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Make Friends With the Scale

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We’ve all been there.

For a solid two weeks, you followed your new nutrition and workout regime to a “T.” You turned down those tempting foods that didn’t fit into your plan. You replaced late nights out with friends for early morning workouts.

But you step on the scale and feel defeated—the number is the same as it was two weeks ago. Or worse, it’s gone up!  

What went wrong? Why isn’t the plan working?

You briefly consider throwing in the towel and scheduling a date with your friends Ben & Jerry.  

But hang on a second—it might be that nothing has gone wrong at all!

Is the Scale Helpful or Harmful?

Some experts recommend tossing your body weight scale entirely. And for some people, that may be the best route.[1]

If weight loss and body composition change are your goals, however, keep this in mind:

A review of a dozen studies tracking over 16,000 men and women (who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept them off) provides strong evidence that the scale is one of the most effective tools for losing body fat and keeping it off. Seventy-five percent of those people weighed themselves at least once a week.[2]

So, if you have the goals of losing weight and improving your body composition, it might be better to shift your relationship with the scale. Even if you’ve had a love/hate relationship with the scale for decades, there is hope!

Here are three ways you can begin to make friends with your scale. 

1. Weigh yourself often (we recommend daily!).

This seems counterintuitive, right? If the scale causes us stress, why would we want to step on it more frequently?

In one study, those who weighed themselves daily dropped twice as many pounds as those who weighed-in weekly, possibly because it was a regular reminder to stay on track. Meanwhile, dieters who avoided the scale altogether gained weight.[3]

If you are feeling wary about daily weigh-ins because you’re concerned they will have a negative impact on your self-esteem, consider this: one study found that participants who tracked their weight actually experienced an improved mood because they felt a sense of control and empowerment with regard to the scale.[4]

2. Take the weekly average.

It’s normal for your daily weight to go up and down. However, the key is to avoid riding the emotional roller coaster with your shifting scale weight.

Keep the big picture in mind and look for signs of long-term progress. Also keep in mind all the reasons for scale fluctuations, including:

  1. You didn’t have a bowel movement.
  2. You consumed a lot of sodium.
  3. You ate more food later at night, so it would be sitting in your stomach in the morning when you weighed in (like a lot of heavy veggies, for example).
  4. Carbohydrates will hold on to water, so if you consumed more carbs yesterday, you will retain water.
  5. You are dehydrated (causing your body to cling to every ounce of water you consume).
  6. You’ve had really intense workouts, causing inflammation.
  7. You’ve been sick.
  8. You started a new supplement (like creatine, which can cause mild water retention or a new type of protein powder that upsets your stomach).
  9. Your sleep hasn’t been consistent.
  10. You have experienced more stress than usual. Stress causes a rise in cortisol, which can cause water retention and mask fat loss.
  11. Your monthly cycle is approaching.

Instead of focusing on the
daily scale weight, track the weekly average change in scale weight, comparing it to the week before. The idea is to look for trends and patterns rather than one single number on its own. 

Also, make sure to keep as many variables as possible consistent with your weigh-ins. Weigh yourself once per day, first thing in the morning, after using the bathroom and getting undressed.

3. More muscle is a good thing.

If the scale is moving the “wrong” way, don’t fret—if you’re exercising, there is a good chance you are adding muscle! And muscle is much denser than fat, which means it takes up less volume than an equal mass of fat. This explains why it’s possible to become slimmer without a significant drop in weight.[5]

The coaches at Working Against Gravity do use scale weight as one indicator of progress. It is not, however, the only sign of progress, nor the most important one. By following the tips above, you can deepen your understanding of the science behind the scale number and gain a sense of empowerment around it.

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  • [1] Pacanowski, C. R., Linde, J. A., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2015). Self-Weighing: Helpful or Harmful for Psychological Well-Being? A Review of the Literature. Current obesity reports, 4(1), 65–72. doi:10.1007/s13679-015-0142-2.
  • [2] Burke, L. E., Wang, J., & Sevick, M. A. (2011). Self-monitoring in weight loss: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(1), 92–102. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.10.008.
  • [3] Wing RR, Tate DF, Gorin AA, Raynor HA, Fava JL. A self-regulation program for maintenance of weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1563–1571.
  • [4] Burke, L. E., Wang, J., & Sevick, M. A. (2011). Self-monitoring in weight loss: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(1), 92–102. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.10.008.
  • [5] The paradox of low body mass index and high body fat percentage among Chinese, Malays and Indians in Singapore. Deurenberg-Yap M, Schmidt G, van Staveren WA. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 2000, Nov.;24(8):.
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Posted by Katie Holmes
Katie is a coach and the Content Coordinator for WAG. She was an attorney but realized her passion was in helping people transform their lives and become the happiest, healthiest versions of themselves.

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