Keep Your Shoes On - Weight Isn’t the Best Marker of Health

Throughout my career in the health field, I have noticed a very consistent pattern. Almost like a rehearsed script, if I ask a patient to get on the scale (particularly my female-identifying patients) they take their shoes off while stating “every bit helps”. Almost every time. So why is this? A lot of emphasis has historically been placed on the weight of a person. It is often used as a marketing ploy as well as a measure of beauty and health. As a Registered Dietitian, this bothers me for more than one reason. I have seen too many healthy, beautiful, individuals feel ashamed and frustrated when they see the number on the scale. Weight gain can actually be incredibly healthy.

If you don’t believe me, here’s an example. Below you will see two pictures of yours truly. The picture on the left was taken in 2019 a couple of months after joining PUSH511. The picture on the right was taken this past April, a little over 3 years after the first picture. If weight was an accurate marker of health and fitness I should weigh less in the picture on the right, correct? The reality is that I actually weigh more in the picture on the right than on the left. The difference is that in the left photo, I had high cholesterol and could barely lift 20# dumbbells over my head. I may have gained weight but I am stronger, healthier, and more comfortable in my body. Body composition makes all of the difference.

Cristen Before & After

The majority of our body is made up of muscle, fat, bone, and water. Fat has been demonized over the years so I will take a moment to explain why we actually need it. Fat is essential for our bodies to function properly. It helps us metabolize certain vitamins, produces some hormones, provides a longer-term energy source, keeps us warm, and protects our internal organs. That being said, having too many fat cells can lead to disease and reduced quality of life.

Fat is not as dense as muscle or bone so it takes up more space. As we exercise, our fat cells get smaller (they don’t magically disappear) and our muscle cells get bigger. A pound of muscle is still a pound, it just takes up less space. So if we are losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously it is entirely possible that we might look slimmer and feel better but the number on the scale won’t budge. If you are only looking at the scale you might miss the progress you’re actually making, leading to decreased motivation.

However, having quantitative proof that you’re getting results can be a great motivator. PUSH511 Fitness can actually help with one of the most accurate ways to obtain that information. InBody scanning allows us to get a better look at our actual body composition. Rather than looking at a single number, it provides an approximate percentage of lean muscle versus body fat using something called bioelectrical impedance analysis, or BIA. BIA functions by sending a painless electric current through your body and measuring how fast it travels. Fat tissue does not allow the current to travel as quickly as it would if it was passing through water or muscle. The slower the electricity travels, the higher the body fat percentage is. Before doing an InBody scan, make sure to be well hydrated and fasting. It is also better to do the scan prior to the WOD as this can influence your results. Another good way to track progress is through the use of progress pictures. We look at our bodies every day so it can be difficult to notice changes happening. Having a picture to reference can make it easier to see changes you may not notice otherwise.

I also encourage goals that are intrinsic, aka not appearance or weight-based. When you sign up for PUSH511, you also get access to SugarWOD. This is an app that allows you to track strength-based goals and puts fun confetti on your screen after you log a new PR. It can be easy to compare your performance in the gym to that of those around you, which can be disheartening, remember you’re only competing with yourself. Watching those PRs increase can be a great way to stay motivated. Other great intrinsic goals include things like improved energy levels, mental health, and sleep quality. This can be monitored through journaling or a calendar. Not only does this encourage reflection but it also shows just how much exercise can positively benefit multiple aspects of your life.

No matter what your goals are, remember change is often not linear. There might be days when the weight seems heavier, you feel slower, or you just feel frustrated. During these days take some time to reflect on why you set the goals that you did and all the positive changes you have made in order to succeed. If you need help setting your goals or a plan to achieve them, working with a PUSH511 nutrition coach can help!

About the Author

Cristen Headshot

I am a Licensed Registered Dietitian with experience in critical care, cardiology, weight loss, allergy services, and food service. I graduated from Penn State University with a BS in nutrition and finished my RD training at University of Maryland. I am currently in PA school and am looking forward to combining my love of nutrition with medicine. After moving to Baltimore in 2019, I did a trial class at PUSH511 Fitness as I was looking for accountability and to meet new people. When I walked into the gym for the first time, everyone was congregated on one side cheering on a member who was struggling with ring muscle-ups at the end of the workout. It was such an uplifting moment to witness. I left the gym that day in dire need of ginger ale, but also very excited about this amazing and supportive community I had stumbled upon. I am grateful for this opportunity to give back and share my love of nutrition!


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