Re­mov­ing gym scales did more harm than good

The Niagara Falls Review - - OPINION - ALHELI PICAZO Alheli Picazo is a Cal­gary writer.

It’s hard to over­state the naivete at the heart of Car­leton Univer­sity’s ini­tial de­ci­sion to re­move the scale from its fit­ness room at the Ot­tawa school’s ath­letic cen­tre.

The move, os­ten­si­bly “keep­ing with cur­rent fit­ness and so­cial trends,” sought to pro­mote a “more holis­tic” ap­proach to fit­ness, body im­age and over­all well­ness by dis­cour­ag­ing fo­cus on weight. (In an email up­date Tues­day, Car­leton said scales have now been put in the change rooms.)

Con­trary to some re­ports over the heated de­bate sparked by the univer­sity’s de­ci­sion, the scale’s ini­tial re­moval wasn’t prompted by any spe­cific re­quest or com­plaint, but was an in­de­pen­dent choice of the recre­ation and ath­let­ics de­part­ment.

“We don’t be­lieve be­ing fix­ated on weight has any pos­i­tive ef­fect on your health and well-be­ing,” Bruce Mar­shall, man­ager of health and well­ness, told Car­leton’s stu­dent-run pa­per, The Char­la­tan. “It takes weeks, even months to make a per­ma­nent change in your weight. So why ob­sess about it?”

Mar­shall, with­out a hint of irony, of­fered other num­bers on which anx­ious gym-go­ers should fix­ate: “You can start by recording mea­sure­ments in mul­ti­ple ar­eas, for ex­am­ple your torso, hips, chest, legs and arms. You would then re­visit these mea­sure­ments af­ter a few weeks to keep tabs on your progress.”

He also sug­gested “the best in­di­ca­tor” in mea­sur­ing suc­cess “is how well you feel in your body.”

Set­ting aside the com­par­a­tive lim­its in track­ing girth ver­sus track­ing weight — nei­ther can pro­vide any sig­nif­i­cant gauge of fit­ness, as nei­ther sep­a­rates the lean body mass from fat mass in those num­bers — to ad­vise suc­cess be mea­sured in terms of self­per­cep­tion speaks to lack of thought be­hind the at­tempted cul­ture shift.

Re­cent years have seen a rise in this “body pos­i­tive” ap­proach, where em­pha­sis is placed on learn­ing to love your body and all its im­per­fec­tions. This is not, at its heart, a bad thing. It of­fers per­mis­sion to be flawed, and pro­vides com­fort in be­ing hu­man.

How­ever, de­ter­min­ing fit­ness­re­lated progress by “how well you feel in your body” is a ter­ri­ble strat­egy. Be­ing re­mark­ably lean and mus­cu­lar, a body oth­ers might envy, for in­stance, doesn’t mag­i­cally trans­late to con­fi­dence, self-worth or any real sense of ac­com­plish­ment. Re­ly­ing on “feel­ing” as a marker of suc­cess in the gym can be a route to self­de­struc­tion, and no less so than ob­sess­ing over num­bers on a scale.

Tan­gi­ble, re­li­able meth­ods of track­ing suc­cess in health and fit­ness are es­sen­tial to sus­tained progress and main­tained well-be­ing, both in­side the gym and out. While an im­per­fect tool, the scale serves as an easy, re­li­able mo­ti­va­tor and mon­i­tor.

And while most associate the scale with the quest for weight loss, it’s es­sen­tial for those whose goals in the gym in­clude weight gain.

It’s en­tirely nor­mal to ap­proach a scale with some hes­i­ta­tion. Hav­ing an un­healthy re­la­tion­ship with the num­bers that ap­pear, how­ever, to a point where it in­ter­feres with daily life — where it con­sumes all one’s at­ten­tion, drives ir­ra­tional di­etary habits, causes re­lent­less anx­i­ety — is a prob­lem, and not one that is solved by the scale’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

If there’s gen­uine con­cern over those strug­gling with body im­age or eat­ing dis­or­ders in re­la­tion to the scale, then pro­vide a list of re­sources, such as psy­cho­log­i­cal and nu­tri­tional coun­selling, sup­port net­works and peer groups, one-on-one con­sul­ta­tion on mak­ing goals and track­ing progress, next to the scale, rather than re­mov­ing it al­to­gether.

There are far bet­ter ways to cul­ti­vate a more wel­com­ing, well­rounded at­mos­phere for gym-go­ers than the ath­let­ics de­part­ment chose.

And the in­creas­ingly hos­tile snip­ing be­tween sides over the mer­its of the scale sug­gest the univer­sity has only served to cre­ate an even more un­sym­pa­thetic environment for those al­ready un­sure of tak­ing part.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.