Should you step on the scale? 3 Reasons to consider first.

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.

Today we explain why the scale is only one piece of the puzzle.

A quick note before we jump in: I bet you’re reading this because you’re struggling to get the scale to move in the direction you want. Believe it or not, 90% of the equation is your diet! 

I know how tough it can be to stick with a nutritional plan, and that most people abandon a diet after a few weeks! Plus, dieting stinks. We took this into account and created a 10-Level system that allows you to slowly change your diet to get in shape the right way, and change your physique permanently. Pick a level, follow the instructions, level up when you’re ready. Done!

Grab our free NF Diet strategy guide when you sign up in the box below, and then keep reading this article about why scales suck!

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, by up to five to six pounds.[1]

Let’s chat about some variables that can change by the hour:

What did you eat or drink today? All food and water have weight to them. An eight-ounce glass of water will add weight to you, because it itself has some weight (half a pound). Even eating a salad will affect your weight, since vegetables are heavier than air.

How much sodium did you have today? Consuming salt will make you retain water.[2] The more water you are holding, the more you will weigh.

Did you eat any carbs today? Speaking of water weight, eating carbohydrates can make you hold onto water.[3] Refined carbohydrates in particular, like bread and pasta, cause a high insulin response. When insulin is high, you hold onto more sodium, meaning more water.[4] Which is why people often lose a lot of water weight when following a low-carb or ketogenic diet.

Additionally, carbohydrates are stored in your muscles as glycogen. What’s attached with the glycogen? More water.

What time of the month is it? Following along on our trend of water weight, a menstrual cycle will also cause water retention, meaning more overall weight.

Have you, ah, been hitting up the bathroom today? I’ll just say it: urine and feces weigh something. You do the math.

When did you work out last? Exercising will cause you to sweat, which means less water. But you’ll also likely drink more water in response, which will have an impact on the scale too.

If you’re trying to lose weight the healthy way (a pound a week is a good goal to shoot for), 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 Game of Thrones marathon.

It’s just a number, and it can vary widely over a short period of time.

2) Your weight does NOT tell the whole story

The scale alone often won’t demonstrate fitness progress.

I have two pictures from my past to as an example, taken about four years apart.

Want to know something crazy?  I weighed the EXACT SAME AMOUNT in both pictures.

While my body weight in the two photos may be identical, it’s clear to see I packed on more muscle for the photo on the right.

What’s going on?

Let’s discuss a couple changes the scale might not be capturing:

Yes, it’s true that muscle weighs more than fat. Although if you want to be technical about it, a pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat. That’s what “pounds” mean. However, a pound of fat takes up about twice the space as a pound of muscle, since muscle is about twice as dense as fat. That’s why people typically lean out as they drop their body fat percentage.

Strength training will increase bone density. On average, bones make up about 15% of body weight. And strength training will increase bone density, meaning they’ll weigh more.[5] After some time strength training, your bones might literally drive the scale up.

That’s why – although I weighed the same – I likely had more muscle, denser bones, and less body fat over the four year period.

All good things in my book.[6]

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.

If you’re reading this, it means you’re part of the Rebellion.

I want you to know that if you’re like my friend, frustrated by missing your goal, you’re not alone.

We constantly receive emails from Rebels, letting us know they are struggling to hit their fitness goals. It’s actually the reason we decided to create our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, so we could offer specific guidance tailored to their individual needs.

Here’s how it works: we get to learn your goals, lifestyle, challenges, and situation: Kids? An old injury? A job that requires travel? All the above? We got you covered.

We’ll then pair you with a coach from Team Nerd Fitness that fits your personality and situation. They’ll work with you to build custom workouts and nutrition guidance to meet any goal you might have. Unless that goal is ruthless world domination. Use your powers for good, okay?

Want to see if we are a good fit for each other? Click on the button below to schedule a free call. We’d love to talk to you, no matter what!

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.

If you’re interested in other ways to track your fitness progress, I’d encourage you to check out our post “How to Properly Track Your Progress.” We cover the tips above, plus much more.

As the saying goes, “You have to track the problem to crack the problem.” Make sure you look into ways of tracking besides a single scale.

What say you?

Are you a scale junkie?

I’m a recovering one. However, over the years I’ve learned 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 Rebellion!

-Steve

PS: Ready to change your physique the right way? Want to have an actual plan to follow? Grab our NF Diet Strategy Guide and our Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know free when you join the Rebellion and sign up in the box below:

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129 thoughts on “Should you step on the scale? 3 Reasons to consider first.

  1. Excellent Excellent Advice! People need to take note on how they actually feel inside and how they look, and how those jeans are fitting easier now…

    After all, other than being healthy, surely the reason people want to loose weight is so they can be thinner… you can be 12 stone thin or 12 stone fat…. depends on your body make up! 🙂

  2. So glad to find this post today. I committed (seriously committed, no switching every few days) to getting healthy a month and a half ago.

    And the 3 times I weighed myself the scale went up. :/

    Not a lot, just a little. But depressing.

    However! I haven’t given up and switched diets. I’ve gone from 10 lbs on my curls to 17 lbs. I just did 3 sets of the beginner workout and in those sets, 5 of each set of pushups were full, not from the knees. 🙂 (I’m a warrior so I LOVE this!)

    And I’ve been giving myself points each time I do my new habits and I hit 50 points and leveled up in my “health” habit last week! 😀

    My favorite part is those really hard days when you just want to give up, my husband labeled “boss levels” and I get double points! 😉 I love being a nerd. 🙂

  3. I know this post is old but thanks so much for this! I’ve lost 25 lbs over the past year and the weight loss thing has consumed me. I made the hard decision to get rid of the scale this week–I thought it would be freeing (and it will be eventually) but it’s been super hard to let go, more than I expected. My friends tell me I don’t have any more weight to lose, or could gain some even, but still there’s anxiety and a struggle to just find a healthy balance and healthy mindset. Trying (with difficulty) to just monitor how I feel physically, but could probably get more energized by focusing more on my non-weight goals: to do a pull-up! And maybe think of some more!!

  4. I have an unhealthy relationship with scales. I obsessively weigh myself everyday. I weighed myself for the last time today. I took a hammer to my scale and completely destroyed it. Scales suck.

  5. You have no idea how much I love you right now!!! I was beating myself up for not losing any weight for the past 2 weeks. I can fit into a dress that I couldn’t even zip up just 2 weeks ago so that’s something right? I’m gonna focus on my improvements instead of just numbers on the scale! Thank you for this article! I hope you read this and know that you gave me just what I need to keep going! 🙂

  6. This really helped me this morning. I have lost about 28 lbs since last October, my dad’s Cancer being my inspiration. i have been at this again and I have lost about 5 more lbs. The problem has been that I have been stick at the same damn weight for about two weeks. It’s driving me nuts. I am working so hard and eating so much better. I can see I am losing, I am fitting into old clothes that i have not worn in a long time. I just want that stupid number to change UGH! However this post totally put things into perspective, I will just keep at this.

  7. Im addicted to my scale went from 183 to 170 was 169 but gained a pound and been this way for a week still eating healthy exercising i have kids so its limited but im doing zumba at home doing sit ups and squats dont know why that scale still still saying im 170 it is killing me but im not going to give up.
    (

  8. Thank you just what I needed, I completely fell off the wagon after having one bad weigh in. I was thinking to do this, once a month or twice a month sounds like a plan!

  9. I am a huge scaleaholic, and I always weigh myself naked to get a better number reading. That damn thing I want to throw out the window so much, but I just can’t get the courage to do that yet. I guess it’s more of a habit and compulsion that I weigh myself, and I have a phobia about weight gain. I did a test one time to prove that weight fluctuates with different hormones in the body. I ate the exact same things every day for two weeks and I measured all of my food every day (yes sounds crazy I know), and I noticed that even though I ate the exact same foods at the exact same times, my weight fluctuated over a 2 pound difference at one point. This is why i want to throw the damn thing away because weight goes up and down all the time, but my paranoid self doesn’t want to believe that, haha. One of these days i will get rid of the scale..because it just causes me too much stress right now!

  10. I can’t say that I am a scale junkie, however, I have been trained to weigh myself weekly since I’m trying to lose weight. Everything you said in your article was exactly right – after not seeing what I want on the scale can send me into a depression. Kind of a love/hate relationship with the scale is more like it. If it shows a number I like, then I’m happy. If not, I have to talk myself out of having a bad day because of it. Having a lot of weight to lose, it can be disheartening not to see the numbers go down but my clothes have definitely gotten baggier so I know I must be doing something right.

  11. I stopped reading after you wrote the muscle weighs more that fat..what a load of crap..you do realize that a pound of muscle and a pound of fat weighs the same? Still 1 lb…. What you meant to say is muscle is more lean, therefore making it more dense..a handful of muscle would probably weigh the same as a half a bucket of fat…
    Your welcome

  12. Nice article! Btw, how about still measuring your weight each day, but also calculating the averages by the end of the week? This method will be much more accurate.

  13. I actually hate the scale and it does make me depressed. I lost 31 kg and I just want a few more down, like maybe 5-6 more. I lost those kg with a diet and I decided it is not the right way…. I want to live a healthier life, so now I eat healthy, I started working out and I quit smoking. And the scale showed me one kg more than I had before…. It makes me feel like… I don’t know ?

  14. When I go to the Dr they weigh me. That is my base “weight” If I feel fine and my clothes fit well, that is my “base weight”.
    If I feel crappy and my clothes are too tight, I make some adjustments.
    Then I go back on the scale in a week or two. After that, two or three times a year. I am a Female and I also measure my waistline.
    To much jumping in the scale is an excersize in terror.
    If I have a very inexplicable weight gain (I have in the past) I go see my physician. This was the tip of the iceberg for a more serious problem, as I discovered at the time.

  15. I’m a good example of things NOT to do. I weighed 260 lbs. in 2006 and dropped it down to 206 lbs. 54 lbs. Lost in 7 months. But because my body held me at 206 for a month and wouldnt budge, I gave up. (Stupid I know), I now weigh 303 lbs. and regret paying too much attention to the scale and not enough on how far I had come and how much better I felt. I’m making small changes now, working out again and trying not to focus too much on the scale, but small changes in how I feel.

  16. This is a great article Steve!

    I’m experiencing this scale drama as we speak. I started to diet on May 1st, weighing in at 280lbs. By simply adjusting my diet properly I lost 18lbs in the first 3 weeks. This week I have began a workout routine which mainly involves a battle rope, slam ball etc…

    So far this week I’ve not changed in weight. I know deep down this can only be because I’ve re-engaged some dormant muscle somewhere and this balanced out my fat loss with muscle gain.

    I have a weight target of 196lbs which will remain my goal. But I think I may take your advice and measure things like my chest and waist and then hit the scales monthly rather than daily. I know jumping on the scales daily is nuts but it’s also a great motivator to keep going if it’s reads well.

    Anyways great article.

    Scott

  17. I’ve been working with a personal trainer for right at a month now. We weight train specific muscle groups on certain days, do circuit training on certain days, about 25 minutes of cardio per day, and I have DRASTICALLY changed my diet to eat clean and get the right amount of protein/carbs to assist in muscle growth and fat loss. I would think that I would see SOME change in my weight…or even the fit of my clothes after a month, but there seems to be no change at all…AND IT’S FRUSTRATING!!! My personal trainer tells me to give it time and that eventually I will start seeing results…and maybe only four weeks isn’t enough to see a visible difference. What are your thoughts? Is there something he and I might be missing here?

  18. Thank you for the very nice article and knowledge you shared. I am also a scaling freak but now I start to understand the factors you are explaining. My weight difference before and after workout is nearly 1 pound. From now I will focus on other factors like my fitness, diet and energy levels.

    Thank you once again.

  19. I have this struggle. watching the scale. I always start off strong but once i see progress i want to see more so i check more often. which is a huge mistake for me cause then if i gain it is stuck with me all day….. really messing with my mental health.

  20. Muscle does not weigh more than fat. A lb of muscle weighs the same as a lb of fat. Muscle however is denser than fat, so a lb of muscle is visually much smaller in size than a lb of fat. Therefore a muscular well toned 150lb female will be much leaner than a 150lb female who is not muscular. However a lb is always a lb. Everything else was spot on. I still want to smash my scale though. Lol

  21. I find that when I focused only on the scale I never felt good about my progress, even when I hit my goal. I just kept lowering and lowering my “goal” weight until I was at such a low weight, eating 1,000 calories a day and still not liking the way I looked. I knew then I needed to pick some better goals.

    I still use the scale but now I create strength goals, not weight loss goals and that’s made stepping on the scale less of an emotional battle and more of a tool towards a healthier and stronger me.

    P.S. I would love to read an article on re-feeding days. I just learned about it and would be interested to hear your perspective on the “trend”.

  22. I’ll admit that I check it regularly, but take into account the fluctuations that are normal. The overall trend is still downward, though there was a week that the numbers were up quite a bit, then back down. At an all-time low for the past 12 months so far and my clothes are looser. Still not at “high school” levels (though that wasn’t too great, either), but more notches on the belt and less feeling like my buttons are going to pop. 🙂

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