What is the Obsession with Body Weight?

Guest Post by Scott Dueball

Every trainer (worth their weight in whey) will tell you that body weight is among their least important metrics. Changes in body weight can be coy and sporadic. The typical exerciser has little understanding of what creates realistic expectations of body weight loss. As a result, the expectations are often set too high and without reason.

Your trainer or coach will no doubt explain that lean mass weighs more than fat mass and in many exercise plans the goal is to replace fat with lean mass. Of course, this means that you may train for months and see very little fluctuation in your body weight. You hesitantly say “ok” but you still secretly wish you can drop that last 5 lbs to the goal you imposed on yourself (likely against your trainers recommendation).

We know this is what goes on in your heads. There is little we can do besides distract you with something new and shiny. The question is why do you do this? Sorry, why do WE do this?

It recently became clear to me that I ignored my own beliefs and I went through the “I need to lose 20 pounds” plan. It occurred to me that we like to share this progress with our friends and family. It’s our own Facebook-fueled sense of accountability. No one is going to interrupt a family dinner to announce that they feel more energized throughout their day. You can’t brag to your friends that you are happier with what you see in the mirror. So instead you announce you have lost 15 pounds. Everyone says “Wow, that’s fantastic,” and “We’re so happy for you.” This briefly distracts you but you know this weight is 5, 10, maybe 25 pounds short of your “goal.”

Well, Now What?

It’s time to lose the mindset that softer variables (how you feel/look) are less significant than pounds lost. The reality is, if you are truly putting your effort into your fit lifestyle, you’re chiseling away fat mass, you’re losing inches in your waist, hips, and various other regions.

If we accept the premise that everyone’s “big picture” goal is to get leaner, then using body weight as a measure of program success is significantly off the mark. Body weight has very little role in being lean. As much as it pains me, I might argue that BMI is a better measure than body weight (yes, my Master’s degree has torn itself off my wall and is standing in my doorway saying “Take that back or I will leave you”). My point is that there are better tests for changes in lean mass. When I train or consult clients for example, I take circumference measurements, resting heart rate, and body fat percentage but never weight.

This is bigger than just changing the focus to getting lean. There are lists of metrics that count more to health than body weight. My body weight puts me in the Class I Obese category; however, my doctor never suggests that as a concern since my resting heart rate, blood pressure, and my lean mass are all well within the safe recommendations. Those are all examples of metrics that you should be tracking. There’s no asterisk next to these metrics like the one body weight has which points out that other factors are at play. Living a healthy lifestyle will improve each of those factors (barring certain diagnosed conditions).

Fitness goals should not be limited to physiology alone. Find physical challenges as well. Personal records are just as important if not more important to achieving the physique you are looking for. PR’s can come in the form of 1RM as well as time or total reps. PR’s give you something real to focus on. Consistent improvement in the form of PR’s also indicates how successful your training regimen is. They don’t have to be tied to one of the major Olympic or competitive lifts. Creating a series of exercises to be completed within a goal time is one example. Another challenge can be repetition-focused like number of pull ups, pushups, or dips. All of these options have to be something you believe in – something you will want to work towards each time you enter the gym.

Possibly the most important goal is to see who can go the longest without stepping on a scale.

Scott Dueball has a BS and MS in Exercise Science and is a certified Performance Enhancement Specialist. He currently works as Biomechanics Engineer designing fitness equipment. His training philosophy was developed through experiences training with Elite Level powerlifters and coaching athletes from pre-high school through Division-I levels. Scott’s statements are his own opinions and not endorsed by any other entity. You assume all risk when performing new exercises so please use caution and discretion. 

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Comments

  1. GREAT guest post! Thank you!

    As someone who lost over 100 pounds, it is REALLY hard to give up the importance of that number. The longer I am in maintenance mode, the easier it gets to focus on my strengths: how much weight I can lift, how many miles I can run, etc. Feeling strong, healthy and capable of anything is a great gauge. Also, I love it when I go to the doctor and my resting heart rate is so low they ask me if I’m a runner. :) And my blood pressure is 110/60…..a far cry from the 150/110 I was when I was 250 pounds!!
    Lisa recently posted..Foods I Always Have On HandMy Profile

  2. Great post, Scott! We need to help our clients shift their focus from pounds to other variables–how they feel, the fact that they’ve established an exercise habit and are eating more vegetables, etc.

  3. Great guest post!!! As a person that lifts, at 5′!’, I always weigh more than people think I do yet I am pretty lean & where smaller sizes. I always tell people how much I weigh so they understand it is not all about the scale! :)
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted..Gratitude Monday & Hurricane SandyMy Profile

  4. I really enjoyed Scott’s perspective – especially since I forget that guys can have a love-hate relationship with the scale as much as us ladies. I am much happier when I don’t step on the scale, and instead focus on how I feel and how clothes fit. Because jeans, to borrow a line from shakira’s song about hips, don’t lie!
    Shira recently posted..Row, Row, Row Your Boat to a More Buff BodyMy Profile

  5. I think all these metrics are valid and I do try to keep the emphasis off the scale. But as personal trainer and health coach, it’s not about my goals. It’s about my clients goals. I fully prepare each new prospective client with my views about fat loss, focus on health and my slow, but sustainable methods. They can choose to work with me or not. But at the end of the day it’s about their goals, not mine. If they want to lose weight, I can counsel them to look at other metrics but my job is to help them reach their goals.

    • I hear you. It’s really tough to get clients off the scale habit and I don’t even try to. Plus there IS value to knowing our weight and people who are successful at weight loss weigh themselves regularly, studies show. All we as professionals can do is give them alternatives and try to be balanced in our approach.

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