Some people avoid it like the plague and others check in daily to see how they’re doing.
It can be a source of pain or temporary satisfaction.
Fitness professionals tend to fall into two camps with the scale.
It’s either, “Throw it away!” or “It’s the only measure of progress.”
I’m somewhere in the middle.
Knowing your number is a relevant starting point and can be a good way of keeping you “honest”, either to yourself or to a Coach.
If you’re aiming to improve your body composition (decrease fat and/or add muscle), the scale is a good rough guideline.
There are, however, a few things that can affect your weight that have nothing to do with how lean you’re getting.
Your weight varies on a day-to-day basis for reasons that DON’T have anything to do with your fat loss progress.
Here Are Three Major Reasons For Weight Fluctuations:
1) Hydration Levels
Our bodies are 50-65% water, so how hydrated you are impacts your weight.
If you drank more water the night before you weighed yourself then your weight will appear higher.
When you’re a bit dehydrated your weight will be lower.
Water retention can make you weigh more.
If you’ve eaten salty food the day before, you body may retain more water.
2) Undigested Food
The colon, or large intestine, is about 5 feet long and is packed with the undigested parts (mainly fiber) of the food you eat.
Although it’s a bit gross to think about, you could have several pounds of this waste in your system.
Depending on where you are in your digestive cycle, you could weigh a little more or a bit less.
If you’re constipated, you’ll weigh a bit more.
When you “clear out” your system you’ll weigh less.
Your hormonal balance affects how much water your body retains.
Many women add a pound or two from water retention before their periods.
Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, can cause water retention.
So if you’re experiencing long term stress, you may also be carrying some extra water weight.
But Muscle Weighs More Than Fat, Right?
Muscle is more dense than fat.
So 5 pounds of muscle is smaller than 5 pounds of fat.
So you can put on muscle and lose fat without your weight changing.
If you’re new to weight training (under a year of consistent training) and have decent genetics, you may notice that you’re adding muscle while not seeing any movement on the scale.
This doesn’t apply to women as much, unless they’ve been underweight and start doing regular weight training while eating more calories consistently.
If someone is already close to their target weight, they may find that they’ll build muscle and lose fat…which means they look leaner with no change on the scale.
This is a fairly common scenario with my Online Coaching clients, many of which are within ten pounds of their goal weight.
But unless you notice that you’re leaner, the addition of muscle isn’t a good explanation for your weight staying the same.
The Right Way To Weigh
I discourage my Online Coaching clients from weighing themselves daily.
As you’ve just read, there are a lot of reasons why your weight will vary from day to day.
Measure too often and you can get discouraged – or overly excited – about the changes you’re seeing.
Losing 1-2 pounds a week is the general goal.
So if you’re losing four pounds a month you’re doing well…even if there are ups and downs along the way.
Make sure that you’re weighing at the same time of day, in the same way.
Ideally: in the morning, nude, before you’ve eaten and after you’ve used the bathroom.
There can be a variation of a pound or two between weighing in the morning or the evening (owing to eating and drinking) so it doesn’t make sense to compare at different times.
Signs of True Changes
If you go 2-3 weeks without a change in your weight (depending on what you’re aiming for) then you may not be progressing.
Remember that the leaner you get, the harder it is for you to get yourself leaner.
Your body wants to maintain homeostasis at a reasonable level and starts fighting back as you try to drop your body fat very low.
That’s why those last five pounds can be the most challenging.
Besides the scale, you can also check for fat loss by looking in the mirror.
Taking progress pictures can help because we often don’t have good memories of what we used to look before.
You can also try pinching the fat on your important bits to assess progress.
While a body fat calliper can be useful, just having a general feeling of how much fat you have in different areas can tell you where you’re at.
The abs are generally a good indicator of fat loss.
Look for increased definition in different areas (belly button, lower abs, obliques) of the abs.
Taking a waist and hip measurement can be useful.
The Waist to Hip Ratio can be a predictor of health risks, including heart attacks.
For women, hips and thighs are a good indicator of fat loss, as that’s where women generally tend to store more fat due to female hormones.
Some people also notice that their arms look more defined.
The Bottom Line
Getting tied to the scale isn’t what a healthy lifestyle is about.
I also don’t advocate throwing out your scale and ignoring the reality that’s creeping up on you.
Your weight can be an indicator of your fat loss progress and affects your health risk factors, but it’s not the only metric.
Use the scale as one measure of your progress.
It tells you approximately where you are on your weight loss journey.
But if you look leaner, your stomach is flatter, and your clothes are looser, you’re heading in the right direction.
Either way, the scale doesn’t determine your value as a human being.
If you’re strong, healthy, and full of energy don’t let anything the scale says bring you down.