54: Why Scale Weight is Irrelevant (And What to Focus On Instead)

Feb 26, 2024

If you’ve been following me for some time, you’ll know I’m no stranger to discussing why your health isn't solely determined by the number on the scale. Similarly, I’ve also talked about why BMI does not tell the full story. And while you might happily nod along with this approach, I also know that many of us still can’t escape that nagging urge to weigh less.

If you are someone who tends to fixate a bit too much on what the scale says, I want to share a recent example from my own health journey which proves exactly why it’s so important to look beyond the scale.

Shifting Perspectives: Incorporating Strength Training and Body Composition Analysis

I've always been someone who has had to approach weight loss with patience. For years, I saw slow but steady progress, often losing just a pound a month. I learned to make peace with that and managed to lose a significant amount of weight with lifestyle changes alone. 

Over this past year, I have integrated the use of Wegovy as another tool to help me keep going. Even with this medication, my progress has stayed gradual. But maintaining the weight loss I've achieved is a victory worth celebrating (especially when most people put it right back on within the first five years) and it affirmed that the lifestyle changes I'd made were effective. 

More recently, I've been incorporating more strength training into my routine and have started paying attention to my body composition - something I didn’t prioritize years ago when I first began my journey.

I use a tool called the InBody scale to track my skeletal muscle mass accurately. Unlike cheaper scales, it provides insights into muscle mass without including other parameters like ligaments, which we have no control over. This has been invaluable in understanding how my body is responding to my fitness routine.

But what I discovered recently reminded me just why it’s so important to consider body composition. When I analyzed my progress over the past month, the scale showed a modest decrease in weight of two pounds. But when I dug deeper, I discovered that I had actually lost five pounds of fat and gained two pounds of muscle. That is a significant shift in body composition that wouldn't have been apparent if I'd focused solely on the number on the scale.

The Sacrifice of Fast Weight Loss

My own experience reinforced a vital lesson for me: the total number on the scale is almost irrelevant if you're not considering body composition. Many people fixate on rapid weight loss, but they often sacrifice muscle mass in the process. 

I've seen it happen with my patients time and time again. When weight loss exceeds about 1 percent of your body weight per week, it's often accompanied by a significant loss of muscle mass. (In my Optimizing Fat Loss and Maintaining Muscle on a GLP 1 Mini-Course, I go into more detail about what's acceptable and not as far as muscle loss is concerned).

Body Measurements

If you don’t have access to a body composition scale like the InBody scale, that's perfectly fine. Body measurements can be just as effective. For example, you could start by measuring your abdominal circumference once a month and observe any changes. Are your clothes fitting easier? Is that measurement going down? Even if you're not seeing significant changes on the scale, these body measurements can often reveal shifts in your body composition that indicate progress is being made.

Focusing on Functional Fitness and Overall Well-being

Ultimately, we don't need a scale to tell us that we feel stronger or that we’re headed in the right direction. Think about the bigger picture. Are you more functionally fit? Do you have fewer urges and cravings because you've started to bring more protein into your diet? Do you feel more energized and capable in your daily activities? These are the metrics that truly matter. It's about nourishing our bodies with adequate protein, prioritizing sleep, managing stress, and seeking support when needed.

Our health and wellness journeys are so much more than just watching the numbers on the scale fluctuate. And we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we continue to place emphasis on that number. Instead, let’s cultivate a lifestyle that promotes long-term health and happiness, regardless of what’s staring back at us on the scale.