The weight fluctuation that you are likely to see each time you step on the bathroom scales can often determine how you feel in general and how the rest of your day goes. A loss makes you feel great. A gain has you tempted to reach for the biscuit tin. You know that the scales shouldn’t bother you as much as they do, but they do.
If stepping on the scales at the gym, the doctor’s office, or in your own bathroom causes your heart to race or makes you break out in a cold sweat, you’re not alone.
Many people associate the scales with stress and anxiety because they don’t like the number displayed on that dispassionate device.
In this article, we’ll talk about the many reasons that our fears and anxieties about our scale weight are unjustified, and also about which measures are better indicators of our health and fitness accomplishments than the weight fluctuation that the scales highlight.
Why does my weight fluctuate so much?
The weight shown on the scales takes into account everything about you – your muscles, organs, bones, and yes, body fat. But the scale also measures the amount of water held in your cells, the food and drink you’ve consumed that day, the shoes and clothes you wear when you stand on the scale… everything!
Most frustratingly, the scale doesn’t discriminate between “good” weight like muscle mass versus “bad” weight like unwanted body fat.
Keep in mind, your weight can fluctuate anywhere from 1-4.5kg per day in response to a number of factors:
- The food you eat throughout the day
- How much water you drink;
- Recent bathroom visits;
- Your carbohydrate intake (carbs draw water into your cells);
- Your sodium intake (sodium draws water into your cells);
- Stress and lack of sleep also cause water retention;
- Your hormones, especially your menstrual cycle;
- The time you ate your last meal;
- Alcohol consumption, which causes dehydration. Drinking also leads to poor food choices, so the scale can swing either up or down depending on your eating behavior while drinking.
As you can see, a LOT of factors influence your scale weight. Most of these changes are due to our diets causing water retention, which accounts for the 1-4.5kg swing you might see on the scale. Don’t fret if this happens when you weigh yourself – it’s normal!
What most of us are really concerned about when we want to lose a few pounds is our appearance. We desire to look lean and toned, not puffy and bloated. Many crash diets seem to “work” by eliminating carbs and sodium (which can cause a bloated appearance) in favour of juices or shakes. However, as soon as you return to eating regular food again, you’ll feel like you gain back all of the weight you lost.
Don’t be fooled by this trick of the scale. There are better indicators of weight-loss progress then monitoring your weight fluctuation by stepping on the scales daily.
How to track your progress without jumping on the scales
The scales are not the only way to ascertain how well your weight loss efforts are going. Non-scale victories are the main focus you should keep your eye on, not a number on the scales.
The gold standard for body composition measurements are Dexa Scan or Bod Pod. If you have access to these in your area, we recommend using them as a true measure of fat-free mass (muscle, organs, bone, water, etc) versus body fat. A Dexa Scan will reveal where your weight is distributed, and as long as you keep your body fat in a healthy range (men below 25% and women below 31%), that’s a good indicator of overall health and wellness.
But what if you don’t have access to those measurements, or don’t want to pay a fee to have your measurements taken?
First things first. You should always take a progress photo when you start a new diet or training plan. You’ll be glad you took this somewhat uncomfortable step at the end of the program so that you can compare your before and after pictures and decide if the program worked for you. Progress photos can be the most compelling piece of evidence in your weight-loss journey.
The next best indicator are circumference measurements, which is just a fancy way of saying measuring the inches around your hips, waist, and thighs. You can measure other body parts like your chest and biceps, too, if you’d like. At the bare minimum, your hip and waist measurements can be used to indicate your overall health.
Why tracking inches matters
Not all excess fat stored on your body carries the same health risk. People who store more weight around their midsection are at a higher risk for disease than people who store more weight in their hips and thighs.
Weight stored around your midsection can be either visceral (just under the skin) or subcutaneous fat, the latter of which is packed around your organs and increases your risk of health-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy waist to hip ratio is below 0.9 (men) or below 0.85 (women). Determine your waist to hip ratio by measuring the inches around your waist and dividing by the inches around your hips. For instance, a woman with a 40” waist and 48” hips would have a waist to hip ratio of 0.83 and therefore be considered low-risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Tracking inches lost is not only a great way to make sure you are reducing your risk for diseases, it’s a fantastic indicator of progress! And since losing inches means your clothes will fit better, it’s a win-win for looking and feeling your best.
Observing how your clothes fit is a subjective measure of progress, but nonetheless a very important one. We don’t know about you, but we wouldn’t mind seeing the same number on the scale if we looked extra fantastic in our favourite jeans.
Other subjective measures of progress include having more energy to get through your day, feeling “lighter” or more energetic, being able to concentrate, having more productive workouts, and a general ease and happiness when looking in the mirror. All of these things are far more important to focus on than the weight fluctuation you are likely to see each time you step on the scales.