body mass index

Don’t Measure Weight Loss Success By the Scale

CoachMel Weight Loss Tips 9 Comments

It’s very easy to get caught up in checking your bathroom scales on a daily basis, to see how your weight loss is progressing.

And, while the scales do provide instant feedback, this feedback rarely tells you the whole story.

Here are 5 reasons why you can’t trust the accuracy of the scale…

1. Weight Fluctuations

During the course of the day, your weight can vary by several pounds, depending on your nutritional status, and the daily fluctuations associated with your body’s circadian rhythms.

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Obviously, you will be at your lightest first thing in the morning, when you haven’t eaten since the previous evening. But, these normal weight fluctuations make it difficult to compare results from one day to the next.

2. Body Composition

Your actual weight doesn’t tell you anything about the amount of body fat you may have lost.

Remember, muscle weighs considerably more than fat, so even if you are not losing weight, you may be losing fat and gaining muscle, which is extremely beneficial for both your overall health and your appearance.

Even though there are high-tec scales which give you a body fat percentage reading, these readings are estimates at best, and can vary considerably depending on your hydration status and other factors.

The most reliable method of measuring body fat involves underwater weighing, followed by a mathematical calculation to estimate your body fat percentage. Most of us don’t have the time or facilities to monitor that regularly.

How Should You Monitor Weight Loss?

My personal preference for measuring weight loss progress, is to use a simple measuring tape.

You should make a record in your journal or notebook at the beginning of your weight loss journey, and then at decided intervals along the way. You may want to record measurements, such as:

  • Upper arm
  • Chest
  • Waist
  • Hips
  • Thigh
  • Calf

3. Hydration Status

One litre of water weighs 1kg. So, if you are well-hydrated you will weigh more.

If you are dehydrated, you may be a little bit lighter, but this is certainly not healthy for your body.

Since you can’t know for sure what percentage of water you have in your system from one moment to the next, you can’t be sure how much of the number on the scale is simply due to water weight.

Women in particular may notice these water fluctuations at certain times of the month.

This is completely normal, and nothing to get stressed over; it will pass in a few days.

4. Discouragement

If you are the kind of person who gets discouraged when you see a number on the scale which you don’t like, I suggest you avoid the scales for a while.

Health and fitness are long-term goals, requiring a stable, consistent level of commitment from day to day.

So, if you find the number on the scale is discouraging and makes you feel like giving up, it’s better to forget about what you weigh for a while, and instead focus on eating well, exercising regularly, and being healthy.

These are habits that will last you a lifetime… not just for the duration of your “diet.”

5. Weight Loss is Only One Factor

It’s easy to get focussed on a particular number on the scale, but in truth, your health is about much more than just your weight.

If you are eating well, exercising regularly, feeling good about yourself, and your health is improving overall, you are well on your way to better health and fitness, no matter what the scale says.

Of course, achieving a healthy weight is part of your overall health and fitness plan, but it’s only one aspect.

The ultimate key is to be as healthy as you can be, no matter how much you weigh.

Although the scale can be one indicator of progress long-term, you shouldn’t worry too much about day to day variations in your weight, or let the number on the scale detract from your ultimate goal of being a fitter, healthier you.

Have you found yourself bound by the number on the scales in the past?

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Comments 9

  1. Marilyn

    I agree that you should not get hung up on numbers–whether on a tape measure or a scale–and that you shouldn’t weigh in obsessively. However, you don’t gain weight from eating one meal. Junior high science movie: sit study subject on a scale, subject eats food, show scale not moving. The weight of food in a meal is actually quiet small.

    Besides who weighs in after every meal?

    1. Melanie

      Hi Marilyn,
      I realise that my paragraph we slightly misleading. What I meant to say was you will weigh more during the day, than what you would if you weighed yourself first thing in the morning.

      I agree with you, you should not be weighing after each meal. Sadly lots of people do it, though.

  2. Cathy in NZ

    I’m a once a week – weight-er. I don’t get hung up if the scale says something other than what I am expecting. What I am expecting is a small but steady loss rate. Particularly now as I work through a number of issues – food/exercise.

    I can’t necessarily alter the food intake at this point but I have now discovered I can get a ‘right sized meal for me’ for $4 at Uni. I have a great of difficulty with large servings…

    I know there has been a loss in the ‘tape measurements’ not because I have measured them but because of how certain things are having to be up a notch i.e. my new bra is now on the ‘hooks’ that I would use as the stretch/oldness of the bra goes. Also a pair of dress pants might need a belt real soon 🙂

  3. Jennifer @ Loving Bytes

    I love this post! I need to get one of those soft measuring tapes. This is how my personal trainer measures success with his clients but I still end up stepping on the scale because it’s quick and easy. Your article is inspiring me to get a tape and change the way I’m monitoring progress! Thanks!

  4. Laurence

    Great blog post Melanie. I’m a pre-med student and I think what you’re doing is extremely important. It’s important to educate people on how to use nutrition and exercise to prevent diseases. Being overweight is a significant risk factor for heart disease and even increases the risk of developing cancer. I’m still trying to lose a few pounds from when I quit soccer and I constantly stress over the scale. Your suggestion of using a measuring tape instead of checking the scale is a great one. I’m actually going to use it because then maybe I’ll stop stepping on the scale 10 times a day! I’m not really that overweight, I’m just conscious about it. I really only need to lose about 5 pounds. Your point about hydration was also good. After a workout on the treadmill I drink a ton of water, which can sometimes lead to me “gaining” 5 pounds of water weight which gets me depressed. I have a nutrition blog that’s similar to yours. I wrote an article with some tips for losing weight that people might be interested in. tell me if you like it. If you’d like to write a guest post on my blog I’d be more than happy to let you! Nice blog and I’m going to subscribe 🙂

    1. Melanie

      Hi Laurence,
      Thank you for your comment. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of things right, but yes, stepping on the scales too much is not a good thing… you could just put them in the waste bin!!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your blog, too.

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