The Frippery of the Scale

ScaleRecently, I’ve been exploring the sources of information that might help me know precisely how much I ought to weigh. We’ve already discovered that the Bible just doesn’t give us any real indication about how much weight a Christian should be carrying around. In the absence of inspired counsel, we’ve looked at both BMI and body fat percentage and found them lacking to one degree or another.  It’s at this point that I am supposed to unveil the perfect tool for knowing your own ideal body weight. But, as fate would have it, I don’t have such a tool just yet. Instead, I want to spend a moment considering the tool most people use: the scale.

The scale requires no math, unless you consider doing the simple subtraction (or addition) that will quantify your weight loss (or gain) for the week. It doesn’t require any fancy or expensive equipment. If you don’t own a set of bathroom scales, you can go to any of a dozen big box stores and pick a perfectly accurate scale up for less than $20. My scale, which cost about $15, measures in increments of two-tenths of a pound. That means that it is claiming to record weight changes as little as 3.2 ounces. In other words, drink a half cup of water, and my scale should be recording the change, all for $15. Given that it will last virtually forever, that’s a pretty good bargain.

So what’s wrong with using the scale to tell you what you ought to weigh? Hopefully the answer to that is obvious. Does a tape measure tell you how big your bedroom should be? Does a speedometer tell you how fast to drive?  Measuring tools are good–imagine this–for measuring. The scale can tell you to remarkable accuracy, how much you do weigh, but it will shed absolutely zero light on how much you should weigh.

Unfortunately, some people allow the number on the scale to be a great deal more meaningful than it really is. As I’ve shared elsewhere, at my highest, I weighed 244 pounds. When I fluctuated upward, late last year and neared 200 again, the idea of crossing that threshold really bothered me. But really, is the difference between 199 and 201 really bigger than the difference between 189 and 191? Psychologically, yes, but in absolute terms, no.

The numbers on the scale are, of course significant, but they aren’t magical. The only reason why 200 seems like a big deal is because it’s a round number. What if you were weighing in kilograms? Would you wait until you reached 100 kg (or 220 lbs) to feel fat? Hopefully not.

What if a pound were 15 ounces, instead of 16? In that case, my last weigh in at 191 would be mathematically transformed to 203.7. How depressing. My weight would be the same, but the number would bother me.

I am not suggesting that we should toss our scales out the bathroom window. A scale is useful for measuring, and numbers, even somewhat arbitrary ones, can help us to get motivation. But the numbers on your scale cannot tell you how much to weigh.

At some point along the course of your life, that scale will, at least theoretically, read out the ideal number for you. It will do it with no more fanfare than it reads out a too-high or too-low number. We’ll have to look elsewhere if we want some useful guidance.