Many people, and in my experience this is particularly true with women, get completely hung up on their weight on the scale when trying to get in shape. Some will even check their weight multiple times a day, which, as I will explain below, is completely useless as a way of tracking your progress.
Why the scale is not an effective way to track your progress:
I can understand the urge to track yourself daily on the scale, especially if you’re regularly working out and eating healthy, but this is totally counterproductive to do it regularly. The normal up and down fluctuations that your body experiences on a daily basis can easily throw people into a state of discouragement and derail their progress. This is a real shame as they’re often doing absolutely great and improving their body composition at a healthy and normal rate. You see, for a number of reasons, your bodyweight can fluctuate as much as 5 lbs over a 24 hour period, usually due to changes in the amount of water your body is carrying.
I blame the prevalence and overemphasized importance that people place on weight on the marketing and celebrity culture that is so rampant today. It’s a systemic problem in the fitness and weight loss industry, and just one of many pieces of misinformation that is spread around the gym and fitness forums.
When it comes to fitness, your overall weight is not an important marker of success, progress, or health. Weight consists of two things, your lean body mass AND your fat mass. When you start working out, you often see an increase in lean body mass and a decrease in fat mass. At first glance, you might think that this means you’d see a reduction on the scale, but upon further examination we’ll see that this isn’t true.
If you take a volume of muscle and compare it to the same volume of fat, you’ll see that muscle weighs far more than it’s equivalent volume in fat. When you work out, you naturally begin gaining muscle and losing fat. Your fat mass will decrease, and your muscle mass will increase. Due to the fact that muscle weighs more than fat, even though you are likely experiencing an overall reduction in body volume and a decrease in fat, you may see a net gain of weight on the scale due to the increase in muscle mass. Many people are discouraged when they see this and throw in the towel early, and it’s important to understand that this isn’t a bad thing and doesn’t mean you’re not seeing progress.
For these reasons I believe it’s best to set aside the scale completely as tool for measuring your health and progress. The number is essentially meaningless.
What’s a Better Way to Track Your Progress?
The scale cannot decipher the amount of body weight that comes from fat or the amount that comes from lean body mass. However, a handy little device called a fat caliper can. Fat calipers will tell you your level of body fat, and is a much more accurate way of tracking your progress. You can pick these up online fairly cheap, however this one is widely considered to be the most accurate and is the one I own. They’re A LOT cheaper than the alternative which is getting your body fat percentage professionally measured at a fitness club every couple of weeks, not to mention far less embarrassing than having your body publicly scrutinized in front of a stranger.
Another option that I am a huge fan of is to take photographs of yourself. All you need to do is stand in the exact same spot in front of a mirror and take a photo of yourself from roughly the same angle. Upload it to your computer or print it off so you can take a look at two photos side by side. Ultimately, this is the best way to analyze your progress as you’re likely looking for aesthetic improvements more than anything else. I’d recommend taking a picture every 2 weeks. You can do it more often than that, but this usually isn’t enough time to really see any tangible results.
Remember, what you’re trying to achieve isn’t actually weight loss, it’s an improvement in body composition and health. Once you realize that the scale isn’t very useful in determining the latter 2, you can stop letting the number on the scale control you.