3 Reasons to NOT Step On the Scale Today

I bet you weighed yourself this morning.

Did you like the number you saw, or were you expecting something lower?  Did you get overly excited if it was low or unreasonably depressed if it was too high?  We’ve all been there, so don’t beat yourself up too much.

Seriously, quit hitting yourself.

Whenever somebody tells me that he or she is going to get in shape, it’s always something like: “I’m going to lose 50 pounds,” or “If I can just get down to 200, I’ll be good.”

I’m here to tell you that you should reconsider stepping on that scale anytime soon.  Why?  Because although picking an arbitrary number for weight loss is a decent starting point (and it’s definitely good to set goals), your scale certainly doesn’t tell the whole story and can send you on an unnecessary roller coaster of emotions.  Yes I do realize most roller coasters are amazing – the emotional ones kind of suck though.

Here’s why.

1) Your weight will fluctuate more than the stock market

The human body is one incredibly complex piece of machinery. There are things going in, coming out, transforming, and dissolving all of the time. As a result, your weight can fluctuate wildly over the course of a 24-48 hour period.  Depending on what you ate today, how much water you drank, if there was sodium in your food, what kind of clothing you were wearing, what time of day you weigh yourself, your weight WILL be different.

  • Weigh yourself before and after your next workout - there will be a difference.
  • Weigh yourself this morning and then again tonight after a full day of eating – there will be a difference.

If you’re trying to lose weight the healthy way (1-2 pounds a week is a good goal to shoot for, 3 pounds if you’re on the heavier side), your successful weight loss could be hidden by any number of circumstances that falsify your statistics.

That means you could be down three pounds since last week, but because you ate Chinese food last night (oh hey sodium), drank water this morning, and didn’t get to weigh yourself til the afternoon (while wearing jeans), the scale could show a GAIN of one pound.  After working so hard, this “weight gain” can instantly demoralize you, sending you to the kitchen for some pity rocky-road ice cream and then over to the couch for a Battlestar Galactica marathon.

It’s just a number, and it can be wildly inaccurate over a short period of time.

2) Your weight does NOT tell the whole story

These are two pictures of me: the one on the left was taken four years ago in San Diego; the right was taken yesterday after my workout.  Hopefully I’m not alone in noticing a pretty striking difference in my body composition between the two pictures:

Want to know something crazy?  I weigh the EXACT SAME AMOUNT in both pictures – 162 pounds.

Since going Paleo I’ve lost 6 pounds, dropping me down to the weight I used to be four years ago.  For a guy who’s actively trying to pack on muscle and bulk up, just looking at the number on the scale was incredibly depressing to me.  Fortunately, these pictures have shown that I’ve actually been damn successful at getting stronger and building muscle.

And yes, it’s true that muscle weighs more than fat.

I had a great conversation with my friend Matt (who lost 160 pounds in a year) a few weeks back. He participated in a “Biggest Loser” type challenge at his work back in the Spring – in those three months, he restricted his calories and spent hours doing cardio, losing 31 pounds in the process.  A body composition test showed he lost 16 lbs of fat and 14 of muscle.

After the competition was over , he went back to his normal routine of eating healthy and lifting weights. He only lost 16 pounds over the next three months, but 15 of them were fat and only 1 pound lost was muscle!

Comparing the scales (31 pounds lost against only 16 pounds lost) seems like an open and shut case. However, when you compare the TYPE of weight lost, it’s clear to see which three month period was more successful.

Why spend extra time losing fat AND muscle, and then have to build up the muscle again (which is incredibly tough – I know), when you can just cut out the fat and keep the muscle you already have?

Lift heavy weights, eat healthy, go for long walks, and you’ll lose your fat and keep the muscle.

Win.

3) The scale does not define you

If you set out to lose 100 pounds in a year – an incredibly ambitious goal – and you only manage to lose 85, you might consider yourself a failure. After all, you set a goal and failed to achieve it, right?

YOU STILL LOST 85 freaking pounds, something you might have been struggling to do for years. I bet you’ve had to buy a whole new wardrobe and get all kinds of “holy crap you’ve lost a lot of weight!” comments.

Not bad for a failure, huh?

Don’t get caught up in the numbers game, and instead be proud of what you have accomplished instead.

I had a friend who wanted to get down to 199 pounds badly.  He went from 235 pounds down to 202 pounds, and got stuck there for weeks.  I remember trying to get him out of his funk: he saw himself as a failure for not losing those three pounds, when in reality he had lost 30+ pounds, completely redesigned his body and his diet, and was in better shape than he had been in years.

You’re not a statistic.

You’re not a number.

How to keep track of your success instead

I will admit that the scale can have its uses. If you’re just getting started, a few big changes in the first few weeks can really help you see progress and build momentum.  Also, over long periods of time, it’s a good way to tell if you’re headed in the right direction or not.   However, a scale can also cause all kinds of mental issues that bring you down quickly, and becomes less and less important as you get closer to your goals.

Here’s how you can stay strong and motivated without stepping on a scale regularly:

Remember that your journey to a healthier life is a marathon, not a sprint. Changes from day to day are practically meaningless and incredibly difficult to quantify, so go with changes over a longer period of time.   Weigh yourself once a month or every other week to make sure you’re trending in the right direction.  If it’s weekly, make sure you weigh yourself at the same time of the day, wearing the same type of clothing.  Remove as many of the variables as possible to make your reading accurate.  And even then, don’t put too much stock into it.

Look at your body composition rather than your weight. I try to take a picture of myself every month or so, giving me the chance to compare how I look.  You can also buy a body fat caliper (I use this one) or tape measure to keep track how your body is adjusting.  Just make sure you’re taking your measurements in the same places on your body at the same time of day.  If you’re taking photos, take a straight-on photo and a profile photo.

Set goals that are not weight-oriented. Say you want to do 15 push ups, run a half marathon, and/or do a pull up.  With your mind focused on a strength building or endurance goal, you won’t have to worry so much about a dumb scale.  If you can only do 5 push ups now but next month you can do 15, you definitely got stronger, but you probably also lost some fat.

Keep a journal. I know plenty of 170-pound people who are out of shape and 250-pound folks who are incredibly healthy.  How do you FEEL this month compared to last month?  Maybe you can now run around the track without stopping, you don’t get winded going up and down stairs, and you can give your kids a piggy back ride without being out of commission for days afterward.  Keep track of your energy levels, your conditioning, and your overall well-being.  Screw the scale.

What say you?

Are you a scale junkie? I’m a recovering one.  Luckily, the picture of me from yesterday compared to four years ago made me realize that it’s not nearly as important as I originally thought.  My overall health, strength, and happiness are far better indicators of how I’m doing.

Moral of the story – if the scale is working for you and you’re seeing results, stick with it.  If that number on the scale constantly screws with your mind, maybe it’s time to take a break.

So how about you? Have you had success with stepping a scale daily?  Had some rough weeks because of what the scale said?  How about skipping the scale entirely and seeing great results?

Let’s hear some scale-related stories from the Rebel Army!

-Steve

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  • Sailsgoboom

    I love this!

    I’ve always looked a bit “thick”, not quite chubby but never skinny.  However, from high school when I competed in cross-country to college when I drank a lot and never worked out; from eating Taco Bell constantly to cooking healthily for myself; to now that I’m getting back in shape to run a half marathon, I’ve always weighed between 147 and 152.  The difference is body fat vs muscle!  Also the difference between feeling like a gross lethargic whale and a badass athlete is incredible. 

    –Jessica

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  • Katrina

    I have struggled with my weight and body image ever since I can remember. I have never been “fat” but I was always the chubby kid in school. Even with working out vigorously with my cheerleading squad, I was so focused on the fact that the number on the scale was 175 (vs. the 98lb girls on the squad) that I felt inferior because of it. It was not until I stopped weighing myself and focusing more on the physical goals like competing in a 5k and running everyday, that I have seen the real changes. I am down 30lbs but more importantly I am in better shape than ever. I feel great and have found that food is not worth getting emotional over! Its purpose is to fuel you for the work your body is going to endure. Awesome article!  

  • Courtneymarable67

    I AM a scale junkie. last july i was 208 pounds and now i weigh 162-165. (Weight fluctuates) i step on the scale almost everyday. when im 162 im happy to see im continuing to make progress but when the scale reads 164/165 i spend the rest of the day putting myself down, crying. its hard for me to be proud of myself because i still havent reached my goal weight of 140 pounds and its almost been a year !

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  • Nvor

    I actually have a somewhat nerdy fascination with my scale. I’m able to do more pull ups/chin ups/push ups/etc. each week and my body composition keeps getting better and better so I don’t really care much what the scale usually says. HOWEVER, I do enjoy seeing how it fluctuates throughout the day. Before and after urinating or taking a shower. Immediately after getting home from work and one hour later after having some water. Things like that.

    It really highlights two things. A) Don’t fret about it. It goes up and down like you said (I “gained” two pounds today after getting home from work and playing with my new phone and drinking water for an hour). B) If you ARE going to fret then make damned sure that the situations are sterile. If you weigh yourself in the morning, fasted and after your morning bathroom break then make sure you do the same EVERY TIME. Weighing yourself mid-afternoon as a comparison measurement will be wildly inaccurate and probably depress you.

    As such, if I actually weigh myself with the intent of measuring progress I like to think of myself as the tare weight. That is, the weight I’m interested is just my body. No water I just drank, no lunch I had four hours ago, not post workout, nothing. Completely fasted and rested. Sometimes this has resulted in a small gain that I didn’t expect. But wait! Didn’t I start being able to do an extra chin up the other day? And added some weight to my bench lifts? Then I’m probably looking at a bit of muscle gain. Nice. It’s all about context and keeping your variables in order.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/lilangie9584 Angie Reyes

    Thank you for posting this. When I weigh myself and I “gained” weight, I go through a 3 day period of binge eating, crying, purging and then I’ll get back on track for a real weight loss.

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  • Ally

    Love, Love, Love this message. I was looking for something to send to a client regarding not using a scale, and you nailed it! Thank you. :)

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  • Snafu Amber

    This helped me a little today. I weighed self at a horrible time… This made me feel a little better… But it’s not easy.. Been struggling up and down for years now :/

  • sotoodi

    2arK Lately I used to be really, really lacking in $$ and debits were eating me from all sides! That was RIGHT UNTIL i found out how to earn money.. on the internet! I went to surveymoneymaker p net, and started doing surveys for straight cash, and doing so, I’ve been much more able to pay my bills!! I’m so glad that I did this! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – RJ1H

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  • gloria

    so how often should we weigh ourselves?

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  • Scale slave

    I once took a hammer to a set of scales after weighing heavy despite days of deprivation and hours in the gym. I’m a scale slave…it’s number’s make or break my entire mood. Great article.

  • Jeffrey James

    I liked the comparison- “Your weight will fluctuate more than the stock market”

    Lol!

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  • Rebecca Borden

    Thank you for this encouragement. I went on Jorge Cruise’s low carb diet, 10 days ago. I’m trying to do as few carbs as possible, but carbs are even in foods like nuts, dairy, and vegetables. I lost 4 pounds on the first few days, but then I stopped losing and gained a pound four days ago, and another pound yesterday. My goal is to get down to 125 (I’m 5’5″) my ideal weight, so that I don’t have to make alterations to fit into my wedding dress, six and a half weeks from now. Today, I weighed 156. I really hate being on this diet because of the keto breath, but I’m hanging in there until after the wedding, at least. I was so angry today because I had a week of keto breath and now I’m gaining weight and not losing any. But that reminds me–keto breath means that body fat is definitely being burned. It’s like having a free, zero injury liposuction. You and Jorge are right. I am going to only weigh myself once a week and be happy about the keto breath.

  • Lindsay

    focusing on losing 28 pounds, I also focused on the scale. Over a three year period, I lost it, and gained about 15 pounds back in just fat. Now I am focusing on losing the fat, and am feeling great. I have not stepped on the scale since new years, so I couldn’t tell you my weight, and nor do I care

  • O.J. Forrest

    So I have a problem along these lines, this was the closest article to it but it still didnt help. So I had been eating not so great and I had jeans that fit. I recently started eating better and consistently working out and instead of my jeans gettin looser, now they dont fit. It happened after the first week. I told myself to just be patient maybe its muscle gain but now almost 5 weeks later and they still dont fit? What the heck is going on? its incredibly discouraging and making me feel like watching my carb intake and eating a high protein low carb diet and working out 5 x a week isnt worth it. Am I weight loss resistant or something? I just got a physical and my doctor says Im a healthy guy (despite my extra weigh) sooo….wtf…