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Is Your Scale a Game Changer?

You were diligent in your dieting efforts, following all the rules of the game – working out, eating the right amount of calories, recording your food.  You body feels better, your clothes fit better, you know that you lost weight and you felt great about that, but then you stepped on the scale….and all of that changed.  The number was higher than you thought it should be.

In an instant your sunny mood turned cloudy. You become frustrated and de-motivated, believing that following the rules of the game is really not worth it. In response to these feelings, you may decide to overeat. After all, why diet when it doesn’t produce results?

When the number is right (or what we expected) we are happy and motivated. If it’s the wrong number, our mood downshifts rapidly.

Many of us allow a number on the scale, to change the game and go back to old eating habits.   It’s not an uncommon reaction, but here are some reasons to stick to your game plan.

Your scale is not always reliable

I’ve tried to explain to my weight-loss clients that daily fluctuations on the scale, whether up or down, should be viewed in context.   One client in particular, who for health reasons was on a cocktail of several medications,  experienced extreme water-weight fluctuations – up 3 pounds one day, down the same 3 pounds the next.  Try as I might to tell her that the 3 pounds up or down was not a measurement of success or failure, but a result of water-retention or water loss, she couldn’t see it that way. She was in a perpetual state of changing emotions – happy when she viewed herself as successful; unhappy and frustrated when she perceived herself as failing.   Her perceptions had little to do with reality. She was, in fact, making healthier lifestyle changes and losing weight gradually and steadily.  But, she couldn’t be happy with her progress because of those 3 pesky pounds.

Toss your scale? No, but realize its limitationsThe CalorieKing Blog - Is it your scale?

Ultimately, the scale can be a helpful tool in assessing your weight-loss progress over time, but it isn’t the most reliable measurement of weight loss or weight gain on a day-to-day basis.

The obvious question is if the scale can’t be trusted because it may not be reflecting true weight-loss or true weight gain, what is it reflecting?

Water-weight gain – Here today, gone tomorrow

Because 60-70% of your body is made up of water, it’s not surprising that daily weigh-ins reflect water-weight fluctuations. Water-weight is a major component of what the scale measures. Water-weight is always a tale of two opposites. Depending on whether your body is losing or retaining water, it’s easy to “lose” three pounds one day, then “gain” four the next – according to the scale, that is.

Water retention. Next time you step on the scales and think “Oh no, I’ve gained three pounds, what’s the use of dieting?” take a minute to consider whether it might just be water weight variations, but, and this is a big but (excuse the pun), don’t delude yourself either. If you’ve had a few days of overeating and drinking, it’s likely that you have put on a few extra pounds in a short time.

For more about the causes of water retention, follow this link:

On the flip – water weight loss Though you’ll always lose some water with weight-loss, too much water loss can distort the measure of your true weight-loss (fat loss). Generally, it’s a reflection of true fat lose is 1-2 pounds per week. If you are losing much more than that, it’s often just water weight that you’re losing.

Extreme dieting can be causing this. Excessive calorie restriction, for example, causes the body to use up stores of carbohydrates and to break down protein in the muscles. As both carbohydrates and protein hold water in the cells, a loss of these also results in a net loss of water. As a result, rapid weight loss can often be made up of 75% water loss. Then, after the energy systems stabilize, water is regained because some of the protein and carbohydrate stores are replenished, causing you to put the weight back on.

High-protein or low-carb diets also cause too much water loss. A high level of protein, especially from meat and dairy products raises the levels of two toxic by-products, uric acid and urea. To flush these out, the body pumps lots of water through the kidneys and urinary track, causing excessive water loss and dehydration as well as essential mineral losses.

Move your scale, change your weight

In addition to some very concrete scientific reasons, the average bathroom scale simply isn’t very reliable. Shifting your weight on the scale or moving the scale to a different surface will show variances. Shift to the left – yes! 2 pounds lighter.  Shift a little back.  Oh no! I’ve just gained  2 pounds.

Understand the scales limitations. Stay in touch with the facts and understand the scale’s limitations. The scale is influenced by normal and significant fluctuations caused by water retention, water loss, changes in body mass, and the normal ebb and flow of fluids.

Be aware that you will always have some water loss when you lose weight, no matter what plan you follow, but quick weight-loss will result in rapid water loss, followed by rapid water replenishment. The number on the scale will register these losses and gains.

The scale should be used to observe weight trends, not day-to-day weight fluctuations. Weigh in once a week or less and chart your progress weekly or monthly. For more accurate readings, weigh yourself first thing in the morning before eating and with no clothes on. Yes, that’s right take off those flannels.

Think Outside the Scale

Focus on what you want to accomplish. Losing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass is your primary weight-loss goal. Keep in mind that it is impossible to change body fat significantly in a day or two, or even a week, so try not to allow your moods to be so heavily influenced by the piece of metal and glass.

Instead consider using a tape measure to track your progress. Measure your waist, hips, thighs and arms weekly or monthly.

Look at other indicators that you are making progress – your blood pressure, your cholesterol, or glucose levels, how you look and feel.

The Bottom Line

If a scale de-motivates  more than it motivates you,  find other methods to chart your weight loss progress. Stay in or out of the game because of what you really want, but not because of a number on the scale.

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