Weighing in on the Scale
It's no secret that many of us allow our moods to be
determined by a number on a scales. If it's the right
number - elation. If it's the wrong number - deflation.
But how much stock should you really put in this number?
In fact, it's not as reliable as you might think. CalorieKing
weight-loss therapist Pat Fiducia helps unveil the mysteries
of the scale and shed some light on how to use it effectively.
Mind over scale
Do you ever feel like the scale has too great a hold
on your mind and emotions? You're not alone. Pat Fiducia
has seen countless examples of people caught in the clutches
of the scale.
"Once I was at the gym when a woman went to weigh
herself. Before she jumped on the scales she was in a
cheerful, upbeat mood, but when she read the number on
the scales her mood changed dramatically; she was devastated.
And I mean devastated," says Pat.
"But she hadn't noticed
that her purse handle was leaning on the scales, making
the reading about one kilogram heavier than it should
have been. That one-kilo difference almost ruined her
day - until someone politely pointed out the trespassing
purse handle. When she removed the guilty party from
the scales and saw the number dip by one kilogram,
she was ecstatic. Again, all was well with the world."
This reaction may not be unusual,
but Pat explains that whether it's a purse handle,
water retention, or “that
time of the month”, daily fluctuations on the scale
should never be taken too seriously. She also admits
it can be hard for people to see things this way. She
describes one client in particular who had high blood-pressure
and was on medication, and as a side-effect experienced
extreme water-weight fluctuations - up three kilograms
one day, down three kilograms the next.
"Try as I might to tell her that the changes were
not a measurement of success or failure, but a result
of the medication, she couldn't see it that way," explains
Pat. "Her perceptions had little to do with the
fact that she was making excellent progress in changing
her eating and exercise habits, and losing weight gradually;
everything revolved around the scale."
Pat advises that if small changes on the scales affect
you in a similar way, you should try to remember that
they reflect many things, not just the loss of fat or
the increase of lean muscle mass, which are the two indicators
of true weight loss.
Let's take a look at some of the factors that can change
the reading on the scales and whether or not you should
pay attention to them.
Water-weight: Here today, gone tomorrow
Sixty to seventy percent of your body is made up of
water, so it's not surprising that daily weigh-ins reflect
water-weight fluctuations; water-weight is a major component
of what the scales measure, and the numbers can go up
or down, depending on whether your body is losing or
Water retention. Several factors can cause water retention.
Excess sodium is one of them. The minimum physiological
requirement for sodium is 500 mg per day, and most health
organisations normally recommend a maximum of 2500 mg.
But when you consider that just one teaspoon of salt
supplies 2358 mg of sodium, it's easy to understand why
many Australians consume sometimes twenty times more
sodium than their bodies need, causing water retention
and adding water-weight.
Not drinking enough water can also cause water retention.
Although it sounds back-to-front, you need to drink a
sufficient amount of water to flush out the water you're
already holding on to! At least six to eight 250 mL glasses
a day is recommended.
Other common reasons for water retention include menstrual
bloating, constipation, and certain diseases such as
heart or kidney disease.
Generally it's only possible to lose 0.5-1 kilograms
of actual fat per week. If you are losing more than that,
it's likely that it's water you are shedding, not fat.
While you will always lose some water-weight when decreasing
calories, extreme dieting will produce extreme water
loss, and false weight loss readings.
Excessive calorie restriction, for
example, causes the body to use up stores of carbohydrates
and to break down protein in the muscles. Since 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%
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. Loss of glycogen (a form of stored
carbohydrate) on low-carb diets can also cause excess
water loss, as can the diuretics people often take on
You aren’t what you eat
Weighing yourself immediately after a meal can also
produce false scale readings. An average-sized meal can
easily weigh a kilogram, which is what you'll seem to
have gained if you jump on the scales straight after
your meal. That's because the scale registers the weight
of the food, not the weight you will have gained from
the meal - plus any water-weight gain from excess sodium.
Of course, after the food is
digested it will stockpile some extra calories, but
keep in mind that it takes 3500 calories more than
your body needs to gain half a kilogram of weight.
So, if you've eaten a heavy meal and the scales register
a two-kilogram weight gain, for that to be accurate
the meal would have to equal at least 14,000 calories.
That’s like eating 8-12 whole pizzas, 23 Big Mac's,
or 56 bowls of pasta marinara!
Muscle gain versus fat loss
Exercise rarely contributes to an increased weight on
the scale. Although the argument that muscle weighs more
than fat is often used to explain weight gain when you
increase physical activity, in truth, the effects of
weight training on your overall weight are marginal -
about half a kilogram a month is the maximum increase.
So don't be fooled into thinking that weight gain is
a by-product of exercise. More likely it is true weight
gain or a by-product of water retention.
Using the scales effectively
Although small, day-to-day fluctuations are not a reliable
reflection of weight loss or gain, the scale can be an
effective long-term indicator of weight loss, especially
when used in conjunction with other methods of assessing
Pat Fiducia suggests these tips to help you use your
- Understand the scale's limitations. Keep in mind
what scales can and can't do. Remember that normal
and significant fluctuations can occur through water
retention, water loss, glycogen storage, changes in
body mass, and the normal ebb and flow of fluids.
- Focus on what you want to accomplish. Losing body
fat and increasing lean muscle mass is your primary
weight-loss goal. Remind yourself that it is impossible
to change body fat significantly in a day or two, or
even a week, so don't allow your moods to be contingent
on your scales.
- Weigh-in once a week or less. Scales should be used
to monitor weight trends, not day-to-day weight fluctuations.
Weigh-in once a week or less, and chart your progress
over time. It's also best not to weigh yourself for
several hours after eating. For more accurate weigh-ins,
check your weight first thing in the morning before
- Think outside the scales. Think about how you look
and feel, how your clothes fit, your frame of mind,
your energy levels. These things should be as equally
important as the number on your scales.
- Monitor other indicators of success such as your
blood pressure, your cholesterol levels, and your glucose
levels. Measure success by the positive changes you
are making. Noting skin-folds or body measurements
can also provide some more accurate numerical charting
of fat loss.
- Pay attention over time. While small daily fluctuations
should not influence you significantly, pay attention
to larger losses or gains over time (weeks and months).
Your scales are still a reliable way to gauge changes
over longer periods of time.
Reproduced with permission from CalorieKing.com.au. All material copyright CalorieKing.com.au