This is a phrase I hear almost daily as a health-care professional in the fitness industry:
“My doctor said I needed to lose 20 pounds in three months to get healthier.” Yes, the number on a scale is one indicator of health, but it is just one aspect of how we measure health. Usually, improving your health (blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, sleep, energy levels, mental hygiene and mood etc.), doesn’t come with a large drop in the number on the scale for an adult of average lifestyle and health. Weight loss actually plateaus just as major progress in all those other more important things begins. Why is this?
The number on the scale is a combination of all our tissues. This includes fat, muscle, bone density, water, etc. When we start improving other aspects of our overall health, generally bone density and muscle mass will increase — which means the number on the scale may either be slow to change after initial adjustments, or actually go up.
We’ve all heard the facts before… muscle weighs more than fat, it’s how you feel and look — not the number. That’s all true.
My client went on for a few minutes justifying why he thought that the weight loss was the most important factor in his health. He said he’d dropped a few pounds already in the last few months and was looking forward to losing about 15 pounds more, while also telling me the last time he went through a training program he lost only five pounds but dropped three pant sizes.
He was making my case for me, and finally I stopped him and asked, “How much do you think I weigh?”
He said, “Well I’m not sure, but definitely less than me.” For reference, I’m a 25-year-old female, five feet, eight inches in an athletic build. He is about my height, 60-something male. He weighs in around 140 pounds.
“I weigh 180 pounds,” I said. He was sure I was lying even though this is 100 per cent true.
“But you don’t look as though you have that much on you… you’re not big at all!”
“Precisely why the number on the scale is not something I worry about,” I said.
Often hormones can even make that number fluctuate day to day, so don’t look at that one number on the scale and think it determines your health.
As we change lifestyle and fitness levels, muscle replaces fat, metabolism increases, and our whole system becomes more efficient. Often “losing weight” or “toning” can be achieved in small levels just by adding in 20 to 30 minutes more movement during the day and drinking more water to help flush the system.
Often starting with one guided session or challenging workout a week is enough to inspire daily changes the rest of the week. I find with most of my clients doing regular weigh-ins is actually counterproductive. They get fixated on that number — and when it plateaus, as it always does — they forget to be encouraged by all the other changes they’ve made to their overall health and appearance.
Weight is the last thing you should worry about when you’re working towards any sort of health goal. Your body will tell you when you’re making progress so pay attention to the whole picture — not one small factor.