How the Scale Lies

Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger is obese? Yes, I am talking about the former Mr. Universe and seven time Mr. Olympia champion; the man who the world considers to be one of the most muscular and physically fit humans alive. According to his Body Mass Index ranking, he falls into the obese category. At just over six feet tall and about 235 pounds, Schwarzenegger has a BMI of 31 (with 18.5 – 24.9 being considered the “normal weight” range).

Now I would never say Arnold Schwarzenegger is unhealthy. Well, maybe he could be considered unhealthy for being so freakishly muscular, but definitely not for being obese! BMI is a very simple equation that involves only two variables- height and weight. If you weigh more, you will fall into an “at risk” category on the BMI scale. While it is true that fat people weigh more, people who weigh more aren’t always fat! Sounds confusing, right? Let me explain.

Muscle is more DENSE than fat. Here’s an example to help you visualize the size difference between muscle and fat: Five pounds of fat takes up as much space as three grapefruit. Five pounds of muscle takes up as much space as three tangerines. So, if you are someone trying to slim down and tone up, would you rather your waist be the size of three tangerines or the size of three grapefruit? Obvious answer, stick with the tangerines. Fat takes up more space and covers hard earned muscle you deserve to show!


This example illustrates that we need to stop worrying so much about that number on the scale. A better indicator of your overall health and wellness is body fat percentage, blood work results, and sometimes even how your clothes fit. If your weight isn’t changing much but your jeans are noticeably more loose, that’s good news! A constant weight with a decrease in waist size is indicative that you are decreasing your body fat percentage and increasing your lean muscle mass. Don’t be afraid to put on lean muscle mass! As mentioned, muscle is much more dense (smaller in size) than fat and can actually ramp up your body’s metabolism.

Have you ever noticed the numbers on a scale can fluctuate rapidly within 24 hours? Try this out! Weigh yourself in the morning, and then again in the evening and you will notice that the number on the scale is different- sometimes WAY different. What’s causing such short term fluctuation in weight?

1. Water weight: A gallon of water weights about eight pounds! You can image what a difference just a few glasses of water can make on your body weight.
2. Salty food: High sodium in the diet causes our body to retain water for a longer period of time.
3. Hormones: Water retention is a normal physiologic change that occurs regularly with women.
4. Carbs: For every gram of carbohydrate stored in muscle, your body will store 2.7 grams of water. I personally noticed a huge overnight weight gain when I carb loaded (with some salty spaghetti) for a marathon I ran a few months ago. Clearly carbs can cause a higher number on the scale than expected.

With all these factors causing all these temporary changes on the scale, it is important to recognize that there are better ways to recognize your success! We like the scale because it gives us a number: an objective, non-disputable-something, that we value more than we typically should. It can be hard to walk away from something quantifiable and move onto alternative ways of measuring success.


A better way to assess your health and wellness might be to ask questions like:

1. “How are my energy levels?”
2. “Am I sleeping better at night?”
3. “Am I stronger and able to lift more?”
4. “Am I able to do more now that I was before I decided to improve my health?”
5. “How do I feel overall?”

The scale is just one of MANY ways to measure health. Remember, the scale doesn’t tell the full story so pay attention to ALL indicators of success. Stop caring so much about the scale and start caring more about you!

This article was written by Coach Aaron.


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