The scale has become a deeply ingrained symbol of health & fitness in our culture . We check it regularly. It is one of the first things we do at doctor’s appointments. It is in every gym locker room and even in rest stops on road trips. We see magazines, TV shows and health articles consistently reminding us that our weight is important. Many of us use BMI as a rough estimation of our overall fitness. But how often should we step on that ever pervasive piece of equipment? When does a useful tool become an unhealthy obsession? What does it really mean to be healthy?
Weight is an easy way to get a rough estimation of your overall fitness. However, it is also important to not be obsessed with it. I usually weigh myself about once a week. I put more emphasis on body fat %, how well my pants fit and by paying attention to my energy levels. The issue with weighing yourself daily is that our weight constantly fluctuates and there are a number of factors that can impact this. I think the scale can give people a tunnel vision almost. They are so obsessed with it that they have a hard time taking a step back and seeing the big picture. Luckily I didn’t even have a scale my entire first year of losing weight, so I would only weigh myself maybe once a week at the gym. I think this helped me keep a healthy perspective while changing my fitness habits since it didn’t become all about losing weight.
Our culture overvalues weight and undervalues wellness. I think as a culture we have an unhealthy obsession with weight loss. I’m not considered a “success” and didn’t get featured on Calorie Count and The Huffington Post because I improved my overall wellness… it was because I lost a third of my body weight. The internal changes for me came much earlier than the external manifestations of it, but it was the external change that made others perceive it as a success. While I am grateful for being able to share my story, sometimes it bothers me that “success stories” always feature people with a very significant external difference. To be honest, I think it is superficial. There are plenty of people who didn’t lose much weight but still made huge improvements in their overall wellness. There are also people who lose a ton of weight and while they may look much better on the surface, they are just as unhealthy if not even unhealthier internally. Would I still be considered a success if i didn’t lose much weight at all, but became much fitter and was eating healthier foods? What if I lost a lot of weight but didn’t get there in a healthy way, still had layers of insecurity and had my self-worth reliant upon being thin?
I think the obsession with the scale can lead to people using weight loss methods that don’t improve overall wellness. It leads to people eating so few calories that they convince their body that despite being in an environment of nutritional abundance, that they are experiencing a famine. It leads to people reducing calories at the expense of nutrition. It leads to people starving themselves for a few days and even taking laxatives so they look slightly skinnier in a dress or a bikini. It leads to things being considered health products not because it is actually healthy for you, but because it is “low calorie/fat/sugar” and might help you temporally lower the number on the scale. Overemphasizing weight when it comes to health also leads to fat shaming, which does nothing to improve the wellbeing of others.
I’m not saying weight doesn’t matter. I’m just saying we need to look at the big picture when it comes to health. We need to look at overall body composition. We need to look at the long term effects of our habits. We need to make sure that we aren’t sacrificing fitness and nutrition to hit a number on the scale. We also need to make sure that the mindset behind our habits is healthy. I think we become so hyper-focused on dramatic before & after photos and number changes on the scale, that we often miss what it really means to be healthy.
Being healthy isn’t about being skinny. It is about eating natural foods, getting the nutrients we need and not going to far beyond that. It is about not eating toxins. It is about being able to move and interact with the environment and being able to enjoy yourself while doing so. It is about loving yourself regardless of circumstance. It is about being balanced and full of energy. It is about living in a way that will keep you energetic and balanced long term.