The magnetic power of the scale
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Weight concerns and what to do about the scale when it doesn’t budge

By Andrea Holwegner RD, Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. – for CBC.ca

Food Freedom - beyond the scale

Dictionaries define the word “weight” as a measurement of gravitational pull on an object. It seems the definition of a “scale” is similar since it seems scales also have a magnetic pull on many of us.

I was recently in a women’s change room at a busy fitness facility and as I was opening my locker I noticed some commotion by the door. A large electronic scale was surrounded by a mob of teenage girls dressed in field hockey uniforms. They were discussing their weight and many of the girls expressed concern that the number on the scale was disappointing.

As they left the locker room, I watched in amazement as women of all ages, shapes and sizes were drawn by the magnetic power of the scale. I sat down on the locker room bench and watched women come and go, each taking their turn on the scale. I heard sighs, witnessed grimaced faces of disappointment and blank stares of discontent. I saw friends compare numbers and discuss weight gains and losses. One woman cheered and smiled that she had lost a pound — this was particularly disturbing given that she was already clearly in a healthy weight range.

What is it about a scale that has so much power over us? Could it be that our culture is so focused on appearance and judgmental about weight? Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that health professionals use a scale to classify you as healthy or unhealthy. While a scale is one way to assess your health, it should never be the end-all-be-all for measuring your health and success. Here are some considerations that you need to know:

What determines your weight

Although your weight is a reflection of your nutrition and exercise habits, contrary to many popular diet books and so-called health experts, your weight is not explained by simply “calories in” versus “calories out.” Your weight is a reflection of many complex factors above and beyond your food and activity habits such as genetics, family history, age, gender, body composition, sleep habits, hormones and stress levels. Realize that some of these factors we can change — and acknowledge that others are stubborn unchangeable parts we are stuck with. Work at the factors you have control over, like nutrition, exercise, stress and sleep, and remind yourself that you — and everyone else — have a unique weight that your body will steer toward.

Preparing for stalled progress

One of the most common scenarios that happens when people increases their activity levels is weight loss will slow and sometimes weight may actually increase as higher levels of muscle mass develop. Ironically, despite improved energy and looser-fitting clothing (since muscle takes up less space on the body than fat), many clients become upset when the scale doesn’t move down. It is also common to see clients disappointed when weight loss is slower than anticipated even though they have shifted their diet to a phenomenal level of balanced nutrition that not only improves their medical status (such as blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels or blood sugar) but enhances the way they feel. In both of these circumstances, I believe people feel like they are doing the work and not getting paid. Instead of focusing on weight loss as the only paycheque, remember paycheques may be in another currency. Learn to celebrate wages in the form of health compensation and energy reimbursement.

What is a healthy weight?

There are large debates over how best to determine a person’s “healthy weight.” Most health professionals use tools such as body mass index (BMI), which correlates your height and weight as well as waist circumference. While there is benefit in looking at these as a starting place to determine whether you are at a healthy weight, these factors do not take into consideration individual variances, histories and body composition (fat, muscle, bone). Also consider that the scale cannot measure your eating habits or exercise habits — this oversimplifies the complex science of your body weight.

Some of the healthiest people I have seen as a dietitian will always rank high on weight charts, while some of the unhealthiest people I know with poor lifestyles will remain in healthy weight ranges on charts. You may be like many of my clients who have looked at target weight charts and been disheartened by numbers you have not been at for decades of your life. Or you may be like others who have worked hard to lose a significant amount of weight but can’t seem to shed the last 10 to 20 pounds that your doctor wants to see you shed. Can these people still be considered healthy? I believe so. Choose to acknowledge the scale as only one small tool to measure your progress.

Weight wisdom

You know your body best. A true healthy weight is not something that can be found in a chart: it will be a range your body will naturally maintain when you nourish it with healthy food, exercise it regularly, and manage sleep and stress. Don’t let the scale rule your happiness, self-worth, and belief in your health status. Decide not to stand on the scale each day to determine whether it is going to be a good day or a bad day filled with feelings of failure and guilt. Resist the magnetic pull of the scale and start to measure your success on your own terms.

Andrea Holwegner — the Chocoholic Dietitian — is a registered dietitian and founder and president of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting in Calgary.

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Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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