Measure Your Body: How The Scale Lies To Us

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February 6, 2013 by Lauren Grider

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I have been bouncing around in the same 5 lb weight range for the past 6 months. This also happened this time last year. It is tough to keep going with my healthier lifestyle and keep showing up at my Weight Watchers meetings, only to have the person weighing me in say, “up just a little.” Sometimes it is downright infuriating, but I keep doing it. Why? I know that the number on the scale is not the whole story!

When I measured my waist this morning, it was 3 inches smaller than it was in September. My hips were 1 inch smaller. My waist to hip ratio had improved by 0.05, moving me from the “red zone” into the “yellow zone.” Yet, I weigh about the same.

Why is this so important? Waist circumference is a major predictor of overall health, including an individual’s risk of developing heart disease and type II diabetes. There is some debate about whether it is waist circumference alone or the waist to hip ratio that is most important, but the good news is that I am improving in both areas! Also, let’s face it- your swimsuit doesn’t display a number on the scale. It shows off your muscle tone and body proportions. You can find a great guide to measuring these parameters here.

You don’t like tape measures? That’s fine. Use your clothing. In September I went with my husband on our annual beach vacation, and of course I bought some cute clothes for the event. Guess what? All of the tops are too big now. When I sign up for races, I get the XL shirt rather than XXL. And when I ran the Auburn Classic 10k and found that the free shirt was a fancy Brooks wicking long-sleeved fitted running tee, I tried it on and it fit!

Measurements of success don’t have to be confined to body size. What about conditioning and endurance? I can measure the degree of improvement in my cardiovascular fitness simply by comparing what I could do then to what I can do now. As the months slip by, Zumba routines that used to be challenging aren’t anymore. In November I ran a 3 mile Thansgiving run and really thought I was something. Last month I completed my first 10k and could’ve kept going!

And this is just the progress I have made in the past 6 months while the scale was stagnant. I have to keep reminding myself about how much progress I have made in the past 2 years. I am kicking myself now for not taking my measurements then.

So for everyone out there like me who goes through long stretches of time during which the number on the scale will go down, only to go right back up again the next week, keep the faith! Take pride in the fact that you are not sacrificing your muscle mass for a lower weight. Continue to eat sensibly and not be overly restrictive with your diet. Continue to drink water and not starve yourself the day of your weigh-in to get a lower number on the scale. Continue to put in work at the gym and get in those intense workouts, even though you know that you may see a higher number for the next couple of days because of muscle inflammation. This is not The Biggest Loser! It is unreasonable to expect to drop large numbers of pounds every week while still carrying on a normal life. However, I would argue that the reward you will earn is far better than the dollars promised to the winner of that TV show: a healthy, balanced, strong life.

Read these and check out their references:
* How To Get To Your Healthy Weight- Harvard School of Public Health
* American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – Waist Circumference and Cardiometabolic Risk
* Wider Waist May Raise Death Risk Later in Life
* Waist Size, Regardless of BMI, Linked to Diabetes Risk

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4 thoughts on “Measure Your Body: How The Scale Lies To Us

  1. Rosie says:

    Liked your article, this is so true.

    My weight has pretty much stabilized by now, but I am still going down in dress size, and going up in endurance thanks to exercise. Doing Zumba at your class has certainly improved my waistline, Aqua Zumba has improved my entire body, and I have now started Gentle Yoga to improve my flexibility (also important – I can’t believe how stiff I am).

    So to all of you out there – don’t let the scale bring you down. As long as you are moving and shaking, you are doing good.

  2. Katey says:

    Lauren, so glad I found your blog! I am also in a “bouncing around” place right now and it’s easy to get frustrated while forgetting how far you’ve come. This morning I had to stand in front of the mirror and remind myself how much better I look/feel than a year ago. Thanks for the encouragement!

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