Is your scale lying to you? How to balance weight loss

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We’re all victims of it. It is right on your bathroom floor, staring you in the face, and sometimes it feels completely out of our control.

We’re talking about the number on your bathroom scale. But have you ever wondered just how accurate that number is? And is your scale just outright lying to you? Experts say when it comes to your scale, it’s all a balancing act.

“The scale is a great tool because it is a number to work with,” said Jennifer Vargo, a registered dietician with Lee Memorial Health System. “It can tell us if we’ve gone up or if we’ve gone down. But where it becomes challenging, perhaps, is the frequency with which we do it. Maybe even a time which we’re choosing to weigh ourselves.”

Vargo said it’s normal for that number to vary three to five pounds on any given day.

“So our weight is not always one number,” she said.

There are times that number gets to a place that may seem out of our control.

CJ Hoyt is a personal trainer and group exercise instructor for Fyzical Fitness in Fort Myers. She said she never would have thought that would be her job title 13 years ago when she began her weight loss journey.

“The last number that I saw on a scale was 290 pounds,” said Hoyt. “It was 2002, and I literally was sitting there having more food and I saw the bottom of the bowl. I could see 400 pounds, I could see 500 pounds. It was like the reality of what I was doing gripped my heart.”

Today, there are countless weight loss solutions available, including trainers, like Hoyt. Well-known programs like Weight Watchers and TOPS, a non-profit weight loss support group, allow members to learn from others facing similar struggles to lose and maintain their weight.

“You see 15 people in a room out of 50 who have done that, and that’s so encouraging. It makes it possible for me then to keep my weight off,” said Ginger Hanis, a TOPS member for six years.

Hanis attends meetings at TOPS’ Fort Myers location. The organization has several available throughout Southwest Florida, including three in Cape Coral, two in North Fort Myers, two in Collier County and two in Charlotte County.

“It would be too easy just to say, ‘oh I don’t have to come, it’s fine,’ then you gain and gain and gain,” said Hanis.

TOPS Coordinator Nancy Hughes has been running meetings since 1999, starting as a member four years before that. She has seen hundreds of members come through the program over the years, and said keeping weight off is all about motivation.

“The chapter members become family to each other,” said Hughes. “They keep track of what they’re doing, they make sure they’re all healthy.”

A big part of the weekly meetings at TOPS and Weight Watchers is the weekly weigh-in, where members check to see whether the number on their scales have gone up, down, or stayed flat.

“The scale is an assistance to the program,” said Fort Myers Weight Watchers member Alan Wagner.

Wagner’s goal is to continue losing weight. He said he previously had an unhealthy relationship with his scale, but now realizes it is just one tool in his overall weight loss process.

“You learn so many things at Weight Watchers,” said Wagner, “like behavior, how to shop how to eat, how to exercise. The activities that you need to do assist you with the weight loss. You can’t just look at the number on the scale, because there’s going to be a time when you’re going to get on the scale, and the scale is going to go in the wrong direction.”

Cindy, a fellow member, mother of three and grandmother of six, said she does not base everything on the scale.

“I like how I feel,” she said. “If the clothes fit, you’re comfortable.”

With three kids who now have kids of their own, Cindy may not seem to have much time to sit and relax. But she said Weight Watchers has taught her that that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Our lives are just different. We don’t go someplace to sit. We go someplace where we can walk, where we can hike, and it’s a pleasure now. You see much more. There’s a big world out there and we’re ready to see it,” she said.

A study from Rutgers University found that even your digital home bathroom scale can provide sufficiently accurate, and consistent weight to be used for public health research. Experts said it is a good tool to track your losses and gains, but your scale should not be the determining factor in your weight loss journey.

“It’s more about your body composition,” said Vargo. We need to know what’s happening inside.”

Experts like Vargo have much more sophisticated tools for tracking your gains and losses. The scale in Vargo’s office at Lee Memorial Hospital goes well beyond any scale you can buy at a store, measuring body fat percentage, body mass index, and even water weight.

Vargo said weight loss is about much more than seeing that number on the scale go down.

“It’s teaching new lifestyle skills and new eating skills, and just embracing life,” she said, “versus whatever the scale tells us we should feel.”

Today, Hoyt is down more than 150 pounds. She’s an active, vibrant mother of three, grandmother of four, and a wife of more than 34 years.

“I have a great life today. I have a big life today,” she said.

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