In my early days as a trainer, my job was to help my clients meet their goals, which, in most cases meant, to help them lose weight. It wasn’t the only thing they wanted. Feel better, get stronger, move better frequented their goal list, but it was almost always trumped by the desire to lose weight. To see the number on the scale go down.

Almost 20 years later, I am still doing the same thing. But, my understanding of what it takes to lose weight, the obstacles facing my client and I, the discussions that need to happen so that we can take the successful path, have grown from my early years.

You see, when I first led “Get Fit Challenges” or “Biggest Loser” competitions in my early career, it surprised me at the power the scale had over certain clients. Each week I could see the terror in their eyes and feel their tension over the weigh-ins. I attempted to defuse this tension through words: my mantra, “If the number on the scale is going to ruin your day or your week- don’t look at it!” Or reduce the frequency:  “You don’t have to weigh-in this week.” I wanted to liberate them from the oppression they felt, and provide relief from the weekly (or daily) judge and jury the scale had become to them.

I knew it took a lot of courage to take action to participate in the challenge. They were working really hard, showing up for workouts, making good decisions about food, and at the end of the week, they would step on the scale. Some weeks it seemed the scale would act like a fickle toddler, spinning a top to determine whether they deserved to lose weight that week. Acting seemingly capricious at times, the scale gave pounds away or kept them as ransom while the powerless victim stood, looking down at it. When I first observed this, I began to dread the weigh-ins. Then I pre-empted the weigh-ins with “focus on what you’ve done instead of the number” pep talks. Some challenges, I didn’t even include the scale, but focused just on activity.

Now, twenty years later, my approach has evolved. After navigating the minefield of weigh-in days, and blowing up a few times for sure, I now can’t simply paint with a broad brush stroke that weigh-ins are all bad. They do have some value. But I can’t say, that a weekly weigh-in is good for all clients either.  For some of my clients the scale represented a data point in their journey of fitness. And for others, it represented a reoccurring disappointing experience, now made public, with their coach looking on.

So, what do we do with this scale?

This piece of plastic, metal and electronics that simply outputs a number when you’ve given it some input.

But at the same time, it isn’t just a piece of metal, and we can’t just treat it as such, because the output it gives us has value. It has meaning, like a homework grade, or a test grade, and gives us feedback on how we’re doing.

On one hand, it provides valuable information. The number, relative to previous weights, lets you know whether the exercise and nutritional approach you’re taking (or lack of) is working or not. Sometimes it’s the wake up call you need to make a change.  It gives medical professionals, like your doctor, a snapshot of where you are, compared to others in your height and age group, and can start a healthy discussion.

On the other hand, it can make you feel like a complete success or a complete failure.

If you feel like the scale has power over you, consider these things:

1- The number on the scale is just a snapshot of where you are today. That number can change.

2- You have control over your emotions. If the number on the scale is not what you want it to be, you can choose to let it depress you or motivate you.

3- That number isn’t a complete story of what’s going on inside. It doesn’t tell you how much lean mass, water, or fat you have. You have to have more information to truly understand what is going on inside.

4- Your body takes 3-4 weeks to respond to what you are doing NOW. If you’ve just started an exercise or diet program, it will take some time to see the results. If you quit now, you will never see if what you’re doing is effective.

5- You are not alone. Share with someone who is an encourager about your struggle with the scale. They will listen and help you keep the proper perspective.

Stepping on the scale can be tricky, from an emotional standpoint. Because of that, I want to write about how you can minimize its negative effect and maximize its healthy feedback in next week’s Refuel: How often should you really weigh yourself? 

In the meantime, Keep moving!