It breaks my heart when I hear women say that they have an unhealthy relationship with the scale — I’ve known friends whose entire days and moods were nearly ruined when they saw a certain number on the scale in the morning. Like Kryptonite to Superman, an undesirable number on the scale can cause smart women everywhere to crumble. Sure, there are arguably better markers for health out there — body composition, body measurements, progress photos, level of fitness, and health indicators like blood pressure and cholesterol for example — but for most people, the scale still reigns supreme. And knowing that, I’m going to share a few reasons why you shouldn’t place emotional attachment and all of your focus on the number on the scale, but rather objectively use the numbers it spits out in a way that will push you along your weight loss goals. I’m also going to give you the spreadsheet that I’ve successfully used in the past, and one that I’ve shared with clients to help reconcile unhealthy relationships with the scale. Stick around!
Before we start, I want to ask you one question. If you have a “goal weight” in mind…
Why is that number important to you? Dig into the meaning behind it. Where did you come up with the number? Too often, people set a goal of hitting their high school or college weight, but your body has put on muscle since then. Sure, it’s possible to hit that scale number, but you’d have to sacrifice lean mass to do so and you’d probably feel like garbage in the process. In addition to lean muscle giving you “the look” that so many women are striving for, it’s also what keeps you healthy and strong as you get older!
Let’s break things down first as to why the scale can be a fickle mistress, and then I’ll explain why it can also be one of the best tools in your weight loss arsenal.*
Scale weight changes constantly throughout the day. Drink some water? It might go up. Go #2? It’ll go down. You didn’t actually gain or lose 3-5 lbs of body fat in a day, but the scale weight can fluctuate by that much or more during the course of a typical day. While it’s easy to grasp this concept in theory, it’s a horse of a different color to actually apply this. If you weigh yourself every morning but don’t actually do anything with that number, what good is it really? You’re likely to forget fluctuations from previous days and are more apt to throw in the towel if you have a few days or weeks of a plateau. But by tracking this metric and graphing the ups and downs, you can see the larger picture. And what is that picture, you ask? WEIGHT LOSS IS NOT LINEAR.
Now, I’m not a math whiz by any stretch of the imagination, but by using a 10 day average, you can get a sense of your overarching weight loss progress. A couple pounds up and down is totally normal, but when you stick to weighing only once a week, we can’t see the forest for the trees. Say you’re sticking to your plan, and everything is going swimmingly. You’re feeling great, seeing progress, and go out for a delicious meal with friends — most restaurant items are loaded with sodium, meaning you’re going to retain water. If you have this meal the night before your weekly weigh in, you’ll likely see no change from your previous weigh in, or maybe *gasp* go up a few pounds. Meaning, you can wind up thinking that you aren’t making progress when really you’re just a little bloated.
This happened to me time and again when I used to do Weight Watchers, but as soon as I was able to wrap my head around the idea of crazy scale fluctuations, I really didn’t give a shit because I was using the daily weigh in tracker and knew I was making progress despite what these arbitrary weekly weigh-ins said sometimes. Also, this is a good time to mention that plenty of people can step on a scale and hit a low number but be far from healthy. This is the dreaded “skinny fat” that you’ve likely heard about.
So in addition to the daily weighing and monitoring to gauge overall progress, I also recommend that clients:
- Take monthly body measurements: waist, hips, thighs, arms.
- Take progress pictures every 4 weeks, in the same outfit and the same lighting.
- Keep track of how your clothes feel — Rachel Cosgrove recommends using a pair of “thermometer jeans” and I love that term.
Now, here’s the exact spreadsheet that I used during my own 50 lb weight loss, and the spreadsheet that I’ve shared with clients who also have a weight loss goal:
I put some random numbers in there to give you a sense of how daily ups and downs don’t matter, because the 10 day average will tell the truth. You can change the date in the first column and the rest of the dates will auto-populate to fit, you can change colors, etc. Don’t tinker with the formulas! And the graph on the second tab is where you’ll be able to see fluctuations in daily weight but monitor for an overall downward trend. Save a copy, edit away and make it your own!
*Caveat that if at all possible, I’d encourage anyone who is serious about fat loss to get a DEXA scan or hydrostatic weighing done. They’re both some of the most accurate ways out there to measure body composition — better than skin calipers, online calculators, bioelectrical impedance etc. And please note that I’m using the term weight loss for brevity’s sake, but know that we’re really concerned with fat loss.
P.S.: Although I and many other women have used this technique to divorce themselves from the crazy hold that the scale seems to have over us, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that for some people, this might be a problem. If you find yourself fixating on the numbers at all, I’d encourage you to take a break. For most, it’s liberating to say “fuck the scale!” while also using it purely as a tool in a weight loss journey, but I recognize that everyone has a different background and some who have battled eating disorders in the past may be triggered by this. I am not a mental health professional, and encourage everyone to do what feels right for them!