The scale. Friend of few, the enemy of many.
The scale tells us one thing. Our current pull on gravity at the present moment – aka our weight. It tells us nothing else about ourselves. Not how fit we are, how nice we are, how bad we are…it only tells our weight.
The debate rages on about how to use the scale, or if to use the scale at all.
Like anything else in the fitness and diet world, it depends on the individual and their mindset.
If someone has had issues with the scale in the past, first I will look at what they were, how they handled them, and if it was a serious enough problem to avoid the scale – or if we just need to shift their mindset.
Personally – I recommend weighing daily and looking at the average of the 7 days. Or at least 4-5 days and the average of those.
I DO NOT like once per week weigh-ins. Why? Because it is a “doomsday”. The dreaded weigh-in day. And they can poorly represent what is actually happening.
Say you start at 210 pounds (on a Sunday), you would track your weight for a week like this:
Mon: 209 Tues: 209 Wed: 208 Thurs: 209 Fri:211 Sat: 209 Sun: 210
DAMN! Gained 1 pound! – this is what happens to many people. But with daily weighing…
Add up all the weights, and divide by 7 (or the number of days you weighed yourself if you didn’t do 7)
209+209+208+209+211+209+210 = 1465/7 = 209.3 (or a 0.7 lb weight loss)
THEN à enter your WEEKLY AVERAGE (209.3) as your weigh in for the week! See examples here.
Why The Scale Fluctuates
Mostly water is the cause of the ups and downs day to day. Don’t believe me?
Step on the scale. Step off, drink 16 oz. of water. Step back on. You have now gained a pound (if you haven’t, buy a new scale).
Step on the scale before you have to pee or poop. Step off. Pee or poop. Now step back on. You have lost weight! Yay 😉
Water retention is a massive cause for the scale to frustrate us. What are other things that cause water retention?
Salt pulls water – I think we all know this. If you eat super salty all day, and you listen to your body’s thirst mechanism, you probably ended up drinking much more water than normal and holding on to it.
Carbs are awesome. But they can also bring water with them. This is why when runners carb load before a marathon, I want them to gain 2-3 pounds. This means their glycogen stores are loaded up and they are ready to dominate. Also, this is why low carb crash diets make you lose weight super fast at the start – water weight!
Also, eating too many simple carbs (sugar) without proper activity to balance it out will cause insulin levels to remain high in the body, and prolonged elevated insulin levels increase renal (kidney) retention of sodium (salt).
However, some studies have shown this process can be prevented by consuming more potassium – fruits, veggies, and even potatoes (French Fries don’t count).
More food in your GI tract, more water weight is coming with it. This is just simple logic, right? If you eat a huge meal before you step on the scale, you will weigh more.
This is why I recommend weighing in the first thing in the morning, after you use the bathroom, with no clothes on – to minimize the variables that can cause a flux in water weight.
The body doesn’t know whether your stress is from exercise, work, or your kids driving you nuts – it just all adds up. Increases in stress lead to increases in the hormone cortisol, and prolonged increases in cortisol lead altered fluxes in anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) – which yes, has an ANTI DIURETIC effect, meaning you retain water.
Inflammation from injury, sickness, too much exercise all can contribute. This is where daily weighing really comes in handy – and being aware of food intake (calories). You can be in a calorie deficit, and still not lose weight. How? Water.
You can be losing body fat, but gaining water weight due to inflammation – so the scale reads a zero change. How frustrating! This is why sticking it out for the long haul is important. Most people give up when they hit this point.
They are under-eating and overexercising. They are so sore, but the scale just doesn’t move! Sleep patterns become worse – and when sleep gets worse, we are more likely to drop inhibition and reach for sugary/junk foods.
This is when it might be time to assess when you last took a break. Let your body recover, less exercise is okay. Also, take a good hard look at your diet. Was it really as “clean” or balanced as you thought.
Sorry ladies, but you’ve got it rough when it comes to the scale and how frustrating it can be. This seems to be most common in the week leading up to your period, and can be upwards of a 5-10 pound swing depending on your size! Again, this is why managing food intake and trusting in the process can be so important. If you KNOW your diet hasn’t changed, but your weight shot up, it’s likely something besides fat that triggered it…
Listen to your body here, basal metabolic rate decreases at menstruation and falls to its lowest point approximately 1 week before ovulation, subsequently rising until the beginning of the next menstrual period.
This explains the random cravings for sweets or treats, or the loss of appetite…listen to your body, and honor your hunger and fullness.
A scale is a good tool. But only one tool.
This is why we need to focus on OTHER metrics to monitor progress. Measurements, internal health, well being, performance numbers, etc.
Maybe your body isn’t ready to lose weight, and you feel like crap. You make changes in your life, feel amazing, but haven’t lost a pound – but your mood, outlook, and energy are better. Are you still going to think that that was a failure?
Look beyond the scale – but also be aware of what changes on the scale can mean.
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Stay healthy my friends,