What the Scale Won't Tell You

Weight is only a quantitative - not qualitative - measure of body mass. Stop obsessing.

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When people start setting fitness goals, they often include a desired change in weight. There's always some expectation that once you reach a certain weight, you will become a lean, ripped Grecian deity with hills and dales all over your body. But if there's one thing I've learned over time, it's that focusing on the number on the scale, as opposed to other, far more important components to your fitness, is a waste of time.

Let me explain.

For sedentary people who are finally getting serious about slimming down, the concept of setting a goal weight is often rooted in the idea that certain weight numbers will look or feel a particular way. That's not always the case. The reality is that goal weights and body mass index figures prioritize the quantity of body mass and ignore the quality of body mass in an unhealthy way. Neither of these numbers differentiate between weight and water retention, weight and bone mass, weight and fat or weight and muscle.

[Read: 3 Steps to Ditching the Scale.]

Now, if fat's your kind of thing, no one's knocking that. But when it comes to your quality of life, muscle is far more valuable and essential. Think long term: A consistent workout plan, carried on for years, will result in someone who has more function as they age. There is more muscle to facilitate movement and to help protect your body from many of the usual woes that come with approaching the sunset years. Muscle development from a consistent training routine also positively influences metabolism. Developing a mere 10 pounds of additional muscle means the body burns an additional few hundred calories a day, which means you can enjoy larger portions of your meals without the additional challenge of weight gain.

This exercise and muscle gain, by the way, could result in you hopping on a scale and seeing what looks like no progress. In that case, you'd be ignoring all of the amazing markers of fitness progress, such as increased flexibility and agility.

When you're losing weight, you have no idea whether or not the weight you lost can be attributed to simply sweating much more during a workout, or going to the bathroom and - ahem - spending a little bit more time on the throne. You have no idea if your diet or workout routine is contributing to muscle loss - remember, losing muscle negatively affects metabolism - or if your limited, restricted diet is harming the bone mass on your frame.

[See: Pharmacists' Top Recommended Bone Strengtheners.]

What am I getting at?

A fitness journey needs to be well-rounded. There should be a focus on healthy eating and consistent participation in an activity you love - running, Zumba or yoga, anyone? And doing things like taking tape measurements and body fat percentages on top of keeping track of your weight is the best way to understand your progress. Most importantly, tracking your full progress across several measurements gives you many opportunities to pat yourself on the back for your hard work - including work that wouldn't appear on the scale alone. As I always say: Your body will thank you for this!