11 Ways the Scale Lies
Many of us struggle with our relationship with the scale. If you’re anything like me, then at some point in your life you’ve used the scale as a sole measure of how you should feel about your body. You’re happy when the number goes down and downright depressed when it stays the same, or worse goes up!
I remember stepping on the scale after a sweaty workout or a hot yoga class and being instantly elated to see I’d lost 5 lbs! The reality of course is that I’d just lost some water weight – newsflash, it’s not possible to lose 5 lbs. body fat in a day, nor is it possible to gain 5lbs. of body fat in a day. As my example indicates though, it’s entirely possible and normal to see the scale fluctuate by 1-5 lbs. daily.
Fortunately, those less happier days are behind me and I am SO content in my own skin now. I still check-in with the scale on a daily basis but even when the number on the scale is bugging me, I’m able to focus my attention to more important indicators. I focus on what my body is capable of doing in CrossFit and use how my clothes are fitting as a true guide as to whether I’m progressing towards my goals. Essentially, I’m able to rationalize and interpret the data in a much more objective manner. I know what you’re thinking, that’s nice, but how can I do the same thing?!
When it comes to helping our clients reach this same mindset and develop a healthier relationship with the scale, I regularly dish out the same responses. So I thought it was about time I consolidated that advice and hopefully clear up a few common issues and misconceptions about the scale.
Common Concerns with the Scale
“I gained a pound this week! What am I doing wrong?”
“My weight stayed the same this week! This isn’t working!”
“I only lost two pounds this week! I want to quit. 🙁 “
Sound familiar? Instead of quitting or freaking out and doing something silly like demolishing 2 pints of Ben & Jerrys, what you should do at this point in time is reach out to your coach, take a depth breath and RELAX!!!
I’ll say it again, it’s not possible to gain 5 or 3 or even 1 pound of fat overnight – it is impossible! Take a step back and always remember this when weighing yourself: Body weight fluctuations of 1-5 pounds a day are perfectly normal. Maybe write it on a post-it note and stick it to your mirror!?
What factors impact the scale?
So you’re probably wondering now, “OK cool, you’ve told me it’s normal, but why is it normal? What’s causing the scale to be such an asshole?!” Well, here are some of the most common reasons to see the scale fluctuate:
- Salt intake
- Swelling from hard training
- Diuretics – Alcohol, caffeine, sodas
- Meal timing
- Menstrual cycle
- Bowel movements
- Glycogen stores
- Time weight is taken
Let’s take a closer look in detail as to what’s going on with some of these influencing factors.
An extra 400 mg of sodium (provided by just 1 gram of salt) in your body can cause 2 lbs. of transient water-weight gain. So don’t be surprised if you’re not seeing much of a shift on the scale if you eat packaged foods, eat out often or salt all of your meals. Find out more about the effect of sodium on your health and weight loss.
I’m not talking about drugs or medication here, which are commonly prescribed to people with high blood pressure, heart failure, swollen tissues, and kidney disease. Although given the side effects I would question anyone taking them to speak with their doctor about whether a simple change to their diet could improve their condition, particularly when it comes to high blood pressure.
I’m referring to the natural diuretics found in commonly consumed foods and drinks such as alcohol and caffeine. Diuretics can actually cause dehydration which leads to water retention as our bodies try to make up for the excessive urine output caused by the diuretic. This can cause an imbalance in the levels of total body water which not only effects the number on the scale, but can also lead to symptoms such as tiredness, weakness, thirst, muscle cramps, dizziness & dehydration.
Ladies, I’m sure you’re probably already familiar with this one already, but just in case I thought I’d reiterate what happens around this time of the month. When hormones fluctuate around this time, experts believe that water is retained, especially about one week prior to your monthly cycle. I can definitely vouch for this one, and can easily gain over 5lbs. of water weight when it’s my time of the month. I hate the feeling but at least when I step on the scale and see the number crazy high like that I usually realize pretty quickly what’s going on so I’m not so bummed out by the scale! Give your body a little time. Usually by the following week the scale will be back down to normal again.
Approximately 1-3 lbs. difference on the scale can be reflected depending on your bathroom usage. If you’re not having regular bowel movements then make sure you check out our article about dietary fiber.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and extra glucose that is not needed immediately for fuel is stored in the muscle and liver in the form of glycogen. Glycogen molecules hold a substantial amount of water, 1 gram of glycogen has 2.7 grams of water attached with it.
This additional water is not the same thing as water retention where excess water is held between cells; the water attached to a glycogen molecule is inside the cells, which makes it healthy. So it’s not a bad thing! Nevertheless, it can increase your body weight by as much as 3 – 5 pounds. For athletes, you may experience even more “weight gain” as your body is trained to hold more glycogen stores and your intracellular water capacity increases.
Strength or Resistance Training
Lifting weights or doing body weight training causes trauma to muscle tissue. This is normal and part of the process of muscle growth as it rebuilds and regenerates itself, making you stronger and leaner. In order to rebuild the muscle fibers, your muscles retain water to help speed up the process in the cells. So after an intense few days of training, you may find that your body is at it’s heaviest on the scale. This is why it’s also quite common for those of us who do CrossFit regularly, to see the scale drop after a rest day.
Should you weigh in every day?
We encourage our clients to weigh-in every day. Why? Well the reason is three-fold:
- The scale is helpful in that it provides a piece of data that can help to indicate whether progress is moving in the right direction or not over a longer course of time, not in the time-frame of a few days or a couple weeks;
- As we already mentioned, the scale can fluctuate very easily. If you only record your weight once a week, then you could be getting a skewed reading on your weekly weigh-in. For all the aforementioned reasons, maybe your cycle is coming and all of a sudden you’re up 3 lbs. from the previous week, but in actual fact if you’d weighed yourself throughout the week you may have seen a steady downward trend on the scale until this blip. You just don’t know! Having daily weigh-ins allows us to interpret the data and assess whether it is reliable and whether it is providing a conclusive pattern that supports progress.
- We believe that weighing in every day can serve as a helpful reminder to people to stay the course and remember that to continue to make progress, you have to put effort in daily and remain focused on your habits and goals.
For us at Own Your Eating, the scale is just one measure of progress and typically doesn’t produce a straight line. As coaches, we don’t make decisions solely based on the scale. We take a holistic approach and treat our clients nutrition as part of a bigger picture. If our clients are demonstrating difficulty in staying the course because they’re frustrated by the scale, or if they admit to having some form of anxiety in respect to the scale, then we don’t push it. We put much more of an emphasis on non-scale victories, such as; performance improvements, clothes looking and feeling better, more energy, improved sleep and so much more!
Weight Loss Expectations
If you haven’t already, you might want to check out an earlier article we wrote about managing expectations in terms of progress. For sustainable weight loss, approximately 1 pound a week is considered healthy. Maybe you might see 2 pounds earlier on in your journey, but in general 1 pound a week is normal. That’s SLOW! Like annoyingly snail pace! They say happiness is reality less expectations. Well I think it’s OK to have expectations and set yourself goals, but let’s just keep them in check with a sense of reality hey!? Sometimes you may not be losing weight at all but your progress pictures show that you are actually making progress. Check out one of our client’s experience with this. The scale has barely budged but she’s continuing to get leaner!
There are many reasons why you might drop substantially more than 1 or 2 lbs a week in the beginning. But if you’re losing weight faster than 2 lbs. a week in general, the chances are that you’re not just losing body fat, but you’re also losing muscle tissue and water weight. Losing muscle is not a good thing! Muscle is what stimulates our metabolism and causes us to burn even more calories. It also makes us look super sexy in our clothes and when we’re naked and helps us to be strong in life and in the gym. So don’t get all excited if you dropped 5 lbs. in one week. Personally, I’m more impressed by slow progress because I know then that things are going in the right direction sustainably and without compromising you’re overall health – which includes your mental health.
If you are finding yourself overly concerned with the scale and unable to focus on other areas of progress then you probably want to consider taking a break from weighing in. Ultimately you have to assess for yourself whether the scale is doing more harm than good in helping you reach your goals.
Hopefully this article helps you to shift your mindset and reaction in response to the scale so that you can stop losing your mind and stay focused on losing weight! If you have a story related to the scale that you want to share please reach out and let us know about your experience! If you’re one of our Lifestyle members then we’d love for you to share how you feel about the scale in our group on Facebook.