Why You Should Avoid Stepping on a Scale Too Often
While studies show that tracking weight leads to higher success rates, tracking too often or inconsistently can give a false sense of failure.
If embarking on a weight loss effort and setting a goal, it's likely that you have some type of tracking mechanism. Whether it's a notebook or an app that keeps sending notifications to enter your progress, there is a feeling that there needs to be steady, daily results. Beyond the fact that it's best to focus on the journey, not each step, short term weight tracking fluctuates notoriously. This can become a problem for those that track daily, or even once every few days.
The following is why daily tracking could become an unnecessarily negative experience for many people.
What Was Learned From Weighing in 15 Times in One Day
Illustration by Elena Scotti/Lifehacker/GMG, photos via Getty Image
Bringing the point home about how fickle the scale can be, a writer over at Lifehacker decided to see exactly how much weight could fluctuate throughout the day. Knowing clothes and food account for some change, the results were still quite surprising.
The writer saw a massive fluctuation from a 9:19am weight in of 138.9 pounds all the way up to 147.0 pounds after a late lunch at 2:23pm. That's over 8 pounds worth of change in just a few hours!
It's virtually impossible that the writer actually gained 8 pounds during half the day (and then lost it a few hours later). It was just a factor of food intake, water weight, clothes, etc. Though not truly a weight gain, if you saw that kind of change on your scale within a day, it could be quite discouraging.
Read the full article and see a list of the writer's 15 weigh-ins over at Lifehacker.com
Better Ways to Weigh-In
Though what the scale says may affect people differently, a healthy frequency for weigh-ins is about once a week versus daily. Another way to look at it, Dr. Dawn Jackson Blatner tells WebMD, is to ask yourself "is this something that is setting my mood for the day?" If so, longer periods between weigh-ins may be best for you. The idea is to avoid the discouragement that could lead to binge eating ("what's the point?") by stepping on the scale too frequently.
Most importantly, you want to keep consistency. Remembering the 4 S's can help: same time of day, on the same day each week, wearing the same clothing and using the same scale. You can also keep track of the weekly number for four weeks and then get an average. Subtract that average from your starting weight to get a more realistic idea of your progress.
Expect normal fluctuations. Some of the daily fluctuation of several pounds can be attributed to eating starchy or salty foods, weather, and water retention.
Take fluids into account. It may seem obvious that drinking a large amount of fluid will translate to pounds. If you drank 2 glasses of water, it may add about one pound of weight. The surprising thing about fluids, however, is that if you avoid them, you may actually still show a weight gain. Your body may end up retaining fluids. This is especially true when drinking liquids with a diuretic effect, such as alcohol or caffeinated beverages.
Avoid the scale after going out. Restaurants serve foods notoriously delicious, and notoriously high in salt, fat and sugar. You're likely to see an increase in weight simply due to the increase in blood volume and fluid retention from prepared food. It's virtually impossible to actually gain weight after just one meal, however, so don't torture yourself.
In summary, it's important to weight yourself on a regular basis, but avoid doing it too frequently. You'll also want to avoid taking the readings too seriously and look for the long term change, not just the short term. Remember that if you were to weight yourself several times a day, you would see a natural fluctuation of 3-6 pounds (or more) which does not reflect actual change, but normal variability.