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Everything The Scale Doesn’t Tell You

“Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or, rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this.” -Cheryl Strayed

I recently taught a nutrition seminar at a local high school. My audience included several teams of youth Volleyball athletes, all of which were between the ages of 14-18. I led with the question, “How many of you weigh yourselves every morning?” and every hand in the room went up. My heart dropped to the floor. The following question I asked was, “How many of you like the number that you see?” Not a single person kept their hand in the air. The reality is that young girls, adolescents & women of all ages allow their scale weight to dictate their beauty, worth and self confidence.

I used to be guilty of the same thing. I spent years focusing on a weight with which I was comfortable. I would say , “Anything under 125 pounds is fine,” as if my weight was a negotiation, compromise or something on which I had to settle. I treated it as if that number actually equated to something, said something about the person I am or what I bring to the table.

I started self educating, embarking on my own fitness journey, and was able to surround myself with valuable resources to learn more about what the number on the scale really represents. Doing so helped me realize how little that number should be valued. So many things impact your scale weight. If you are going to place value on that number, then you must also be willing to consider everything associated with it as well.

What is “everything” we must consider when we weigh ourselves? Keep reading…

“Drinking water makes me bloated.” MYTH! The human body is made up of 40-70% water, most of which is found in muscle tissues. Our bodies require copious amounts of water regardless of the level of physical activity.  Water transports nutrients, vitamins and minerals throughout the body, diffuses gas, rids the body of waste, lubricates the joints and provides structure to skin. The Dietary Reference Intake for water for women is 91 oz per day, and 125 oz for men. However, I encourage my clients to drink one gallon per day (128 oz). Drinking water does the exact opposite of bloating. The higher the water intake, the faster the body will flush and release fluids. Drinking 128 oz of water a day will do nothing but help your body look and function to the best of its ability. If you are not drinking enough water on a regular basis it is extremely likely that your body is retaining fluids, resulting in a higher scale weight.

Rest & Recovery: The body repairs and restores itself during sleep. It is preparing for the days and weeks ahead of strenuous activity, life and interaction. Implementing consistent habits to maximize sleep should be a priority, along with allowing your body ample time to recover and repair (taking rest days if you are an active person, etc). Our muscles are made up of 70% water. That also means that training and vigorous exercise that results in muscle soreness can cause temporary fluid retention in the muscle while it repairs. Poor, broken lack of sleep or overall fatigue will result in a higher scale weight. If there is a random jump on the scale, evaluate your rest and recovery for the week and note that the number does not reflect NOT fat gain! Stay objective when making these evaluations!

Sodium 101:  If you are willing to pick apart your weight, you should be just as willing to do a thorough evaluation of what you put in your mouth that contributes to the number on the scale. Salt, fiber levels and food intolerances all have a major impact on your scale weight! Sodium can EASILY cause water retention (and the scale to go up) if more salt than usual is consumed in one sitting. I recommend a sodium intake of  2,000-3,000 mg. It is not ideal to  consume less than 1,00 mg of sodium per day. It can be helpful to pay attention to the sodium content in foods you purchase to identify any culprits that may be causing additional retention.

Dietary Fiber: Fiber aids in digestion, helps speed up the process of waste elimination, allows one to feel more satiated for longer periods of time and has other major health benefits. A good rule of thumb is to have roughly 20% of your daily total carbohydrate intake consist of dietary fiber. As fiber moves through your body, it absorbs water along the way. Therefore, should you have a particularly high fiber diet or eat foods containing high levels of fiber one day, your weight will increase due to the additional water absorption that it is pulling through your tract simultaneously. Exceeding average fiber levels may cause a scale spike for up to 72 hours for some and may be completely unnoticeable for others. Being aware of your fiber intake and understanding its role in digestion will make weighing yourself much less scary.

Food Sensitivities & Intolerances: Food intolerances and sensitivities present themselves differently in everyone. Learning what foods work best for your body and digestive system is crucial looking and feeling your best. If you are unsure of foods that may be causing frequent discomfort you can try a temporary elimination diet, slowly removing one food at a time for a 7-10 days to see if things improve. Food panels and intolerance tests are also available to determine sensitivites. Consuming foods to which you are intolerant or even slightly sensitive can result in painful gas, physical discomfort and changes on the scale. Evaluate your food choices and be mindful about what you put in your body! Certain foods will work better for you than others and having that knowledge is imperative when placing value on the scale.

Hormones, Stress & Self Care: These three are the scale weight trifecta! Women have the privilege of navigating monthly cycles that impact energy levels, hormones and how the body looks and feels. When nearing or on a cycle, enduring a stressful time or feeling overly tired your body is going to reflect that on the scale. Those feelings are what our bodies use to communicate what we need. Don’t ignore them, power through them or try to be a hero! They are great indicators that you need to scale back, take some time to yourself and give back to your body. Pedicures, massages, quiet time, lighting a candle, or walks outside are all ways that I manage my stress and practice self care to honor what my body needs.  Additionally, women should know that it is not uncommon to experience weight fluctuations anywhere from 1-6 pounds around a menstrual cycle. Without stress management tools or ample self care you can expect the see the number on the scale rise. Whether it is finals week, a demanding work schedule or an event in your life causing stress, do not be surprised if you see the scale move.

The next time you hop on the scale to evaluate your progress, please review this list and approach your evaluations with mindful consideration. Incorporate other (more valuable) measures of progress in place of or in addition to the scale as well! Using measuring tapes and noting how your clothes fit, current energy levels, improved athletic performance and your overall well being will tell you so much more than that metal box.

The scale is only ONE tool for measurement and there are so many things that it DOESN’T tell us. Be less attached to that number and more attached to the person behind it. The number on the scale doesn’t tell you who you are, it doesn’t celebrate the exercise you did that week, it doesn’t take into account your headspace or work load, nor does it tell you when you have made serious muscle gains, or lost inches! Measurements, body scans, photographs and self awareness do that. There is no wrong way to measure progress or self evaluate. The only thing that matters is that your method of choice adds value, encourages celebration of all types of progress and serves your current journey.

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