Weighing in when trying to get fit is a dangerous business. You might lose two pounds one week and gain back three the next when you’ve pretty much been eating and exercising the same way. You might lose fat but still gain weight. Your weight can even fluctuate during the day: I’ve seen reliable differences of five pounds between morning and night a few times, and never associated with extreme behaviors.
It’s not the scale’s fault: our bodies hold more or less water for a variety of reasons, including sodium intake and how recently we’ve exercised. When we build muscle, we gain weight: it weighs more than fat. Weights can vary due to the clothes we wear, how recently we’ve eaten and what we’ve eaten, and other variables.
Yet weighing in is one of the few ways a person can get any evidence as to how they’re doing in their attempts to get fit. Not weighing in is a problem because otherwise, apart from using calipers (which aren’t the worst idea in the world–but that’s a different topic), the only clear measure of success or failure is measurements that might take a month or more to clearly change, even if your efforts are going well. As human beings, we don’t work well with getting feedback over the course of months: we do better with feedback within a day, or preferably within minutes. Long-term feedback isn’t very motivating.
So what to do about the scale, with its short-term feedback laced with multiple misleading problems? Here are a few scale-related strategies:
- Use weigh-in results as data, not as goals. If you have your heart set on seeing a particular number, you can easily be disappointed just because you’re carrying more water around, for instance. The real differences that matter are in how you feel and how your body changes. Focus on exercising and eating to feel good instead of specifically to see numbers change on the scale. You can’t directly control your weight: you can only influence it. Goals work when they’re something that you can actually make happen reliably yourself.
- Weigh twice a day, but look at results over the course of a week. Weigh in at two different times in the course of a day and take an average of the numbers as an average daily weight. This way, one screwy weigh-in won’t throw you off. Weigh in at about the same times each day for maximum consistency. I like to weigh myself twice each time I weigh in. If they agree, I take the number. If not, I weigh in again to see which weight it confirms.
- Make sure you have a reliable scale. The old scales with the spinning dials tend to be highly inaccurate; get a brand of scale that you can rely on. You can find info on these by looking at reviews on sites like Amazon.com before buying, or you could buy a scale recommended by a doctor, nutritionist, trainer, etc.
- Relax. Whatever is going to show up on the scale has already been determined before you ever step on, so nothing’s really at stake when you get on the scale. The number you get will not be a definite and reliable answer as to how you’re doing with weight loss, and it certainly doesn’t tell you what will happen in the future. If you eat healthily and conservatively and get a lot of exercise, you will lose weight over time, whether the scale seems to be immediately supporting that or not.
Photo by GenBug