Do you have a love-hate relationship with the scales?
When I see clients at my weight loss clinic for the first time, many also have a very complicated relationship with the weighing scales.
Some weigh themselves regularly, hating the results. Others are living in a cocoon of denial, not having weighed themselves for months.
When they arrive at the clinic, part of their anxiety is having to step on the scales.
They are taken aback when I tell them that I won’t be weighing them today. Or ever.
I didn’t used to believe in weighing
My relationship with the scales is also somewhat complicated.
I used to think that when it came to weight loss, that scales were bad.
I used to think that frequent weighing was a sign of an unhealthy relationship with weight. After all, surely the best signs of progress are natural things like your clothes fitting better?
But I’ve since changed my mind about this.
The reasons are:
1. It’s motivating.
It’s actually good to get regular positive feedback about your weight. It helps to maintain motivation on the weight loss journey.
It’s all very well saying that clothes fitting better is a better sign. It is definitely more significant than seeing a number on the scales. But having said that, the advantage of the number is that it provides an objective measure.
And while clothes fitting differently might take weeks before it shows, we need more regular feedback to gauge whether we are on the right track.
2. It’s important for weight maintenance.
Once you’ve reached your weight loss goal, regular weighing is VERY important for weight maintenance (I’ll explain why later).
So if I think weighing is a good thing, why don’t I weigh clients at my clinic?
Why I don’t weigh clients at my clinic.
The problem with weighing at the clinic is that there are too many variables that change from week to week.
For instance, each time they see me, they are wearing different clothes (which will weigh different amounts) on different days.
At one appointment, they may have just eaten whereas at another they may have not had anything for several hours.
They might be bursting to go to the toilet on one day (and therefore have a full bladder .. which weighs more than an empty one) and not on another.
All of these factors (plus many more) affect weight and so make weighing at the clinic too inconsistent.
BW and AW
But the main reason was that when I used to weigh clients, the appointments used to get divided into two time segments.
One was BW. One was AW.
BW = before weighing.
My client would arrive, anxious about what the clinic scales would show, and whether the reading would back up what the scales said at home (or betray them altogether).
Would the weight reflect the effort they had put in all week or make it all seem worthless? The time before weighing became dominated by this anxiety and so the client would be too preoccupied to engage properly with the session.
AW = after weighing.
If the scales showed a “good” result, the client would be happy and the session could proceed as planned. But if it showed a “bad” result they would be deflated and disappointed which affected the rest of the session.
So for those reasons I prefer for clients to weigh themselves at home.
Which scales should I use?
I don’t mind which scales you use as long as you use the same ones each time.
As you may know, different scales will deliver different results. You might find your scales at home give you a different weight to the ones at the gym.
The important thing isn’t the actual weight it shows, but how it changes over time as you lose weight. You want to note the trend.
As an aside, some clients take travel scales on vacation, and forget that their travel scales might show a different weight to their one at home. If you don’t know what the difference is between the scales before you go away, you can get all sorts of misleading readings.
So if you’re using travel scales, check how the weight readings relate to your home scales before you go away.
What’s the best way to weigh myself?
Do these four things:
- Try and weigh yourself first thing in the morning before you’ve eaten or drank anything.
- Empty your bladder and bowels.
- Don’t wear any clothes.
- Make sure the scales are on a level surface.
Try and keep this consistent every time you weigh yourself.
Record the results in your food diary.
When you record the results, you will be able to notice patterns and reassure yourself that weight fluctuations are normal. The more comfortable you can get with weight fluctuations the better.
Does weight fluctuate day to day?
Even with all your best efforts to standardize the weighing procedure, weight fluctuates for all sorts of other reasons.
- Hydration levels
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Fluid retention
- Salt intake
- Bowel contents
- Bladder contents amongst others
This is something that everyone acknowledges but they still don’t make allowance for it.
The practical implication of this is that one weight reading means nothing because … your weight fluctuates! Remember, we care more about the trend.
Is my weight affected the next day by what I ate the day before?
I’ve seen enough food diaries to know that what you eat the day before has little relation to the weight reading the next day. For every food diary where someone eats a lot and the weight goes up the next day, I’ve also seen the opposite (where the weight goes down even after over-eating the previous day).
Generally, I’ve noticed that it takes a couple of days for weight to react to what you’ve been eating.
How often should I weigh myself?
Once a day.
Once a week is not enough.
Weight fluctuations during a typical week can be up to 4 pounds. If you are only weighing yourself once a week, you could easily catch the wrong extreme and get a skewed perception of progress. This becomes even more important when you’re maintaining weight.
When you’ve reached your ideal weight, daily weighing becomes your early warning system. It’s a day to day feedback mechanism. You don’t want to wait till your jeans don’t fit any more to figure out that you’ve gained weight. That’s leaving it too late.
With daily weighing, you can respond within a few days and do something.
The biggest danger when you’re at your ideal weight is little things creeping in, that you don’t notice. That’s why you want an early warning.
What are the drawbacks of daily weighing?
The biggest drawback of daily weighing (in the early stages of this weight loss program) is that you take weight readings too personally and attach too much importance to them.
As we have said earlier, each reading on its own means NOTHING. Because there are so many reasons for weight to fluctuate, one reading cannot give you enough information to get happy or sad.
If you don’t take this on board, you may end up riding the “daily weight roller coaster”.
When the weight is down, you feel like the program is going well and life is good.
When the scales show an up reading or stays the same, you feel despondent, feel like the program is going nowhere and that life is terrible.
Because weight is so variable day to day, you can’t allow each reading to affect you in this way.
At my clinic, part of my job early on is to help clients to get used to these fluctuations.
When a client says to me “The weight was up on Saturday and I was OK with it” then I know that we have made some serious progress.
But it’s not natural!
The final objection I always had to regular weighing was that it didn’t seem to be a natural way of living with your weight. Naturally slim people don’t obsess over their daily weights.
There might still be some merit to that point. I think that for some naturally slim people, they are so attuned to their bodies and their eating, that they can pick up instantly when things are going astray (without the impetus of a bad scales reading). Most importantly, when they realize that their weight is going in the wrong direction, they do something about it (rather than burying the feeling or justifying it).
But while aiming for a scales-free existence might be a nice long-term goal, it is by no means necessary.
Let me put it this way. If the only sacrifice you have to make to confidently maintain your weight is to spend 3 seconds on the scales each morning, is that such a bad thing?
What to Do:
So here’s the take-home summary of how you should weigh yourself when you want to lose weight.
1. Get comfortable with the benefits of weighing yourself every day
2. Get a set of scales.
3. Weigh yourself at roughly the same time of day each day, and write down the results.
4. Weigh yourself free of all “excess baggage” i.e. naked with empty bladder and bowels
5. Never take one reading too seriously. Accept that weight fluctuates for everyone, every day.
6. Don’t ride the daily weight roller coaster.
7. Once you’ve lost weight, it will be your early warning system.
8. Keep the habit as long as it serves you.
The scales are not your enemy. They provide a valuable measure of progress and can be your early warning system once you’ve lost weight. Developing a healthy relationship with the scales can be an important part of your success.
Weighing yourself is just a small part of the right weight loss approach. Learn more about what to do, with my “How to lose weight without dieting” Introductory e-course.
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