We all have fear and anxiety about certain things. For me that list includes: bears, a Kardashian Empire, and actual chocolate toxicity. Sure, there are worse ways to go, but knowing that consuming just 13 pounds of the dark stuff could put me in the ground? Well, that still makes me a little nervous…

That aside, when it comes to health and wellness, there’s one thing that seems to make people shudder more than just about anything else: the scale.

Heck, it scares people more than carbs. Or gluten. Or sugar. And that’s a whole lot of scared peoples!

Say the word ‘scale’ in a gym, and it’s like yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater – people panic. It is the big bad wolf of the fitness industry, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way.

In fact, the scale is not a scary thing at all. It’s not even a bad thing. It can actually be a very good thing – something that can benefit you as much of if not more than any of the other equipment you typically use in a gym – and I’m going to explain to you exactly why and how to use it.

First things first: that number you see on the scale is just a number – a data point to be precise. It doesn’t matter if it says 137, or 223, or even 569. Like any other piece of data – it’s just a number. It is by no means who you are, or what you are, or an exact indicator of health. Like blood pressure, resting heart rate, cholesterol, or blood sugar levels, it is a reference point at a given time. That’s it. Nothing else, nothing more. And like those other numbers, it can be tweaked and improved if you care to do so.

So repeat after me: scale weight is just a data point at a given moment in time. Got it? See, it’s not so big and bad after all…

Now, where this number (or piece of data) can be particularly valuable is for anyone wishing to increase or decrease their body weight. More specifically, most people are trying to increase or maintain muscle mass while decreasing body fat. When someone says they are trying to lose weight, that’s pretty much what they’re trying to do – maintain or increase muscle mass while decreasing body fat. They’re not really looking for a specific number on a scale, they’re looking for a specific result. But the scale can be a valuable tool in the process.

But wait a second, you say. Scales can be wrong. Scale weight can fluctuate wildly over the course of a single day. It can be manipulated by simple hydration and dehydration. It tells you nothing about the composition of that weight – is it fat or is it muscle? – so how then can it be of any value?

Just like any other form of data, results can be skewed and manipulated, and therefore inaccurate. That’s why we have standards when collecting data. It’s the reason you fast before specific blood tests, why you don’t jump up and down when taking your blood pressure, and why you don’t hold your breath when taking resting pulse rate. Scale weight as a data point is no different.

So then, to make the best of things, we need to establish and follow some simple, consistent guidelines for collecting our info. And know that any variance from said guidelines will result in inaccurate, inconsistent results.

Those guidelines include: Weighing in on the same scale, and at the same time of day each time. Wearing the same clothing (or no clothing at all) each time. And, avoiding any extreme behavior (with regard to meals and exercise) before collecting the data.

Following those basic guidelines should help for sure. But there are a few other key points that are as important, if not more important, if you truly want to monitor your progress as it pertains to fat loss.

First, weigh in once a week, or every ten days. And second (and this is critical) take a body circumference measurement each time you weigh in. For males, a good reference point is the thickest part around the waist, and for females a good reference point is the thickest point around the hips and thighs. You’re essentially taking a circumference measurement around the widest part of your body. And since most males and females tend to store the bulk of our excess fat in these respective areas, it’s a great reference point to use in conjunction with scale weight to make sure you’re moving toward fat loss and not just weight loss.

If your goal is fat loss (and you’re actively doing things to facilitate that result) you should see a dip in at least one of, if not both of those numbers each time you collect your data. But essentially you’re looking for long term trends – plot points that tend to go the same direction after two, four or six weeks and beyond. If scale weight is dropping consistently but body circumference remains the same, then it’s probably time to adjust and reevaluate your program. True fat loss should be reflected by a decrease in waist circumference along with a decrease in scale weight.

Is this a perfect, iron-clad system for tracking fat loss and changes in body composition? Absolutely not. There are much more scientific (DEXA), expensive (BodPod), inconvenient (hydrostatic weighing) ways to gauge that. But using a simple scale (and a tape measure) in a consistent way is an easy, cheap, accessible and fairly reliable way to measure long term trends, figure out if you need to adjust your program, and monitor overall progress.

So don’t fear the scale, people – it’s just a tool. One of many instruments you can use to collect data and monitor health. There are far worse things out there in this big, bad world of ours.

Namely, bears!

by: Tom Trevino

Tom Trevino is s personal trainer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, multiple certifications from the Cooper Institute in Dallas, and is currently pursuing his Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification. He can be found at our Alamo Heights location, or aimlessly wandering the aisles of Central Market.

If you would like information on personal training with Tom please email him at tomtrevino@gmail.com.  You may view Tom’s profile and all of our MBS Fitness personal trainer profiles by following this link