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Throw Out the Scale


Do you know someone that is obsessed with the scale? Someone who hops on the scale morning, noon and night? And stepping off each time with feelings of frustration or disappointment? With obesity on the rise and weight loss a common household topic, its easy to become obsessed with weight, diets and the scale. This multi-billion dollar industry brings about constant marketing and advertisement on the next solution or quick fix that hits sixty five percent of American's weight issues. The question is, what are the facts about losing weight that marketers are not saying?

Is it that we have unrealistic goals?

"How fast can I lose weight?" This is the first question most people ask before starting a diet or weight loss program. If you have this line of thinking when you start, you are just setting yourself up for failure. Sure, there are many diets out there that guarantee the loss of ten pounds over the weekend or fifty pounds in a month. The truth is, this is not realistic and for most people struggling with their weight, unobtainable. Its time to lose the quick fix mentality and realize how long change really takes. Calculate how long it took for you to get where you are today. Remember that time and know that it is going to take even longer to undo.

How much can you actually lose?

Losing one to two pounds per week is realistic. This will shock most people, especially if they feel they need to drop thirty pounds and in a limited time. Think about it. One pound of fat is 3500 calories. If you were to lose two pounds a week, or 7000 calories, that would be equivalent to three sticks of butter. That's a lot of calories (and hard work) to shed two pounds. Would it be realistic to think that you could shed 35,000 calories (10 pounds) over a weekend?

From an exercise perspective: The average person walking on a treadmill for an hour will burn 400 calories. The average person on an elliptical for an hour will burn 600 calories. (These are just averages since fitness level plays a role in caloric expenditure). Without taking anything else into consideration that translates in 11.5 hours on the elliptical and 17.5 on the treadmill! This is excessive, unrealistic and unsafe.

From a diet perspective: even if you didn't eat all weekend, this caloric amount could not be lost. The truth is that your body needs a certain amount of calories a day to function properly (basal metabolic rate). If you go below that calorie intake, your body will protect itself by metabolically slowing down and storing more calories as fat. This minimum daily food consumption makes large amounts of weight loss impossible in such a short period of time.

Do you see how hard it is to lose weight? There is no overnight process or quick fix that will make it go any faster. A combination of decreased calories and exercise over time will shed the pounds.

We all know someone that has gone on a diet and lost a tremendous amount of weight on the scale. If what was just said is true then how did they do that?

The problem with the scale is that it measures weight, without consideration of fat and lean tissue weight. This fat and lean tissue composition is going to make the difference not the weight on the scale. Muscle is more dense than fat. You can build muscle, lose fat, and become healthier overall and still appear to have gained weight on the scale. At the same time you are "firmer" and wearing two pants sizes smaller. This number on the scale can cause frustration and disappointment in someone's attempt to lose weight.

When someone first goes on a diet, which is basically a low calorie diet, they will start to drop weight (we drop weight when calories burned are more than calories taken in). A common factor of diets along with less calories consumed, is the restriction or limit in carbohydrate consumption. Glucose or carbohydrate is the fuel that feeds our brain along with our nervous and immune system. When we restrict them, our body starts to break down our storage form (glycogen) for use. Since carbohydrates are seventy five percent water this will result in the release of water from the body. A gallon of water weighs 8.5 pounds. So you can see how this could give the illusion of a victory on the scale. But remember this is just water weight, not fat weight. As soon as you return back to consuming carbohydrates (which will happen, remember glucose is the only fuel that feeds your brain, nervous system and immune system) the weight on the scale will be back. There went victory. Here's something else that is happening. When you run out of stored carbohydrates your body will start to break down muscle to feed the brain and necessary systems. This results in additional weight loss from lean tissue and the water needed to remove the wastes of protein breakdown. If lean tissue is not available, fat will be partially broken down for fuel (cannot be completely broken down unless you have glucose in your system) and additional water will be released to remove byproducts of this process. So again when you step on the scale, you will see a change in "weight", but remember it is water and your muscle that you lost, not fat.

The problem with this victory is that you may have lost weight on the scale but you have also altered your body composition and not in a healthy way. Even thought the scale says you weigh less, you have lost muscle mass and now have a higher percentage of fat! Along with this change comes a sluggish metabolism and altered hormones that control your metabolic rate and appetite. Since this is a temporary fix, soon you will be back to your old ways. Chances are you will gain the weight you lost and then some.

Learning healthy eating habits along with a proper exercise regimen is the key to success. Losing the weight is only the first step. Keeping it off is something that will continually have to be addressed. It should be about losing weight for a lifetime not an occasion. Working hard for three months to go back to past behaviors will be a setup for failure. Health is a never-ending process. Its time to lose the quick fix mentality, take the first step towards a new you and throw out the scale.

References:

Katch F.I., V. L Katch, W. McCardle. Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance. Lippincott , Williams and Wilkins. Fourth edition, 1993.

ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins. Sixth Edition, 137-164, 2000.

Teri Mosey is an Exercise Physiologist and Instructor for Health & Fitness Certifications.

Peak Performance Fitness; http://www.peakptfit.com


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