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Should You Avoid the Scale?

Have you recently started a fitness plan, and found yourself worried about the fact that the scale’s not moving as fast as you’d like? Is it bringing you down, to the point where you’re almost ready to quit?

Don’t do it! Reconsider!

When we set out on a journey, with the intention of achieving our fitness goals, what’s usually our most reliable method of measuring fitness progress?

The scale.

We want to see that sucker move and, when it doesn’t, we’re usually preparing to take a hammer to it. I totally get it, but allow me to encourage you to consider a different method of quantifying your fitness progress.

You see, there’s something about the scale that makes people a little antsy. Something about the increasing number – not, say, the unwanted muffin top they’re developing or, perhaps, the unpleasant tightness in their work suits – on the scale makes people panic so, by extension, seeing that number on the scale decrease should be the answer, right?

Not quite.

Here, I’ll share with you a few reasons why you should focus less on the scale, and how to better quantify your fitness progress:

  1. How do you look? No, really – look at yourself. How do your clothes fit? How do you look in your suit? If you’re lifting weights and developing your shoulders, do your suits hang a little bit better than before? If you’ve been on a consistent squat routine, are your skirts fitting your shape a bit differently? Don’t be afraid to look at your body, notice – and praise yourself for – any changes, and take note of what you want to work on a bit more. And, remember, a number on a scale can’t guarantee that you’ll look any particular way once you reach a given number – there’s no guarantee that those “15 pounds” you think you need to lose will come from any particular part of the body, since you can’t choose where fat burns.
  2. How do you feel? Quality of life concerns aren’t to be overlooked – they’re major. On my journey of losing, well, a little weight, lots of small things happened along the way that improved my quality of life drastically. I was able to get up from the floor without my hands. I no longer needed to stop, mid-flight, while climbing the stairs. I could run to catch the train without being winded and breaking a sweat. I became more flexible. Fitness isn’t simply about developing a different body – it’s about developing new physical abilities, too. Don’t discount that progress.
  3. Are you keeping track of those measurements? Nothing keeps you honest like a nice tape measure. Suppose you’re on a weight loss journey. That scale might show an increase in weight, but if the tape measure shows that you’re literally getting smaller, is this really a problem? Suppose you’re on a muscle-building journey. If the scale lowers but you’re measuring larger in your targeted development areas, you’re winning, right?
  4. Body fat percentage is key. Most people don’t necessarily want to just lose weight, they want to lose fat. That usually what people mean when they say they want to “tone up” – they want to burn fat while maintaining muscle. Tracking the percentage of your body that is fat and watching that number instead of the overall number allows you to focus on what you really want to affect. Besides, losing too much muscle has other potentially negative effects that you might not’ve bargained for, the least of which being a negative effect to your metabolism.

Nothing has the potential to mislead you more than the scale. No one’s saying leave it behind entirely – in fact, you need a good scale in order to monitor your progress with body fat percentage – but in order to truly understand your progress, you’ll need to add other quantifiers. Like I always say, your body – and your mirror – will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs her journey from 330lb couch potato to certified personal trainer and nutritionist. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on Facebook and Twitter.