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Why The Scales Don't Always Tell The Truth About Your Weight

07/03/2016 8:21 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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I hate bathroom scales

Since setting up my own nutrition consulting business, I've worked with more 300 men and women to help them achieve their weight loss targets. While everyone's diet is unique and tailored to individual needs, there's one common issue that continues to arise: prioritizing the weighing scale as an indicator of progress.

There have been a number of occasions where this scenario has come into play:

Client A has stuck to her diet 100% and worked out regularly over the course of the week. Client A comes into my office (or emails me) saying how much lighter she feels and better her clothes fit. After hopping on the scales, Client A notices the number on the scale is either the same as or higher than the previous week. That feeling of elation she experienced a few moments earlier is now clouded with defeat. Especially in the case of a gain, Client A is left feeling both demoralized and exasperated, as though her week's effort has gone down the drain.

On any given day, my weight can vary up to 4lbs (1.8kg) and like many other women, these fluctuations once used to drive me crazy.

While I definitely think that there is merit in using the weighing scale to help gauge progress during a weight loss journey, I am also a bit wary of it. For one thing the weighing scale simply measures the entire weight of the person standing on it. It gives no indication of the body's composition and where the weight is coming from. When you weigh in, you're measuring everything that has weight. Along with body fat, muscle and bone tissue, that also includes water weight (which can fluctuate wildly), undigested food (that will eventually get burned off), hormonal activity and waste that your body hasn't yet eliminated. So if you've lost body fat but are retaining water, your weight can still be higher.

As a personal experiment, I recently weighed myself at several intervals during the day and repeated this for a few days. The results were rather interesting:

  • I weigh lightest in the morning after using the ahem ladies' room.
  • My weight is usually up 3lbs (1.3kg) by bedtime.
  • Clothes tend to add 1.5lbs (0.6kg) to my weight, and more if I'm wearing jeans.
  • My weight almost always shoots up after a Chinese and/or sodium-rich meal.
  • My weight drops immediately after a sweaty workout which is clearly a case of dehydration. Similarly the dehydrating effects of alcohol means I almost always weigh lighter the morning after a few drinks.
  • My body tends to retain up to 2lbs (almost 1kg) of water weight on the day after a heavy lifting session. As much as I'd love to gain muscle overnight, this is more a case of muscle inflammation as my muscles repair themselves.
  • Speaking of water retention, I almost always gain a couple of pounds on the few days leading up to my cycle, and that lasts till about day three.
  • Meal timing temporarily affects my weight i.e. the later I eat dinner, the more likely my weight will temporarily rise the next morning.
  • Eating more carbohydrates than normal fills up my glycogen's stores which translates into temporary weight gain due to fluid retention: for each gram of carbohydrate, your body needs to hold on to 3 grams of water.

You are not a number and your weight does not define you. Rather than play the numbers game, focus your efforts towards non-scale victories.

As you can see, the human body is incredibly complex. On any given day, my weight can vary up to 4lbs (1.8kg) and like many other women, these fluctuations once used to drive me crazy. A while ago, I decided to break up with the scale i.e. I stopped using it as a tool to validate my efforts. While I still hop on it time to time, it's no longer a daily occurrence nor is it my preferred measure of progress. And more importantly, it no longer controls my emotions or how I feel about my body. Before stepping on it, I ask myself how I'm feeling about my body, both mentally and physically. I assess how my snuggest pair of jeans currently fit. I take progress photos regularly in order to see visual changes. I reflect on the quality of my recent workouts, energy levels, complexion and sleep. I monitor changes in my body fat percentage. Ultimately I gauge my progress on non-scale measures which are invariably more reliable.

While I certainly will continue to use the scales with my clients, I am more concerned about the numbers on the measuring tape and overall inch loss. To my clients, both former and current, along with anyone else in the midst of their weight loss journey: You are not a number and your weight does not define you. Rather than play the numbers game, focus your efforts towards non-scale victories. Celebrate your achievements along the way, no matter how big or small, and I promise you will enjoy the journey all the more!

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