I get questions every single week from people who are concerned about their weight. My standard response to them is that they should forget about their weight and focus on getting healthy. If you can get yourself healthy then your body will naturally find a healthy weight (and that might not necessarily be lighter). So my suggestion to you if you are trying to improve your health (and yes maybe even look better) is to ditch the scales and start using the mirror.

How many of you just freaked out at the thought of really looking at yourself, standing naked in front of a mirror? It can be quite daunting at times but it is the best way to get real about how you are going on your health journey.

So why is the mirror better than the scales when it comes to measuring your health journey? Well, two reasons. One, there are lots of unhealthy ways to lose weight, and two, there are actually very healthy activities that can cause you to gain weight.

The healthy activity that is most likely to cause you to gain weight is resistance or power exercise but that is no way reason to shy away from it as many people do (especially girls who are worried they are suddenly going to turn orange and start looking like one of those female bodybuilders). According to the Mayo Clinic the benefits of resistance and power exercise far outweigh the weight you will gain and these benefits include, as a happy side effect, looking better too. Physically power and resistance training will help you become more toned, stronger, less likely to get injured and will improve the strength of your bones and ligaments. But there are other benefits as well. Research shows that increasing your lean muscle mass will also help improve your confidence and self-esteem, it increases your metabolic rate (allowing you to eat more without gaining weight) and reduces your risk of chronic diseases, especially heart disease. And don’t worry ladies, given the lower levels of testosterone in your bodies you are unlikely to ever start looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger without going absolutely crazy on the exercise and errr… ‘supplements’.

So what about the unhealthy ways to lose weight?

Well I don’t think I need to go into too much detail here. You have all seen them before but any program that suggests that you stop eating a healthy amount of real food or avoid eating a healthy combination of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, healthy meats and water might be a recipe for weight loss but it certainly isn’t a recipe for health. If you want to succeed long-term then you need to eat a balanced diet of real, healthy whole foods, there is no two ways about it. Any diet that suggests that you ‘replace’ meals, don’t eat fruits or vegetables or avoid healthy fats and proteins is not going to get you healthy and it certainly won’t pass the mirror test.

What is the mirror test?

Ok, so whilst it can be daunting, I am going to suggest that the mirror is a much better indicator of your health regime than the scales. Now I will preface this by saying that for many people (especially those with true eating disorders) the mirror can be just as bad an indicator (and an even bigger liar) than the scales. The key with the mirror is to ask yourself the right questions. Of course you are going to look at whether you are carrying any excess body fat. This will be self-evident and is the first thing that many people will look for – but that is only one part of the whole picture. Once again it is very possible to have NO excess body fat and still be very unhealthy, just look at your average Olympic marathon runner. They don’t scream ‘health’ to me.

So what else should you be looking out for?

  1. Tone. Do you have any sign of muscle definition in your body? Once again lean muscle mass is very important to your overall health so whilst you may not want to be overtly muscular you do want to be toned.
  2. Healthy skin. Your skin can be a window to what is going on inside and healthy glowing skin is a great indicator of true health. Dry skin can be due to overuse of irritating soaps and chemicals or lack of healthy fats in your diet, spotty skin can indicate digestive issues, red or irritated skin may indicate stress or an overactive inflammatory response, pale lips may indicate iron deficiency, acne, stress or a poor diet, whilst a gaunt appearance may indicate poor nutritional status or low Omega 3 intake.
  3. Eyes. Your eyes can be a great indicator of your overall health, in fact so much so that Iridology has made a whole profession of looking into your eyes to diagnose what is going on. Without going into quite so much detail though there are a few basic things you can look out for. Bags under your eyes or bloodshot eyes can be an indication of lack of sleep, stress or dietary insufficiency whilst a twitching eyelid will often be a sign that you are low on magnesium (gained from leafy green vegetables).
  4. Symmetry. As a chiropractor it never ceases to amaze me that when I point out to people asymmetry in their posture, be it one shoulder higher than the other or one ear higher than the other, a twisted pelvis or a forward head carriage, that they are so surprised. They are often shocked that having looked at themselves in the mirror for so many years they have never noticed it. It is said that your posture is the window to your spine. Distortions in your posture often indicate a dysfunction in your spine which not only increases your risk of injury but can create interference to your nervous system and impact on your health overall. It is also worth noting here that when studies have been done on what people find attractive that symmetry is right at the top of the list.

Remember that this list is not meant to be diagnostic but the increase of any of these signs and symptoms when looking in the mirror may be an indication that your current health care regime isn’t actually making you healthier (even if you are losing weight) and a reduction in these signs and symptoms usually indicates that you are on the right path, regardless of what the scales say.

Of course one of the advantages that scales have in regards to monitoring your health over time is the ability to compare to your past measurements and determine if you are making progress. If you want to compare over time using the mirror test then you are going to need to do something even more daunting. Take a photo of yourself standing naked in front of the mirror! If you are making healthy lifestyle changes the differences between the pics will be quite stark and a clear indication of progress.

So ditch the scales (yes I do mean literally) and start using the mirror (and the digital camera) ensuring that you ask yourself the right questions. It will give you a much better indication of your overall health.