Ester Marsh: It’s not just about the numbers on the scale

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 7, 2019

It’s not just about the scale.

With the new year, many people are trying to lose a few pounds. The scale is a great way to track your progress, but don’t focus solely on the number.

The scale doesn’t tell you what you lost. All it shows is that you lost weight — it could be fat, water weight or even muscles you lost.

In weight loss, you want to keep all or most of your muscles. Water weight is part of weight loss since our bodies are averaging 50 percent to 65 percent of body fluids (depending on age, gender and weight, to name a few).

Of course, you need to stay hydrated because it’s essential to good health. Your sweating sessions in the sauna or plastic suits (yikes!) for weight loss is temporary. The plastic suits can be dangerous because of restricting the body to regulate body temperature.

When I meet with clients, I like to see where they are in their body composition (what the body is made of such as muscle, water and fat). It describes the weight more accurately than BMI (body mass index, which is calculated using only height and body weight).

I take their weight, their body composition using the fat calipers and circumference using a tape measure.

We don’t recommend doing this more than once a month because of the minimal changes in body fat on short term.

Most of us know that the recommendation for weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week. Many know that people need to burn 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound. Cutting 500 calories per day over a week should make you lose 1 pound.

The body fat composition tells me what you lost in a month. A healthy goal is 1 percent of body fat per month. The reason I also use the circumference is because it gives me three different measurements to see a better picture. Example: I measure someone and this person weighs 180 pounds and has a body fat percentage of 39 percentage and the inches are so that he is wearing extra large clothing.

I measure the client again in one month and he has lost 2 percent of body fat, now wearing large but “only” lost 4 pounds.

Same scenario: Weight loss is 15 pounds, body fat is zero percent and also now wearing large.

What it tells me is that he lost water and muscle and no body fat. Even that the weight loss on the scale was almost four times more and he lost inches, it’s not the weight you want to lose. You want to keep the muscles and lose body fat.

Unfortunately, so many people only care about the scale. There was a cartoon going around at one point where two girls stood by a scale and said to each other, “Don’t step on that, it makes you cry.”

Research will tell you that people who weigh once a week are more successful in keeping the weight off than people who don’t weigh (except for when they go for their annual visit to the doctor and are convinced that the scale is wrong, or weighs “heavy”).

So the scale is an amazing tool to use in weight loss and in keeping your weight under control. But knowing what your body is made of shows you the true picture of where you need to be.

I have used the word “skinny fat” to describe people who are skinny but have a very unhealthy lifestyle. I truly have measured people who were skinny but had a high body fat percentage. A healthy range for women is 18 percent to 31 percent and 8 percent to 19 percent for men.

So these skinny/fat people were made of bones, water and fat. And no, that’s not healthy, and I don’t care if they wear a Size 3.

So when you are starting, or are on a healthy lifestyle journey, focus on eating healthy and watch portions, exercise/move more, drink plenty of water, get enough rest and the weight loss on the scale and body composition will happen. But most important, you will feel so much better.

And of course, you have your moments where you stray away from your plan. The moral is to get back where you were and to look forward where you are going. “Would have, could have, should have” are all past sense. Focus on the “I’m gonna do it.” It’s not easy but so worth it.

My motto is, “Embrace the suck but enjoy your journey.”

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.