Written by Chris McMahon
“Should I weigh myself?” is a popular question, and my honest answer is: It depends.
It depends on your relationship with the scale.
It depends on your particular weight management goals.
It depends on if you even own a scale. (You can use the gym or borrow a friend’s, but they might want it back at some point. 😉)
This article will dive into the reasons behind weighing yourself and what you can do if you choose not to use scale weight as a metric.
Knowing your starting weight is a helpful metric if your goal is to lose weight. According to the National Weight Control Registry, the most extensive prospective investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance, 75% of people who maintained their weight loss for 5.5 years or longer weigh themselves at least once a week.
The N.W.C.R. has tracked over 10,000 people since 1994 who’ve lost significant amounts of weight and have kept it off long-term. So, some might suggest using the scale can be helpful for weight loss/ weight maintenance.
But maybe you’ve had a complicated relationship with the scale in the past.
First and foremost, let me tell you that you aren’t alone. Many of my clients, family members, and friends have expressed their scale-based worries; after all, I am a nutrition coach and trainer 🤓 .
Why does the scale Fluctuate?
The scale can fluctuate for quite a few reasons; however, a weekend of cutting it loose does not cause you to gain 10 pounds of fat. It’s impossible simply because 1 pound of fat contains 3,500 calories. To gain a pound of fat, you must eat 3,500 more calories than you use or burn in your daily life.
Consider the following:
Your basal metabolic rate (B.M.R.) is the number of calories your body burns at rest. Don’t forget to add your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (N.E.A.T.), all of the calories your burn during the day from doing activities that aren’t exercise. Please don’t be mad the next time you have to chase your toddler around or take the dog for a walk because it all counts. Also, consider your total daily energy expenditure (T.D.E.E.), an estimation of how many calories you burn when exercise is taken into account.
Again, to gain 1 pound of fat requires a 3,500 calorie surplus above your B.M.R., T.D.E.E., and N.E.A.T.
So, if you step on the scale after a weekend at notice, you’re up 5 pounds, and you think it is all fat, that means you would have to eat an extra 17,500 calories. Unless you compete in several food-eating competitions, I doubt you have eaten that many calories.
The scale can fluctuate because of the following:
A boost in carbohydrate intake. If you consume smaller portions of carbohydrates during the week and eat a few carb-heavy meals on the weekend, your body retains water. Roughly 1g of glycogen, the energy form of glucose and carbohydrates, allows the body to store 3-4g of water.
Don’t worry; everything evens out when it comes to water weight—no need to avoid carbs, especially when it is a meal with family or friends.
A boost in sodium intake. Sodium, AKA salt, causes the body to retain water. If you enjoyed some fried food, the scale might reflect it. But again, it’s water and not fat.
Exercise. You might notice the scale jumps up after a training session, and that’s completely normal. When you train, you create tiny tears in your muscle fibers, and your body goes into repair mode leading to inflammation. This is good because your muscles are growing, and the inflammation can lead to extra water retention.
You might notice this happens after a HEAVY leg session. So, enjoy the delayed onset muscle soreness and understand the scale can reflect the inflammation. So, it’s not fat. It can be muscle, but more likely, it’s water.
Water intake. This is pretty straightforward; however, if you are exercising or trying to stay hydrated, the scale reflects it.
Your body knows how to find a balance with water, so don’t fret.
Bathroom break. It takes roughly six to eight hours for your body to digest any food you have consumed.
If you weigh yourself in the morning and haven’t gone to the bathroom yet, your weight will be up. You can try getting on the scale before going to the toilet, and after, you’ll see a difference.
So it could just be poop, and it’s not fat.
Hormonal Shifts. If you are about to get your period or finishing your period, you may notice a different number on the scale. This has a lot to do with your hormones.
Estrogen levels are higher right before you get your period. Higher estrogen levels can lead to water retention. The hormone progesterone spikes toward the end of your cycle; this too can lead to water retention.
Supplements. Certain supplements such as Creatine are associated with water retention. This particular supplement can draw water into your muscle cells; however, after a few weeks, it should balance out.
These are just a few reasons the scale can fluctuate; and some might be from a weekend out, and others are just a part of life.
If You Want To Weigh Yourself, Try The Following
Randomly stepping on the scale won’t help you determine if what you’re doing is working. As you can see, many factors affect the scale’s number. I focus on using weekly averages for clients who are ready, willing, and able to use a scale.
By using weekly averages, you can notice trends, and it will give you more data around if what you are doing is working. If you want to give this a try, I suggest weighing yourself at the same time every day. Many folks prefer first thing in the morning after going to the restroom.
Write down the number and repeat it daily. You can add all the numbers together on Sunday and divide by seven to give you your weekly average. I suggest practicing this particular habit for 30 days or longer when looking for trends.
The hope is that tracking your weight can be viewed as a data point. It can help determine your plan needs an adjustment; however, it’s not for everyone.
Specific clients have a complicated relationship with the scale, and I would never force someone to do something they weren’t ready for, especially if you have a history of disordered eating or eating disorders. In that case, I suggest working with your doctor to find the best plan of action.
If that isn’t the case and you are frustrated by the scale, here are a few options to measure progress.
You are noticing When You’re Full. If you recognize when you are full and decide to stop eating, you are heading in the right direction. When you practice health-promoting skills like adding fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet, you will have an easier time recognizing fullness.
You can practice tracking how many balanced plates you eat during the week. As that skill improves, your weight might change.
The Way Your Clothes Fit. I love getting messages from clients about how their favorite pair of jeans fit. This might seem minor to you, but for someone who has struggled with yo-yo dieting, seeing and feeling good about the clothes you are wearing is something worth celebrating.
It can mean having pants that you discover are now too baggy
or filling out a baggy t-shirt because you have been working hard on gaining muscle.
Side note: If you no longer fit in your clothes, consider donating them. It’s a good deed, and seeing bags of clothes that are a few sizes too big can be motivating.
Your Sleep Schedule. Sleep is a significant indicator of how your health-promoting behaviors are working. Your training intensity, food choices before bed, and bedtime routine are working!
And just because it’s worth the reminder: eating after 8 PM doesn’t cause you to gain weight; eating in a calorie surplus does.
Your Energy Levels. When you eat a well-balanced diet, you will be surprised by increased energy levels. You are taking in enough calories and getting enough protein, fat, carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables to keep you moving.
It is interesting when a client takes an extended vacation and feels slightly more sluggish than usual. This is due to the change in their eating patterns, and when they come back from vacation, things balance out after a week or two.
The energy levels are essential, especially if you have a young son who likes to use you as a human jungle gym…just me?
Your Consistency In The Gym. Your ability to make it to your training sessions and learn new skills deserves celebration. Consistency is crucial and often gets overlooked.
You can’t measure progress by perfect weeks. Progress is hitting speed bumps, learning, and making adjustments.
Your Ability To Not Feel Restricted. The ability to not feel trapped by a rigid diet is what all of my clients strive for, and I hope you can experience this too.
All of these health-promoting behaviors do not exist in a bubble. You are a human, and you can not live or die by your exact macro calculations. That type of pressure creates a system of diet rules. Rigid diets might be why you have a complicated relationship with the scale in the first place. Learning to have flexibility is a skill that’s worth practicing.
Whether you choose to weigh yourself or not, it is essential to have some habit tracking to know what you can work on and what is going well.
I want to share the habit tracker I give to all my clients. It works pretty damn well, and I even have a video teaching you have to use it!