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Healthy Weight Week Guest Post: Step Away from that Scale

Today’s guest post is written by Shelby Humphreys from http://100poundsin1year.wordpress.com/

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WEGO Health’s Healthy Weight Week couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.  We’re over three weeks into our New Year’s resolutions.  For most Americans, it’s not looking good.  The cold carrots and celery have lost their appeal and become, well, cold carrots and celery.  Withdrawals of all sorts have hit, and we’re considering whether or not to whack our office mate over the head with a keyboard the next time he sinks his teeth into that morning maple bar.  If sidewalk vendors knew what we were thinking on our commute home, they’d splay their arms out in defensive posturing and bellow “Maam, step away from the baguette!”

The worst, however, is the scale.  That dang thing – doesn’t matter if its digital or die-cast metal – it isn’t moving like we’d hoped.  What’s the use of all this working out and eating right if it doesn’t make a difference on the scale?

Take heart, my friend.  There’s more going on inside that wondrous body of yours than a simple scale can divine.  The scale cannot tell your whole story, and I’ll tell you why.  Once you understand the various changes happening within, it will be much easier to stay motivated.  I know you know it’s not about the numbers, but I’ve got a few ideas to take you beyond numbers and reignite your fire for healthy living.

First, let’s list the major components that make up our bodies:  water, muscle, fat, and bone.  These are the macro-elements which make up our total body weight.  By understanding how diet and exercise affect each of these elements, we can gain a true appreciation of what’s happening inside our skin.

Water.  I love the fact that both our bodies and the Earth are almost 70% water.  Isn’t that cool?  Just as the Earth has its own water cycle (remember drawing clouds and rivers in 2nd grade?), our bodies also have a water cycle.  Our cycle takes the form of drink, sweat, breath vapor, and urine.  There’s also another form:  carb carrier.  When our bodies store extra carbohydrates, water is stored right along with them.  Body chemistry requires this tandem storage.  That’s why, when I went off my 25-day, no-carb HCG diet, I didn’t understand how my jeans – which fell off two weeks earlier – could suddenly refuse to button.  Water.  Whenever I shun carbs, I’m going to lose water weight.  As soon as I start enjoying that croissant again, however; I’ll see the scale creep back up.  This doesn’t mean I stop drinking.  In fact, the more water I drink, the less my body holds onto it and the more weight I keep off (read more on this at http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20100823/water-may-be-a-secret-weapon-in-weight-loss). It does mean, however, that the scale can be spoofed by my natural intake/outflow of water.  I need a better strategy for measuring my healthy weight; one that recognizes water, which will always be about 70% of my body.

Muscle.  By now, most of us know that muscle weighs more than fat.  This is The go-to excuse for whenever the scale doesn’t seem to budge.  “Oh, you’re just gaining muscle.”  This reply doesn’t help, though, when I’m working hard and eating healthy.  I don’t want more muscle; I want less fat.  Don’t my thighs understand that?  Well, yes and no.  Ironically, more muscle can lead to less fat.  In fact, it’s the fastest, most effective way to reshape my body.  When I squat another ten reps, that burn in my butt is accomplishing so much more than a tight tush.  I’m stimulating muscle building.  Because muscle requires more calories than fat to survive, my demand for calories increases.  Muscle takes my metabolism into hyper-drive.  The scale can’t show this happening.  In fact, it may show that I’ve gained weight when I’ve really lost fat but gained muscle.  The scale can’t reveal this fact, but my skinny jeans sure can!  In the last few months of my weight loss journey, I’ve lost less than ten pounds, but twice I’ve had to buy new jeans because they kept getting too big.  Now, when I power through that last song, or push out three more reps, I think to myself, “I am a fat-burning machine!”

Which brings us to – fat.  Fat gets a bad rap, for lots of reasons.  Stalking the scale contributes to this bad rap because it strengthens faulty reasoning.  We think, If the number goes down, then I must be losing fat.  Therefore, in order to weigh x pounds, my scale must go down x pounds per day/week/month/year (pick your favorite.) This made sense to me when I first started my weight loss journey.  I calculated my target weight loss at two pounds per week.  For a while, that’s exactly what I lost.  I was thrilled!  Then, the average began to creep lower and lower; the scale moved slower and slower.  I couldn’t blame it on bad batteries because it was one of those heavy-duty scales like you see at doctors’ offices.  Its old-fashioned weights and measures practically screamed, I cannot tell a lie! In a way, though, it does.  Or, maybe it’s better said that it doesn’t tell the whole truth.  When I use the scale like a gypsy uses a crystal ball, I’m bound to get disappointed.   Random calculations of how much fat I want to lose within a given time cannot guarantee how much, or how fast, my body can actually lose.  That’s because of this nifty phenomenon called “Set Point.”  We each have our own “Set Point,” a balanced level of fat, water, muscle, etc. which keeps our bodies humming along.  We eat too little food, and our Set Point slows things down to balance less food with lower energy.  We eat too much, and our Set Point revs things up.  The goal of Set Point is stability, keep everything as it is.  The good news is, I can reprogram my Set Point to a lower overall weight.  To do this, however; I have to lose weight slow enough avoid my Set Point from kicking into starvation mode.  In the past, after vaulting off the diet wagon, I’ve always gained the weight back quicker than I could say “Two cheeseburgers with a large fry and diet Coke, please.”  That’s because of Set Point.  You can read more about Set Point, and learn the recommended speed of weight loss, at my blog “Ready, Set, Go!

 

 

 

Bone.  During most of my 30-year struggle with weight, I’ve ignored my bones.  After all, they’re there; they hold me up; they help me out.  They’re just bones, right?  Well, as our parents and grandparents have learned, bones matter, specifically, the density of our bones.  When my Aunt Alice’s back became humped-over and walking became painful, her degenerative bone disease revealed that all bones are not equal.  Just as we each have our own weight, we each have our own density of bone mass.  Here’s where our bodies truly trump the scale and disrespect all those height/weight charts.   Bone mass can be clearly understood through the most dependable form of weighing , called Hydrostatic Underwater Weighing (HUW  — to find a lab near you, search out Health Sciences labs at nearby universities or health centers.)  By dunking our bodies in water, clinicians can delineate our body composition.  We discover just how much of our poundage pie is water, muscle, fat, and bone.  For example, when I did HUW, I got a real eye opener.  I had always despised my 200+ pound frame.  I wanted my 5 feet 7 inches to weigh what all the charts said I should weigh.  I wanted to lose at least 70 pounds.  When I popped out of the water tank, caught my breath, and wrapped my shivers in a big towel (Brrrr.  Don’t these lab techs have warm blood?), I was set straight.  As a petite, red-haired lab tech tore my chart from the printer, she explained that I did have a higher body fat % than usual, around 30%.  My muscle and bone mass, however, spiked the charts.  She looked at me and said, “Here’s the thing.  Even if you were a healthy body fat % for a woman, you’d still be 185 pounds.  Your bones and muscle weigh that much.”  “I thought I needed to lose 70 pounds,” I replied.  She flashed that irritating jeer that all super-geeks get when they know they’re right.  “Uh, yeah…you’d be dead.”  O.K.  No more trying to please the charts for me.

 

No more judging my progress solely with the scale, either.  I need better feedback than one number can provide.  I need a variety of indicators which can tell the whole story of how my body maintains its unending balance between water, muscle, fat, and bone.  I’ve developed several strategies for tracking more inclusive, positive feedback, which you can read at http://100poundsin1year.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/week-47-switching-gears.

 

In our journeys toward weight loss, numbers need to be more like footnotes and scales more like that quarterly trip to Jiffy Lube for an oil change.  If we listen to our bodies and educate ourselves about all the factors that make up these amazing vessels, then we’ll gain so much more than we could ever lose.

 

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