One of the biggest challenges in losing weight can be the act of monitoring that weight loss. It doesn’t matter whether you want to lose 5# or 100#; in order to be sure you are, in fact, losing weight and not staying the same or (gulp) gaining weight, you will have to find a way to measure that weight loss. Objectively, weighing yourself shouldn’t be an issue. This is what should happen: you pick a day, scale and time to weight yourself weekly (or even less often.) You get a number, and you move on to the next week.
I have never heard of anyone who had the experience described above. For what should ideally be an objective measure of a single number, there is an extreme amount of stress, emotion and self-esteem tied to it. For everyone who has ever tried to lose weight, there is a unique combination of any number of influences pulling at your success or failure. And when it comes to the specific act of weighing, there are some real pitfalls.
- Type of measurement: As a dietitian, I don’t necessarily believe ‘the smaller the number on the scale, the better.’ I would like everyone to be healthy, and that not only includes a healthy weight, but things like blood pressure, BMI (body mass index,) percentage body fat, lipid panel numbers and other data, depending one your personal health history. Of all these things however, “old fashioned” body weight is the easiest, cheapest thing to measure at home, so that’s what we use most often. (And because obesity can be tied to most of the other values, it does make sense to look at body weight, especially for people who have a significant amount of weight to lose.)
- Quality of the Scale: This one is a mess. Search the internet for information on home scales, and you will find a wide variety of both reliability and cost. You can find scales from less than $10 to over $70. As you can imagine, there are also a huge range of features! However, even high-quality home scales can be misleading for many reasons. First, digital ones are usually thought to be more reliable than the dial versions, but things like the slant of the floor, carpet, not standing in the middle of the scale and how often it gets moved or jostled around can effect its accuracy. Why work hard to lose every pound, only to have a scale that inaccurately reports no loss! (Also keep in mind that depending on the scale you choose, it may only be accurate below a certain weight.) Another trap can be the mechanical, beam scales that you find at gyms and fitness centers. While these scales are usually high quality, they need to be maintained properly and calibrated regularly to be accurate, or they are no better than a home bathroom scale.
- Frequency of weighing: Even if you had a scale worth thousands of dollars (and they do exist,) weighing yourself often (several times a day, or even daily,) encourages you to cross the line from being the data collector to being vulnerable to the bad data you are collecting. If you weigh yourself every day, you will undoubtedly see fluctuations in weight for any number of reasons (hydration level, water retention, time of day, and yes, even bladder and bowel conditions!) And for many people, the amount of frustration they see at gaining a fraction of a pound or more from one day to the next is enough to discourage them, and torpedo their progress and hopefulness.
So what is the answer? Is there a way to monitor weight loss that helps, rather than hurts, your considerable efforts in eating right and exercising? I think Chad would agree, after experiencing both sides, that there is.
- Use good equipment: Find the most accurate scale you can, and use ONLY that one. If you have access to a beam-style, mechanical scale at a gym or fitness center, don’t be shy–go ahead and ask how often its calibrated, and/or check to see if it has a sticker stating the last time it was serviced. You are paying good money to use the facility, and you should have your equipment in good working order. Another option would be to check with a local clinic to see what their policy is on using their scale. They use good quality scales and usually have them serviced on on a regular schedule. If you must use a home scale, do it “responsibly;” do your research and do all you can to ensure its accuracy by reading the instructions–even though it seems silly to read instructions on a scale!
- Weigh only when scheduled: Chad was wise enough to choose Wednesday mornings to weigh in. Early week weighing can be impacted by weekend treats, causing an uptick in weight. Weighing in on Fridays can give you a “I lost 1# this week, so I deserve to not work out/have a few more drinks/have dessert/super size it, etc.” This will no doubt result in a net gain, and is not a plan to set yourself up for success. Also, Chad has easy access to his scale at that time, which prevents him from missing a weigh-in and then having to skip it or reschedule, which might also cause him to drift away from this plan. Because we live in an instant gratification-world, it is hard for us to wait a week or more for a number, especially when we are often changing many things about our daily life just to impact that number. But many people, perhaps even you, know that this is true: weighing yourself often, and perhaps seeing no change or even an increase in weight, will A) make you feel bad about yourself and B) entice you to give up your efforts, which will lead you back to A. It is because the bathroom scale is so tempting that I usually discourage people from getting them. Having to travel to your accurate scale may keep you from the curse of “over-scaling!”
- Be a scientist! This is such a biggie it has two parts!
- Your weight really is just a number, and it is not even the only number related to your health. It does not tell you how good of a person you are or even how successful you are at working towards you goal on any given day. Treat the number as just that; one piece of data. Hopefully you have other things you are paying attention to: How do you look in the mirror? Are your clothes fitting any differently? Do you have more energy? Are you making better food choices? Are you exercising regularly, and is it becoming easier to do that exercise?
- Interpret your data properly. If you set a goal of weight loss of 1, 1.5 or 2 pounds per week (any more than that over several weeks can be unhealthy, as well as lead to falling back into bad habits,) look for that. Don’t look to lose a pound a day; that’s not the goal you set! Since I am a bit of a data geek, here is my best visualization of what we do to ourselves when we “over-scale.” Which experience would you rather have? How would you feel on each day, given each scenario?
There are some who lose weight and achieve their goals without weighing themselves at all. They use other benchmarks, such as ones I have mentioned previously–fitting into clothes or being able to compete in an activity they are working toward. And while those people have incredible motivation and success, most of us need a few more frequent checks to be sure we are on the right track. But, weighing yourself is as most other things are…”Enough is as good as a feast!”