While it’s great to set measurable goals and monitor your progress as you exercise to get in shape and eat healthily to lose weight, your scales might actually be doing you more harm than good. In this article, I want to explain why living and dying by the numbers on your scales may actually hurt your progress.
Daily weight fluctuations
Have you ever noticed how much your weight fluctuates from one day to the next? I know that mine can go up or down by as much as seven pounds in the space of a day! The problem with your weight is that it is effected by so much more than the amount of fat you are carrying. From the time of the day to time of the month, your weight is very transient indeed.
Your weight is the sum of all the stuff contained in your body. That includes internal organs, muscle, water, skin, hair, bone, undigested food, stored minerals and substrates such as glycogen as well as fat.
Of all the things on that list that make up your bodyweight, the only thing you really want to lose is fat but something as simple as drinking a tall glass of water or eating a meal can make your weight jump up by a pound or more despite the fact that your body fat levels will not have changed one little bit.
Your bodyweight changes naturally depending on what stage of food digestion you are in, how much muscle glycogen you have and how hydrated you. Fluctuations in weight do not really reflect your fitness or diet progress. Remember, and this is worth repeating, weight loss and fat loss are not the same thing!
Muscle is heavier than fat
Also, it’s important to understand that a cubic inch of muscle weighs a lot more than a cubic inch of fat or, if you prefer, a pound of fat takes up a lot more space than a pound of muscle.
Because of this, it’s actually possible to lose fat, gain muscle and your weight remain unchanged. You might even gain weight which, if you pay too much attention to the scales, could leave you thinking that your diet and exercise efforts have been nothing more than a waste of time when, actually the opposite is true.
However, while gaining muscle and losing fat might not be reflected on the scales, your shape, performance and health will change significantly.
Check out the physique of a 200 lbs. athlete compared to a 200 lbs. overweight office worker to see the undeniable truth of this. That’s why BMI, the comparison of your height to your weight, and a tool used by doctors to assess you risk of developing heart disease, is so flawed and wholly inaccurate for people who exercise.
Don’t be a scale slave…
Jumping on the scales and seeing weight gain when you are desperately seeking weight loss can be very disappointing and even depressing – especially if you have been crushing it in the gym and eating properly. An unexplainable weight gain could be enough to make you question the point of exercising and eating healthily and may even trigger a dietary or exercise relapse. Motivation can be hard to come by at the best of times but it seems like the scales might actually be conspiring to derail your efforts!
Better than the scales
So, if weighing yourself can lead to disappointment and disillusion, how else can you monitor your progress? There are several methods you can use that reveal your body composition rather than dwell on your body weight.
Good methods include:
DEXA scans – a type of x-ray scan that accurately analyzes your body composition, and arguably the most accurate way to see how much fat you are carrying compared to muscle and bone.
Underwater weighing – muscle and bone sinks while fat floats so weighing yourself while immersed in water can reveal how much fat you are carrying. This is not quite as simple as taking your scales to the swimming pool and underwater weighing is normally only performed in sports science labs and universities.
Considered by many as the “gold standard” for assessing body composition, even underwater weighing is not infallible which is why DEXA scans are preferable for accurate body composition measurements. For example, intestinal gas could result in an inaccurate reading.
Skinfold calipers – while not as accurate as DEXA scans, skinfold calipers are more accessible and easier to use BUT accuracy depends on the person doing the test so results may vary. Skinfold calipers are a good way to monitor progress providing the tester knows how to use them properly.
Bioelectrical impedance – while muscle conducts electricity, fat does not so if you pass a very mild electrical current through your body, it is possible to estimate your body fat percentage according to the resistance to the electrical current.
Bioelectrical impedance machines are very easy to use but are not very accurate as changes in water levels will adversely affect the results. Like your weight on the scales, don’t take bioelectrical impedance readings too seriously.
Circumferential measurements – if you are losing inches from the circumference of your thighs, hips, waist, chest and arms, you are probably losing fat even if your scale weight remains unchanged or is increasing. Remember, a pound of fat takes up much more space than a pound of muscle so losing inches is a much more reliable indicator of exercise and diet success than your weight.
Before and after photos – muscle and fat affect your body shape in very different ways and the best way to see this is to look at photos taken several weeks or even months apart. Providing the photos were taken in similar lighting, you should plainly be able to see how your body shape has changed even if your scale weight has not.
Now, I’m not telling you to throw away your scales but I am definitely cautioning against daily or even weekly weigh-ins. There are several far superior ways to monitor your progress and as fluctuating scale weight can really do a number on your mindset and motivation, it’s best to steer clear. Remember, you are so much more than what that scales tell you and your successes cannot be measured by your weight alone.