On A Grand Scale

Break Weighing.jpg

(This is a sort of series, I guess. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.)

You don’t really have to weigh your food. It’s a good way to get specific, get some quality quantity numbers if you’re all about the numbers, but I’ll admit to being geeky about this. A banana is 100 calories. Weigh it and adjust, but you’re pretty safe with just saying 100 calories. This will never be an exact science, although it’s still science.

Some initial weighing might be helpful, just to get a better grasp on portions, and there are tricky foods out there, particularly nuts. Then again, snack foods are always going to be dangerous (by definition) and unless they’re absolute necessities (you decide), best avoided when trying to drop some pounds, in my experience.

Peanut butter is related to nuts, right? Like a cousin. Weighing peanut butter is part of my daily routine lately, since, looking for sustenance one day, trying to resist going to the grocery store, I saw an unopened jar of chunky (which, I now know, nobody but me in this household likes). I rarely eat bread, just because, but I spread some PB on a tortilla and it was GREAT.

So I do that a lot for breakfast, but you gotta weigh the peanut butter. Random scraping of peanut goodness onto a round of flour and lard is asking for trouble; a whim of just one more loaded knife can be an error measured in three digits.

Speaking of which, if you’re wondering: Weighing food, particularly messy food or food to be taken out of containers with some left in the container, often is about subtraction. So, no, don’t scoop peanut butter onto your scale. Set a jar on it, get a number, take peanut butter out, get a number, subtract.

It’s a dangerous thing for a calorie tracker, peanut butter. From a nutritional standpoint, it’s an easy way to get some protein and fiber, a bit of iron and calcium, but it’s high in fat (monosaturated fat, mostly, the good kind), which means the calories can climb, and quickly. One of my PB breakfast burritos can run upwards of 500 calories, essentially a cheeseburger but without as much protein (and thus not quite as satiating).

(And since I’m on the subject, I’ve found it helps to look at the three macronutrients in food—protein, carbs, and fat—as each offering something different. Protein to make me feel full, carbohydrates for energy, and fat to make food interesting enough to eat. Eat what you need, in other words.)

But, again, weighing your food is easy but not mandatory.

You really need to weigh yourself, though.

I know.

So many paradoxes, so little time. Maybe Captain Obvious needs to make an appearance.

We don’t care what we weigh. We care about how we look, how we feel. We care about our glucose levels, or our blood pressure. We care about zipping that zipper.

And a “pound” is just a measurement of the force of gravity applied to our mass. Go somewhere with less gravity to lose weight, it’s easy. Go live on the moon. Does this crater make my butt look big?

But that’s not really an option, so we’re stuck with the scale. It’s not the only way; we can just try on pants every day, or wrap an ice-cold measuring tape around our gut every morning.

Stored fat is what we’re trying to get rid of, and fat has mass and thus weight (on this planet, anyway). As we burn excess fat, our weight goes down. The opposite, of course, is also true, and thus the paradox.

The tool for the most accurate and easiest way to measure our progress, assuming we want progress, is the ordinary bathroom scale. It’s also the bearer of bad news, and we stay away so often it becomes a scary stranger. It seems arbitrary, capricious, irrational. We don’t understand, and so we avoid it the way we avoid our racist grandma. Who knows what it’ll say?

Let me cut to the chase, then. The scale tells you (drum roll) what you weigh.

Step on the scale. Now put on a 50-pound backpack and get back on. Look, you’ve gained weight! Take it off and presto.

Or, hell. Just drink a big cup of coffee. That’s about a pound, too.

People who should know estimate that most of us put between 10 and 15 pounds of stuff into our bodies every day, most of it water. Water has weight, of course, which means that stepping on a scale at a random time, wearing random clothing (which also has weight), is a snapshot of a particular moment in time. You might be wearing a backpack, even.

Even weighing under the same conditions, say once a week, makes a lot of assumptions, the most significant that your consumption and activity remain the same, every day. The fact that you always weigh on the same scale, in your boxer shorts and socks, on Thursday morning at 10 o’clock, is irrelevant to accuracy if your Wednesdays are all over the place.

A weekly weigh-in will give you information, over a period of time, sure. It’s a matter of degrees of accuracy. Wednesdays can be tricky.

So, first: I found it absolutely necessary to weigh every day, and I see no reason to change my mind. Same scale, same conditions. Get up, empty your bladder, shed what you want, step on the scale. This is the lowest weight you’ll have all day, assuming you’ve been asleep and not raiding the fridge, and it won’t get lower. Barring a broken scale (and stop assuming scales are broken), or extreme dehydration (which won’t last long, anyway; you’ll either hydrate or die), your weight won’t dip under that fasting, lightly dehydrated, first-thing-in-the-morning weigh-in. That’s your baseline.

This doesn’t mean it will be accurate. Again, stuff has weight. A pound of broccoli or a pound of peanuts, it’s still a pound that the scale will notice if it’s in your body.

A pound of peanuts will provide enough energy for a full day of manual labor for a fully grown man of good size. A pound of broccoli? About an hour. Still a pound.

A pound that will disappear, eventually. Probably (the peanuts are pushing it, a little). We’ll take that energy and use it to keep our hearts beating and our lungs respiring and our legs moving.

But those pounds of food, even if we expend the exact same amount of energy over the course of a day that we consume, stick around for frustratingly irregular periods of time. Yesterday, I ate around 2100 calories, and according to Mr. Fitbit I burned around 2900. That should mean, all things being equal (they never are), that I lost around two-tenths of a pound yesterday. This morning, my scale jumped a full pound upward. SCALES DON’T WORK AAGH KILL ME.

See? This is the point of all of this. I’ve been down this road, let me help you out.

Of course I don’t care what the scale says, not at this point in my life and current condition. I just make a note. If I were curious, I’d review the day before. Did I eat something later in the evening than I usually do? (yep, guilty) Did I drink a lot of fluid, or eat a lot of sodium that might be causing me to retain water? (water weighs) Are my bowels moving regularly? (poop weighs) Has the gravity changed? (worth a look)

So, the bad news is that our weight fluctuates, for reasons sometimes clear, sometimes not. Over time it’ll work out and make sense, but on any given day it can get depressing. No way around it. Pounds are our currency here, and the scale doesn’t differentiate between fat and food. Everything has weight.

The good news?

The more you use the scale, the better you understand. The more desensitized you become to the minor ups and downs, understanding that there are reasons for this. If you’re trying to lose weight, the scale will become your best friend, the one who will tell you the truth. It’ll stop being arbitrary and start making sense, and become an excellent way to mark your progress.

And progress is what we’re talking about. Wanna lose weight? Weigh.


Chuck SigarsComment