New Year, No Scale: Dr. Amy’s Wellness Tip for January
Contributed By Dr. Amy Whittington, Trilogy’s Naturopathic Physician
Well, here we are again, entering into the New Year with good intentions, new goals, and hopefully a plan to achieve them. Many of us find our goals this time of year center around health, diet, exercise, and weight. If you’ve been reading these articles for a while, you know that I don’t hold any magic potions, and guess what… no one else does, either. You probably also know that I repeatedly encourage people not to count calories, carbs, fats, or anything for that matter. Instead, I encourage a whole-foods, balanced diet coupled with exercise (and a good naturopath to check your metabolism never hurt). As we enter this new year and you begin to ponder your goals, I hope that calorie- and carb counting and other equally archaic nutrition goals aren’t part of your plan. This year, I’d like to encourage yet another simplification for your New Year… lose your scale.
Now, I’m not saying that a goal to lose a few pounds isn’t a good goal to have, especially if you know that added weight is increasing your odds for illness, which it is. If you are overweight, for every 20 pounds you lose, your systolic blood pressure (the top number) will typically drop 5-20 points, lowering risk for heart disease and stroke. If you are pre-diabetic, losing 5-10% of your body weight will lower your risk of developing diabetes by a whopping 58%. The bottom line is, a body without extra fat weight is a healthier body. There is a misconception that knowing our current scale number correlates to success in attaining our goal number, when in fact, too much awareness of our numbers might cause the opposite effect, slowing the rate of success for some frequent scale users.
The most obvious problem with using a scale is the emotional state that a bad reading might leave you in. It is common for those seeking treatment for eating disorders (for both over- and under-eating) to not be told their weight. It’s been proven that too much attention to the number of your weight tends to be more detrimental to your psyche than helpful. Normal weight fluctuates due to water retention, hormone variations, etc., but the disappointment of a “bad” reading can be such a letdown that it can send you right off of the rails. For some, it can be such an emotional trigger that the emotional eating that follows is detrimental to both weight loss and the more important goals of managing blood sugar, blood pressure, and improving your lean tissue mass. Perhaps you added weights to your exercise regime, began eating more protein, or started including hills or stairs in your daily walk. All of these factors would lead to increased muscle mass, which increases your weight, usually quicker than fat loss decreases it.
There are other ways to measure lean tissue and fat tissue, but for the purpose of simply improving your health parameters, instead of using the scale, BMI, or even impedance measurements as your chosen barometer, why not instead use something as simple as how you FEEL? If one of your New Year’s goals is to lose weight, it is likely you intend to include an improved diet and exercise as part of your plan. Whether or not you have an immediate loss on the scale, you WILL experience an improvement in energy, mood, sleep, and a multitude of other parameters that have been shown to improve with a balanced diet and exercise. Why not revel in the success of how you feel instead of tying so much importance to the weight? You will also likely begin to see an improvement in how your clothes fit, and this is quite often before that scale budges, especially if you have increased aerobic or anaerobic exercise (weights). Again, more muscle tone means more weight, even if you lost the same amount of fat. The weight loss will follow, but if you’ve already let the scale take the wind out of your sails, it could be too late.
Furthermore, what if the stress of your scale is powerful enough to make you actually gain weight? This theory might not be that much of a stretch. At this point, you’ve likely heard about cortisol production and its association with weight gain. In a snapshot: stress causes cortisol production, and cortisol causes weight gain, especially loose fat weight around the middle. Long-term stress also increases your hunger. Foraging for calories and increasing efficiency in storing them is your body’s way of responding to long-term stress by increasing energy stores (fat) for emergencies, or basically, “storing for winter.” Why, then, introduce a daily, weekly, or whatever interval of measurement you may torture yourself with that might add to your stress level? If you have enough of a stress response to your weight measurement, and you are doing it often, that very response could potentially contribute to weight gain.
Throwing out your scale can also let you start winning right away, which is common advice for those fighting depression or poor mood. It’s pretty simple: if your New Year’s Resolution is to “lose 10 pounds,” change it to, “I’m going to increase my exercise by… ,” and “I’m going to improve my nutrition by…” These are goals you can be successful with tomorrow, instead of waiting for the scale to let you know when you can finally be proud of yourself. Hang your happiness on the process, not on the result, and you will have an easier journey with more successful results in the end.
So in this New Year, put away your calculator, you aren’t going to be tallying anything. And put away your scale.
Go to the grocery store and fill your cart with colorful fruits and vegetables, lean grass-fed meats, and whole grains. Then go for a walk, lift some weights, do some yoga. Get plenty of rest. Drink plenty of water. It’s all so simple. No magic potions, no crazy diets. And, after you do this for a while, notice how you FEEL. Not what your scale says you should feel, but how YOU feel: happier, energetic, rested, and stronger. And, then, keep doing it. Your scale will catch up, and more importantly, so will your blood pressure, blood sugar, and strong, lean mass. Happy New Year… and Happy New You.
Stay healthy & be well!
Amy Whittington, NMD