- Scale weight is just a piece of data. It does not define who you are as a human-being
- It is made up of many different things and fluctuates daily/weekly
- It is not an accurate measure of short-term changes to body composition
- You can lose body fat but still weight the same
- Just because you haven’t lost any weight, it doesn’t mean your body composition (fat/muscle ratio) hasn’t changed
- If you are using it as a measure of progress, weigh more frequently, ideally daily and in the morning before eating
What is the scale weight?
Before we start, it’s important to understand what the scale weight actually is…
“Your scale weight is simply your body’s relationship with gravity. That’s it. It does not define your worth as a human-being. It cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, life force, possibility, strength, or love.”
Your scale weight is made up of a few things:
- Muscle mass
- Bone density
- Body fat
- The weight of your organs
- The food you have digesting in your stomach
- The scales you’re currently using
As you can see, there is a lot to your bodyweight that isn’t about how you look.
Here’s what your scale weight can’t tell you:
- Your body composition (fat to muscle ratio)
- How you feel
- Changes in either of the above
Your scale weight fluctuates daily
It is entirely possible for your weight to stay the same but your body composition to change.
The scale weight is not an accurate measure of short-term changes to body composition.
Scale weight can be used to see long-term trends, but it is not a good indicator of short-term progress.
This is because your scale weight actually fluctuates by a few pounds daily, due to your body being in a constant state of flux (digestion, repair, growth, changes in water retention).
See the two screenshots below. The first is the weight fluctuations of someone who is in a deficit (looking to lose body fat) over a month. The second is the trend over the year.
(Also note that these measurements were taken daily)
Imagine if this person had given up prematurely because they thought they weren’t seeing progress?
So why do we use it?
We use it because it is one metric of many that we can use to see how our bodies are changing over time.
The problem is that it is often seen as THE most important metric, instead of one tool of many.
This is a problem because of the reasons mentioned above:
- We are measuring multiple things bundled into one measurement
- That measurement fluctuates, so is not an accurate representation of the main thing we use it to measure (body composition)
There is nothing wrong with using the scale weight as a metric, as long as we understand that it is one of many pieces of data we can use and that it is not the most accurate measure of progress, especially short-term.
Just using the scale weight can cause more harm than good
Have you ever been trying to lose body fat, feeling really good about the effort you’re putting in and the exercise you’re doing only to step on the scale and not see the change you were hoping?
How did that make you feel?
Bad, is the typical answer.
The usual response to this is to feel bad, beat ourselves up and then think “why bother?” and give up.
Even though we were doing really well, doing things that were good for our body and probably moving closer to our goal, holding the scale weight in such high-esteem and using it as the source of our motivation has actually derailed us and done more harm.
It is entirely possible that the changes we were seeking were happening, but by focusing on the wrong thing we now feel like a failure instead of feeling really good about the progress we’ve made in other ways.
It is our response to this that dictates the progress we make, and unfortunately most of the time our response is to act in ways that work against our goal or to give up completely.
The “Whoosh” effect
Another way the scale weight can trip us up is because of the “Whoosh” effect.
You see, our body fat is stored inside cells, like little balloons.
When we lose body fat, these cells empty, but water can rush into the space the fat once occupied.
It is only after a few days or even a week when this water empties that we see the fat loss reflected on the scales and visually.
You may actually be losing body fat, but that body fat is being replaced by water for a period of time, causing you to feel like you don’t look any different and your scale weight not budging.
This is why it’s so important to keep going.
Sometimes all it takes is an extra few days for the water to be released and suddenly you drop a few lbs and look noticeably different.
So what is the best way to use the scale weight?
If you want to use weight as a metric, then the best way is NOT to measure weekly. Instead, measure daily and then use an average for the week, or use the lowest number from the week.
Measuring weekly, or even worse bi-weekly, will not only put more pressure on the result but it will give you an inaccurate picture of what your weight is doing.
Measuring daily will provide a more accurate picture of what’s happening. It will also allow you to see that your body fluctuates (which can help reduce the anxiety around it) and you will be able to see patterns (such as fluctuations during certain parts of your cycle if you menstruate).
It’s also important to note that you should weigh yourself in the morning, without clothes on, on an empty stomach and before eating or drinking anything to get the most accurate picture.
Note: You do not have weight yourself for the rest of your life. It is a temporary tool to use whilst you are aiming to achieve a specific result.
Remember, the scale weight is just a tool. One of many. Sometimes it can be useful and other times it may not be the right tool for the job. It also has its drawbacks, and as long as we can understand those drawbacks then we can approach using it in a much healthier way.
For more information, here’s a podcast episode on the subject: