Ah, the bathroom scale – or – it’s more commonly known alias – the $%#*! 🙂
Why do we get so stuck on what the bathroom scale says? Is it because it’s tangible and quantifiable? Or is it something else? What were to happen if we removed the bathroom scale and started “weighing” ourselves intuitively and by measures of emotional wellness, energy level, stress level, total cholesterol, etc.? What would happen if we re-frame the definition of successful weight loss by focusing on those non-scale victories? Let’s think about this and why it might be a better (or at least another) approach to achieving goals of health.
First, let’s ask ourselves this question: “What does the scale actually quantify or tell us?” Answer: The number on the scale represents our individual relationship with gravity. Weight, by itself, is not a measure of health. Additionally, as one pursues a more active and healthy lifestyle, it’s possible that the number on the scale may not change drastically (something to bear in mind as you read on…). So, on to re-framing our thinking…
Let’s focus on what the health and fitness world refers to as metabolic and mental fitness.
What does it mean to be metabolically fit? In scientific jargon, metabolic fitness represents an optimal level of certain variables considered predictive of a person’s risk for chronic diseases (diabetes and heart disease) that can be defined by observing how the body responds to insulin (a hormone we produce). Metabolic fitness can be assessed through a blood test (think about Wellness blood draws). In other words, there are recommended healthy ranges for HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol), total cholesterol, triglycerides (storage form of fat in the body), and insulin sensitivity. Results that fall outside of the “normal” or “healthy” range are flagged and considered to identify a greater risk for developing one or more chronic diseases. I, personally, like to include other measures such as percent body fat (far more telling than weight or BMI), blood pressure, and resting heart rate when addressing someone’s metabolic fitness levels.
If you’ve completed a Wellness draw lately, here’s a great link which summarizes the current recommendations: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/summer12/articles/summer12pg6-7.html. If you have not done so, ponder doing so in the near future. It’s amazing the story a blood test can tell.
What about mental fitness? A quick summary – refers to the mind’s overall strength and health. Note – this term is not related to mental health or mental illness, but rather one’s ability to withstand challenges that threaten progress; being emotionally aware; a state of mind that allows one to seek pleasure and joy in life. Okay, not such a quick summary, but you get the idea. 🙂 When I visit with my students about the benefits of activity, I focus on the mental fitness aspects as much as the physical. For example, physical activity positively impacts stress levels (reduces them), provides a feeling of euphoria leading to a more positive outlook & mood, improves sleep habits, increases energy in both the acute and long-term contexts, enhances mental focus and cognitive function, and improves overall quality of life and ability to handle and overcome obstacles. Even taking a 5 minute walk around your office building or neighborhood can provide these benefits in the short-term.
Side-note – the mind-body connection is starting to make a little more sense when we stop taking ambiguous snapshots of our own picture of health and start examining ALL necessary and important variables.
All the measures highlighted through this post are what we can term “non-scale victories” and – BONUS – reveal much more about our risk level than a few digits on a scale. So, the next time you begrudgingly try to step on the scale, stop and ask yourself if doing so is motivating to you. If it isn’t, try focusing on some of these other non-scale numbers to provide the holistic picture of your individual health and risk profile.
Until next time…Meet you at the Well.