost NO weight, or (the most frustrating of all) gained weight!

This is because weight is not a good indicator of how well your doing.  In fact it’s a terrible indicator.  In fact, I’m gonna say right now that the reason most people are under the impression they can’t lose weight is…well, because of poor results on the scale.  Counter-intuitive, right?

Well, a much, much better indicator of how well you’re doing is Percent Body Fat (abbreviated %BF from here on).

Your total weight (aka scale weight) is a composition of a number of different things.

First and foremost, water weight.  Water weight makes up between 45 and 60% of our total body weight.  Most diets and diet supplements (bee pollen, caffeine, Ketones and the like) cause us to lose weight from this compartment.  So we initially see weight loss on the scale, which motivates us.  Once we’ve depleted ourselves here, weight loss slows, or stops altogether.

The second is muscle, organs and bones.  You don’t want to lose any weight here.  If you lose muscle mass, your metabolism slows and you could even gain weight.  If you lose bone mass, you set yourself up for osteopenia and osteoporosis in the future.  And obviously you don’t want to lose weight in the form of vital organs.

The third component of total body weight is fat.  Here’s what you want to get rid of.  But fat comes in several forms.  You have visceral fat (belly fat) which is the fat associated with disease, and you have cutaneous fat (or thigh fat, butt fat, etc and so on).  Visceral fat is the first to go, and as such, you get the health benefits early on.  It’s much more difficult to lose the subcutaneous fat, and this gets us discouraged.  We go off our diets and gain back our visceral fat (disease fat).

The only way to tell which compartment your loosing it from is with body composition analysis.  This is best performed with a DEXA scan; however you probably don’t want to be exposing yourself to radiation a couple times a week.  That has it’s own health risks.

There are other ways to do it, though.  We us bio-electric impedance.  It’s not 100%, but it’s the next best thing; and there are no radiation risks here.

So here’s what happens with fad diets and over the counter diet pills.  You lose water weight (not good), and the weight comes down on the scale.  Next you lose weight from muscle because of the water loss, and inadequate amounts of protein on the average diet (also not good).  Weight loss stops.  Now that muscle is down, you start to gain body fat (really not good).  Total weight starts to increase and we all give up.  Now we’re in a position where we have less muscle, more fat and a slower metabolism.  Next time we try to lose weight, it’ll be that much harder.

So scale weight isn’t the weight that matters.  If you’re eating healthy, exercising in moderation and otherwise approaching weight loss in an appropriate way, then the weight will come off….eventually.  With a healthy approach, you maintain your water weight, then you build muscle, and your metabolism increases.  Now you’ve set yourself up for long term success.

Avoid fads and over the counter diet medication.  Eat healthy.  Eat real food.  Exercise in moderation.  And don’t let the scale kill your attempts at real health.

Be Well

Edward C Shadiack III, DO
Osteopathic Family Physician
Medical Bariatrician
Reflections: Health and Wellness Center
1200 NE Central Ave
Seaside Park, NJ 08752
schadiak
Twitter  @reflectionsHW
Information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical consultation or serve as a substitute for medical advice provided by a physician or qualified medical professional.

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  • Reply Jennifer Whitten September 26, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    You are right. It is body composition which matters, NOT weight. Scales do NOT measure body fat whatsoever, as you note. DEXA is a good way if not used often.

    Some people can have too low body fat too!

    Good article. Scales are human farming and demeaning. Only for operations is it even necessary

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