So many health professionals say to “throw away the scales” and I completely get that – they certainly have their downfalls. For example:
1. They don’t tell you anything about body composition – you can have two people of the same weight that look dramatically different in appearance because one has a lot more muscle mass, and the other has a lot higher fat mass.
2. They can become quite addictive to some and cause a lot of distress. I have been there myself when my whole mood is changed because I’ve stepped onto the scale and the number wasn’t what I thought it would be … this is absolutely not the only way you should judge your health and happiness.
That being said, I personally do think that they have a place in our lives – I admit that I use them to check in every now and then. For people that don’t have access to a body fat analyser, it can give a simple quantitative measure of progress. BUT providing you follow these rules:
1. There is no use using them if you are on a progressive weight training programme.
Increasing resistance training will have an effect on your body composition. It is likely that you will gain lean mass (muscle) in this time, and that may outweigh the amount of fat lost – so even if your body composition has improved (less fat, more lean) the scales will show a higher number. Also, if you are dramatically increasing your fitness regime and you have sore muscles, they are likely to be inflamed and this may have an effect on your weight (albeit potentially small).
2. Stick to once a week.
Your body composition and weight will not change overnight! Energy balance (kcal in and kcal out) happens across days / weeks, so don’t be tempted to get on the scales every morning
3. Stick to the same time of day.
The morning (preferably after you’ve “emptied your bowels”) is a good choice, and also mid-week as this is a time where we are back to our normal routine after the weekend. Sticking to the same time is important as SO many things can lead to fluctuations in our weight, for example:
- Salt and fluid intake: alt has the effect of making your body store water – so if you have a particularly salty meal, your weight may increase due to water retention
- Carbs: you store 3g of water to every 1g of glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate) – so if you are on a low carb diet it is likely in the first few days your weight will reduce due to water being lost when you metabolise the carbohydrate for energy. Similarly, with a high carb meal, your body will store water with the carbohydrate and this may impact your body mass
- No.2: Even going to the toilet can have a dramatic effect on your weight. I did an experiment and weighed myself before and after a no.2 and I lost 0.8 of a lb!! This is why I really struggle when someone tells me they’ve lost or gained a pound of weight … as I can nearly lose that on the toilet!!
- The time of the month (for women!) can also affect your weight, due to water retention, and perhaps even inflammation too
4. Work with ranges.
For the above reasons it is important to have a set goal with a range – e.g. a range of 1-2lbs either side of your goal weight – this will account for any fluctuations that cannot be accounted for.
5. Don’t just rely on scales.
As discussed earlier, the scales should not have an impact on your mood. If you are on track then there are many other ways to measure your progress. It is important to measure your feelings and mood in relation to what you have done over the week (exercise, food, sleep, stress etc). How you feel in your clothes is another easy way to measure progress, although not as subjective. Also, if you have a reliable measure of body fat that’s always a good idea too (but same rules apply in terms of keeping things consistent as hydration can have a big impact on a lot of devices).
So if you just can’t throw away those scales, stick to the above simple rules and you should be able to have them in your life, but not let them take over your life!