Do you track your weight? Should you track your weight?
When I asked my running communities, I knew I was going to get a lot of varied answers. But I didn’t expect to get hundreds of responses: Clearly, talking about bodyweight is a hot button issue for runners and experts in the coaching and healthcare field.
Some runners made jokes (“I use a scale to cover up a broken tile in my bathroom,” one wrote). Others admitted to a past unhealthy relationship with weight (“I don’t use a scale because both my roommate and I find that we get negatively obsessive about it,” another said). On the other end of the spectrum, some proudly are using the scale every day and are seeing great results (“Yes to a scale. It’s not my favorite metric but it keeps me accountable,” a runner explained).
None of these answers are wrong, but how can you find the right relationship with your scale? A few experts advise on when to use a scale, when to skip it and what to track instead:
KNOW WHY YOU’RE WEIGHING IN
Are you hoping to achieve a certain race weight for an upcoming marathon, are you trying to get down to a certain percentage body fat or are you trying to PR in your next 10K? Sometimes, we start focusing on the number on the scale, but we don’t know why, exactly. If you’re just trying to make sure your weight stays in a rough range because you know that’s where you perform the best, that’s a good reason to get on the scale. But if you’re unsure of your weight goals, it’s just a number that doesn’t hold any real meaning, but we can end up losing focus and going from ‘trying to be a better runner’ to ‘trying to hit an arbitrary weight goal.’
UNDERSTAND WEIGHT LOSS CAN BE A TICKING TIME BOMB
“Sometimes, runners associate being lighter with being faster, and they become unhealthy as a result,” says ultrarunning coach David Roche. In their recent book, “The Happy Runner,” his wife, Meghan, details her struggles with getting overzealous about a low number on the scale, and how it negatively affected her running. “Weight loss below healthy levels and negative energy availability are both ticking time bombs,” Roche writes. “Throw out your scale if you have one, embrace the body you have and know that the things you think aren’t optimal are actually a source of your superpowers.”
REMEMBER YOU’RE THINKING LONG TERM
Weight, as many of us know, fluctuates from day to day, based on things like hydration status, hormonal status and even whether you’ve gone to the bathroom yet. So stressing about one day’s weigh-in is silly. Instead, if you’re regularly weighing in, look for trends. Endurance coach Josh Whitmore says, “It’s important to remember that bodyweight is variable day to day — and throughout the day — so look more at long-term trends and don’t get too focused on any one measurement.”
MAKE SURE IT’S NOT IMPACTING YOUR MOOD
If a number can throw your day off completely, it’s time to stop weighing in for a while. Measurements can be great, but not if you spend the rest of your day stressing about what you’re eating or adding more miles to your training as a result. “Tracking my weight leads to obsession with that number which influences how I eat rather than letting my body guide me to what it needs. I’ve seen enough to know a Type A personality can easily turn a healthy interest into an unhealthy obsession,” one runner said. Know how you’re impacted by these pieces of information, and if you know you default to unhealthy habits, skip the weigh-in in favor of simply focusing on eating healthy and doing your planned workouts.
TRY A SCALE IN A NEW WAY
Rather than using your scale to track weight in the morning, use it to test whether you’re dehydrated or hydrated during your runs to establish good hydration habits. “A good rule of thumb is that if you’re gaining weight during an athletic activity, you’re drinking too much. You shouldn’t lose more than a few percent of your body weight — that indicates dehydration — but losing a little weight during exercise is fine,” says Dr. Mitchell Rosner, chair of the University of Virginia Department of Medicine and a specialist in electrolyte disorders.
USE OTHER METRICS
You can still weigh in sometimes, but make sure your entire focus isn’t on one number. You’re a runner, and there are a lot of metrics that can indicate progress that have nothing to do with pounds. Chiropractor and endurance athlete Greg Wright lists a few of his favorites: Body fat composition (opposed to just a standard bodyweight), VO2max, blood pressure, waking heart rate, flexibility and soreness, speed, injury status, regularity of injuries and — for those concerned about weight — simply looking at the notches in your belt.
REMEMBER IT’S A NUMBER
Don’t forget, no one number can define you as a person or as a runner. So remember that whatever the scale reads, you’re still you. “I own a scale but no longer track weight,” says Ellen Foster, a runner, cyclist and physical therapist. “For most, bodyweight and performance are not correlated. It’s more effective to find performance gains in strength, training and mobility work than to lose weight. I also believe that you can be fat and healthy and fast.”