Tipping the Scale: What Scales Actually Measure

by | Mar 11, 2019 | Last updated Mar 11, 2022

Many of us have a mindset that we need to hit a certain number on the scale to be healthy, fulfilled, or beautiful. The reality is weight is just a number! Scales are a tool in which we measure our body weight. While scales are used in a variety of contexts, what’s most important is to begin shifting your thinking to what the scales actually measure instead of what they don’t measure Let’s take a deeper look together to help understand more about our weight and ourselves.

What a scale does measure


Let’s be scientists for a moment… physics tells us that weight is the force of gravity on the object or mass times the acceleration of gravity. Every object on this planet (on any planet) has a mass that is relative to the gravitational pull of the planet. That means that if you go on the moon, which has much less gravitational pull than Earth, you would feel essentially weightless! How cool would that be? On second thought, maybe it wouldn’t be so great being weightless because without the gravity we live with our bodies would be way different! Anyway, thank goodness for gravity and our natural mass!

There are many different types of scales, and to keep our sanity we are not going to get into that right now! However, let’s look at the overall use of scales. Scales are meant to measure the mass of what is placed on top of them. What does this mean? What does this have to do with our idea of that number on the scale?

To an extent measuring our mass can be useful, particularly in cases where we deviate far from the norm such as being greatly underweight or overweight. In these times, there can be serious health consequences and using the scale is an important measure in making that initial assessment. A scale’s measurement is more of an indicator then it is a definitive judgment on us. Like the tip of an iceberg, it shows us a tip of ourselves, a simple number. We can use that number to encourage us to make changes if we desire to the deeper parts of ourselves.

Body composition

Our bodies are composed of body fat and fat-free mass. Both are integral to normal, healthy body functions. Body fat (adipose tissue) serves as a hormone regulator, protection for internal organs and stores fuel for energy. Fat-free mass is everything else that is not fatty tissue: water, bone, muscle, organs, and other tissues that are metabolically active. These non-fatty tissues burn calories for energy. Most scales measure all of these things together, giving you the total mass for your entire body.

Every person has a unique body composition that is influenced by genetics, gender, and age. Some people may be genetically inclined to have greater muscle mass, retain more fluid, or burn more calories. It’s important to remember that these qualities are what make us unique, we are unlike any human being that has been or ever will be. When we measure our weight with a scale, we commonly use a Body Mass Index (BMI) chart to compare our own weight to an average weight using height, weight, and gender. This average does not account for our unique body composition!

What a scale does not measure

Having an emotional connection to the number on the scale is normal and common. The thought or act of stepping on a scale can bring up many different emotions- anxiety, sadness, disappointment, happiness, anger, or pride. Weight loss can be a subject that bears a weight heavier than your body-the emotional journey that comes along with it. Understand that the scale doesn’t know your story, it cannot see your uniqueness.

We often use scales to measure our self-worth, our love for ourselves, and our ability to be loved. However, a scale cannot tell you that. It simply lacks the ability to measure anything beyond physical weight. When it may seem the scale is judging you, ask yourself- who is being the judge?

There is much more to you than that number on the scale. The next time you step on a scale think of that number as a sign at a fork in the road; it’s revealing to you which way to go! It can be a tool that you can use to help you decide which path to take for your life and your health.

Author: Rachel Hansen, MS