The Truth About Dieting and Scales
By Steve O. / April & May 2012

Up and down syndrome is a term used to describe how repeated dieting can keep a person in a perpetual state of steadily climbing weight gain. Strict dieting alone is not the only culprit that causes up and down syndrome. Weighing oneself constantly feeds the compulsive tendencies that keep a person from losing weight.

What if you had a friend who told you that you were no good, didn't measure up and were a failure? How many times would you hang out with that friend if he or she treated you in that way? Just imagine that, for some strange reason, you felt a constant need to seek your friend's approval. Yet, no matter how many times you showed up at your friend's house, he or she insulted you, laughed at you and called you names. You continued to visit your friend, and months turned into years, and years turned into decades. You still continued to show up at your friend's home hoping that, one day, he or she would tell you what you wanted to hear.

Parallel to that situation is dieting. It's not your friend treating you that way, but it is your scale. Some of you step on the scale every morning. Some of you have to visit your scale two or three times a day. How much longer are you going to engage in the ritual of getting on your scale, just to have it disappoint you?

As for weighing yourself at the start of every day, what did you think would happen while you slept for eight hours? Did you think some fairy cosmetic surgeon would sweep down in the middle of the night and liposuction all your fat away?

How many times did you feel good about your eating and exercise programs, only to jump on a scale and find out you had experienced a two-pound weight gain, instead of the three-pound weight loss that you were expecting? If you weigh often, it will cause you to make unnecessary adjustments to your eating program.

If you see a slight increase in your weight after reducing your calories, you will more likely decrease your food intake even more. The decrease in food leads to cravings, which then lead to strong preoccupations with food. Within a few short weeks, you end up binging, gaining weight, and feeling like a failure, further confirming that the scale can lead to poor judgment. If you don't see the expected response from the scale, you may decide to exercise more and more, until you reach the point of over-exercising.

The menstrual cycle, amount of water you drink, dehydration due to a heavy workout, and time of day all contribute to variations in your body water and body weight. In addition, the weight of the clothes you wear, the amount of food in your stomach, and effects of certain medications may all affect the reading on the scale when you weigh.

What if you weigh yourself every morning, buck naked, and always on the same scale? Doesn't that mean that what the scale says is accurate? The answer is, not really. The food that you ate from the night before could still be in your intestines and the weight of that food could mask any weight loss. The water you retain from the salt in the food you ate the night before could still be in your system, and that could mask any weight loss, or even make it appear that you have a weight gain. Despite this, many people weigh two or three times a day, expecting to get a feel for how well their diet is working. Weighing that often is absolutely the most useless thing anyone can do in an effort to determine how well a program is working.

Does this mean a person should never weigh? No. The scale, in conjunction with other factors, can be used to mark and chart your progress, but it shouldn't be the sole indicator as to how well you are doing. How do your clothes fit? How do others see you? Are you happy with yourself when you look in a mirror? All of these things are significant factors in determining whether you are moving toward your goal. Now, when you do weigh, be sure to use the scale as a motivational tool, instead of as a method for judging yourself. If you want to experience long-term weight loss, move your scale out of the bathroom and into the Dumpster. Instead of weighing yourself daily, consider the many other ways of measuring your progress, and most of all, think positively.

Steve O, who lives in Coral Springs, is an author of the low-fat cookbook "Getting Fit by Eating." He graduated from the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas and the Florida Culinary Institute.

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