Like most people at one time or another, I've definitely been a slave to the scale. When I competed in fitness competitions, there were times I would weigh myself 5 times a day. Sometimes I would live in fear of what the scale would say...if I didn't lose what I "should have" lost, it could change everything that day. What I mean is that I was giving the scale the power to ruin my day. After weighing, I would be depressed, crabby, and angry despite following my nutrition plan, having great workouts and even liking the way I looked. If the number was good, all I could think about was lowering it even more. When I look back at this, it's clear how ridiculous it is. Not to mention obsessive. Things aren’t as simple as a number. And when competing as a woman (unless in the bodybuilding division where your weight determines your class), no one cares how much you weigh – it is all in how you look. In everyday life, a number has no business ruining your day. For what? No one can tell from looking at you if you've lost 3 lbs or gained 2 lbs. Above all, our worth isn't defined by a number on a scale.
My excuse for being a slave to the scale always was that I need to monitor my progress. If you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know what to adjust. While that is true, there are multiple ways to monitor your progress and guess what… using a few approaches is a FAR better progress indicator than just using the scale by itself.
First off, Why Your Scale Might be Lying to You….
A scale doesn’t look at how much muscle or fat you actually have. Plain and simple, it’s your weight which includes muscle, bone, organs, water, and undigested food. So it’s important to remember a change on the scale could mean more than fat loss or gain… it could be your water fluctuating, carbs stored (glycogen) or just your last meal.
The scale doesn’t know if you gained (or lost) a pound of fat or muscle. If you are eating right and training consistently, you very well may be gaining muscle. Muscle gain should be a big goal…it is smaller/more compact than fat (looks better) and muscle burns more calories than fat. We look better – leaner, and defined with more muscle.
The average person can fluctuate about 2 pounds in water weight a day and that is while keeping nutrition and workout habits THE SAME! The amount of water in your body depends on the temperature (how much you’ve sweated), how much salt you’ve had, how much water you’ve drank, and how many carbohydrates you’ve had in a day. Additionally, consumption of things like sugar alcohols from gum, sugar free candy or sweeteners can also mess with your weight.
When you get on the scale repeatedly in a day or over a few days, it is perfectly normal to see a change and this makes many of us crazy. Really, all those different weights mean nothing. So what is the answer? As I have been told too many times (and I finally listened): THROW OUT THE SCALE!!!! Look for the non-scale victories and progress.
Non-Scale Indicators of Progress:
Clothes – how do your clothes fit? Try on your “skinny” pants (seems like we all have them) and take inventory of where you are.
Progress Pictures – this is what “selfies” are for! You and only you needs to see them. Taking pictures every few weeks or month and looking back will help you see your body change.
Measurements – use a measuring tape (careful to write down exactly where you measured) and check your waist, hips, chest, arms, etc every month.
Body Fat Testing – preferably not from one of those hand-held things or a scale (too inaccurate) but from a trainer with good calipers or a bod pod/hydrostatic testing. (Note that you can use a body-fat scale or hand-held tester to look for trends…as in going down but don’t focus on the actual number since it is likely quite off).
Doctor visit – how’s your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.
How you feel – eating right & working out gives you more energy. You generally sleep better and get a confidence boost from these things. That IS progress too!
If you are a slave to the scale…or even weigh yourself any more than weekly (I recommend biweekly as simply one of a few indicators to track progress) then I challenge you to give up the scale, at least temporarily, and put your focus on the non-scale victories. They are the items above and more. Learn to listen to your body. By tuning in we can learn what works best for us, and know if we are fluctuating or truly changing without a scale. And also let’s not discount the importance of knowing your value beyond your weight. It is, after all, just a number.