Why scales hinder success

Now I am about to explain to you why I hold an unpopular opinion amongst personal trainers: Scales are awful.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some clients for which I think scales are an extremely valuable way for keeping progress. But by and large, people are using them in a maladaptive way. I can also speak from experience. I spent many of my teen years as a waif-y little dancer, obsessed with losing weight at all costs. I weighed myself at least 30 times a day (now I weight myself at most once a month). Whilst the majority of people aren’t as extreme as I once was, an unhealthy relationship with the scales is all to common.

When we consider effective goal-setting and how it is important to set goals to timed periods, scales can be considered an exceptionally valuable tool for measuring progress. However, when people fall into the temptation of weighing themselves too often they convince themselves that they are not progressing at all and lose motivation. What’s that sane again? A watched pot never boils.

When people perceive that they are not making progress in the scales, they tend to discredit and ignore the other progress they have been making. They may be drinking more water, lifting more, getting less puffed running for the train, feeling more confident in their work clothes, enjoying the gym more, etc. There are countless ways people make progress in their fitness journey and the scale is just one of them. Unfortunately, it is the one that often makes people forget about their other triumphs.

I’ve had a few clients whom I have completely banned from using the scales unless I was present. This was because they would mindlessly weigh themselves at different times, wearing different clothes and then beat themselves up. When they stopped these addictive behaviours they were able to better enjoy their workouts and recognise their own progress. If they gained weight, they were able to recognise that it was likely caused by an increase in muscle. Whereas if they were weighing themselves all the time and ignoring their muscle gains they would just be convinced that they were gaining fat.

To counteract the scales mixed messages I encourage my clients to focus on factors that are intrinsically motivating for them personally. Whether it be getting fit for the kids, improving their balance so they can feel comfortable going shopping or just fitting into their favourite pair of jeans comfortably again. For example, one of my clients kept finding he was getting exhausted and pulling up sore after playing football with his grand-kids. So we did a lot of work focusing on technique and conditioning for football, and he was thrilled to be able to keep up with them. That gave him a much greater sense of progress than any scales could have. He was focusing on something internal, personally motivating and got to develop mastery along the way.

This balanced approach to fitness is what I want most for all of my clients. It devastates me to see people become slave to the scales and not recognise how wonderful they are doing. So give yourselves a break and come up with some new goals that allow you to become your best version of you, not the slimmest version of you!

P.S: When you do this, the weight loss happens in secret: I promise.

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