The Number on the Scale is JUST a Number

I donate plasma and a recent experience while donating inspired today’s post. The majority of the advice and conversations regarding health and fitness make me chuckle to myself when I’m there, but this one really got me thinking.

Before we get into it, let’s set up a little context. For those unfamiliar with the process, when you donate plasma, the amount you’re able to give is based on bodyweight; 150.0 pounds is the cut off between a 660mL and 825mL donation. After that, it’s just as simple as donating blood.

I usually weigh in around 148 to 149. So, I’m toeing the line between the two donation amounts. On that day, I happened to weigh in at 150.8. Putting me over the threshold and into the higher donation category. When the employee told me, it was with a hushed tone, and said carefully as if she was expecting a reaction.

Knowing that I fluctuate, I responded with a normal tone of voice, “Absolutely, no worries! It happens sometimes.”

To which she replied, still hushed, “It’s usually just a trip to the bathroom and, you know, you’ll be right back down.”

This went on for a few more statements. Her voice, remaining quiet and telling me it would be “back to normal” in no time, while I assured her that there wasn’t an issue and an extra few minutes donating isn’t a problem. But the entire interaction got me thinking:

Why was she using a hushed tone? Was she anticipating a negative reaction from me? Why would she expect that? Have I done that with clients and members?

The message of being smaller, as a female, is engrained in countless aspects of society. The media, TV shows, movies, and advertisements all showing weight loss tips and tricks, supplements to help, etc. Even talking with clients, there are very few women with a goal of gaining muscle. The VAST majority have a fat loss goal. A higher weight is viewed as a negative or as something that should be avoided.

But it shouldn’t be.

Of course, there are negative health implications when you hold a higher amount of body fat, relative to your height and lean body mass. Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and stroke, just to name a few. However, the scale doesn’t make this distinction between body fat and lean body mass; it only tells a total. As someone who trains consistently, I know that my body fat is right within a “normal” range, while simply looking at my bodyweight (150.8lbs on that day) compared to height (5’1”) on a BMI scale classifies me as “Overweight”. This is why, in the majority of situations, we should aim to look at a body fat percentage, as opposed to a BMI calculation.

More importantly, if you are sitting at a higher body fat than would be considered “healthy”, you should not feel shame as a result. It may be viewed as a starting point, a catalyst for change. It may be viewed as a middle point. Perhaps you dropped some weight and while you’re not in a “healthy” range quite yet, you’ve been seeing progress. That’s great! While the employee was cautious in anticipation of my reaction, we, as a society, need to change our own mindsets. We should give others no reason to need to be cautious.

I’m sure that this employee had all good intentions and she was simply conveying a message using respect to my feelings about weighing in heavier than normal. However, she also, whether subconsciously or not, with her hushed tone, as if no one else should know, and constant reassurance, furthered the message that this higher weight was somehow negative and I would be “back down in no time.”

Now, the most important question. Have I done this with clients and members?

I would like to think the answer is no. I carefully choose my words, coaching clients through and explain numbers and metrics as objectively as possible. I can say I haven’t used a hushed tone; I’m quite an outgoing trainer and coach. *insert shrug emoji here* But I can’t say with 100% certainty that my subliminal messages, words, or actions haven’t told a different story. I do know, that I make (and will continue to make) every effort to avoid assigning negative connotations to objective numbers.

When you’re looking at objective measures, such as weight on the scale, there are a few things to keep in mind when we see the result:

  1. Are you wearing clothes? Clothes = Higher scale weight
  2. What time of day is it? Later in the day = more food and drink consumed = Higher scale weight
  3. What have you eaten and drank today? Lots of carbs or salty foods = more water retention = Higher scale weight

It can go the opposite direction for these as well. If any have not happened, you may see a decrease in the number on the scale. Each of these, and more, plays a factor in deciding that little number on the scale. In my case, all three were a factor in a higher weight. I was fully clothed with shoes. It was later in the afternoon, post-breakfast, snack, lunch, and a second snack. I was well hydrated so I was able to donate faster. My second snack was pretzels and tuna, both higher in sodium and pretzels are almost exclusively carbohydrates.

Personally, I like to advise clients to always weigh themselves in the morning, on the same scale in the same place, minimal or no clothes, after going to the bathroom, and before eating breakfast. With these stipulations, it allows us to able to eliminate as many variables as possible.

When possible, I like to encourage clients to follow a daily average weigh-in schedule. Each day, I may fluctuate based on the foods I ate for dinner the night before or how much water I’ve had to drink. The number on the scale may go up or down. However, at the end of the week, I can take all of my days and average them together. That average is then able to be compared to the week prior. If my goal is fat loss, I want to see a decrease. If my goal is muscle gain, I want to see an increase. If I’m simply maintaining, I want to see it stay consistent over time.

Now, this daily average weigh-in isn’t for everyone. I was once at a place mentally that I would freak out over the littlest increase or decrease in weight. I took a weekly weigh in approach. However, as I became comfortable and recognized that even as much as a pound overnight was not truly body fat, I moved to a daily average weigh in structure. This increased education, time spent measuring, and change in my thoughts around what the number on the scale means, allowed me to detach my emotions from the scale weight, viewing it objectively; not as a good or bad metric. At the end of the day, it’s a number. It doesn’t define you, but if you go donate plasma with a higher bodyweight, you may just have to spend a few extra minutes watching a YouTube video to pass the time.

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