This morning I woke up feeling pretty good. I did my one sit up for the day and got out of bed. I noticed it was a lean morning. You know one of those mornings where you just know you look damn good? Immediately I can feel my mood rising much higher than an ordinary day.
I am ready to tackle dominate this day. It is time to run a marathon while tossing a barbell over my head. That is how good I feel (it would never happen because I refuse to run more than 400m). I am already predicting the weight loss on the scale. I can see it in my thoughts; one, maybe even two lbs less. Step on the scale and a cloud comes out of nowhere and starts raining on this big parade that I had.
I gained weight. How is that possible?
Body weight can be a fantastic indicator of progress. It can indicate both muscle gain or fat loss, but the major problem is how non-specific it is. Body weight is truly the measure of the gravitational force on the mass of an object. w=mg w= weight, m= mass, g is the gravitational constant. The bathroom scale is just measuring the mass times the force of gravity.
Your Weight Does Not Dictate Appearance
So, body weight does not dictate how someone looks. It does not tell you anything about the composition of weight – the weight of 5lbs of feathers is the same as 5lbs of lead. However, the volume needed of each, to reach 5lbs, is quite different. What weighs more, a pound of fat or a pound of muscle? This question always makes me laugh. It is trying to get at the point that fat takes up more volume than muscle at the same weight, ie fat is less dense than muscle.
When this comes to a human being, many different things can affect the weight.
Overall hydration can affect your weight. The more you dehydrate, the less you will weigh. The scale will drop, but the amount of fat has not changed. You can lose 1-4% of your weight just from intense exercise (if you do not drink during it). Another part of water is the amount stored in muscle via glycogen. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose which, the body uses for energy during exercise.
Each gram of glycogen will have 3 grams of water with it. On average humans will have around 15g of glycogen per KG of body weight. A 100kg male could have 1500g of glycogen and therefore around 4500g, 4.5kg, 9.9lbs of water stored just from buffering store glycogen. That is 5% of his body weight. If you have ever wondered why low-carb diets cause large drops in body weight right away, the glycogen depletion and water loss are a key to that.
Another aspect of hydration is salt intake which can end up drawing in water over a short period. When you have a deviation in salt intake from your baseline, your body will move water with salt. A spike in salt consumption will draw in water with it.
Your GI system is another area where large weight fluctuations can occur. Food can sit and accumulate in the GI system and can create the illusion of weight gain or weight neutrality.
Also, a big one is body composition. The scale weight is not telling you how much body fat is present vs. how much muscle. 160lbs and 18% bodyfat looks much different than 160lbs and 10% body fat.
These various factors create a problem with scale weight. It can lead to excessive balding from the pulling of hair, and that is something we should all avoid.
Jon is focusing on fat loss – he is 180lbs and wants to be 160lbs. He starts weighing himself and the first week he loses 2lbs. The next week Jon drops 1lb and the 3rd and 4th-week there is no weight loss. Over the next 4 weeks, he manages only 1 more pound of weight loss. Compared to Jim who started at 220lbs and over the same 8 weeks he lost 20lbs. Who ended up doing better?
Obviously Jim did better he lost 20lbs when Jon barely lost 4lbs in 8 weeks… But the scale weight does not even come close to telling the whole picture. We are assuming that both people only lost fat and did not lose or gain muscle in the process.
If Jon lost 14lbs of fat but gained 10lbs of muscle while Jim lost 10lbs of fat and 10lbs of muscle paints an entirely different story. In that scenario, Jon did much better even when the amount of weight on the scale barely changed. Jon had a much better and larger shift in body composition. The scale lied.
The Scale Dictates Emotions
Going back to the opening story, many people tie their emotions into what the scale says. A good day is a light day and a bad day is a heavy day. The scale can dictate how we feel about ourselves and the day.
Plenty of studies show that women – but men too – will tie in their self-worth to the number that pops up on the scale. The scale does not measure intelligence, personality, work ethic, resilience and many other markers of what makes up a person, yet all of these tie into the bathroom scale. So it seems we have a mountain of evidence to take the scale and toss it off the roof then run it over a few times with the car.
Not so fast. The scale still can provide benefits, but we need to take an analytical, rational approach to its use and know precisely what the bathroom scale tells us and more importantly what it does not tell us.
There Is A Way To Use The Scale Effectively
Now that we know all the things the scale is bad at we can construct a way to use it much more efficiently. A primary driver to the negatives of the bathroom scale, I believe, stem from the lack of education of body composition and the scale. Hopefully, so far this article has helped with some of that.
I think the scale is still an excellent option for basic data that can help add information about progress along a transformation. There is research that supports when people use a scale regularity they also can maintain their body weight better. This most likely comes from a raised awareness rather than the complete obliviousness about body weight that many people have.
Weight can sneak on slow enough that it will be hard to see in the mirror each day. Moreover, this occurs over extended periods of time there is little awareness that 20 extra pounds just came out of nowhere.
The scale will help create awareness so those types of accumulations cannot happen without someone knowing those changes is occurring.
“We should strive to see the number on the scale with as much emotion as we would counting white cars in a parking lot” – Coach Stevo
Coach Stevo is an excellent habit-based coach, and he brings up a great mindset shift when approaching scale weight. Many look at the scale weight with the emotional weight of a freight ship. Reframing the task to tying no emotion to the number is key. It represents nothing but a number to record and move on, just like if you had the task of counting white cars in a parking lot.
Set Up For Success
One key to using the scale correctly is to set up a routine that controls for as many of the variables as we can. Accomplish removing emotion by taking a weight at the same time under the same conditions. The best time is the morning after using the bathroom bare ass naked, or at least in similar attire if you cannot stand being naked on the scale.
These conditions will control for as many of the variables as possible. Later in the day, there will be a variable amount of food and liquids consumed and who knows – maybe you are like me and sweat pounds every day. Record that weight each day or multiple times a week. These numbers mean nothing without other data.
The next step to use weight correctly is to take a weekly average of the weight and also note the lowest weight of the week. You will then be comparing these numbers to the past to determine the trend.
You can expect the weight to go up and down each day, but that is okay because you do not care about the daily fluctuations. What matters is the overall trend of the average weights and the lowest weight each week.
If the average is trending down and you hit a lower lowest weight this week than last week, you have a good idea that you are headed in the right direction. ie, if your lowest weight last week was 150 but this week your lowest weight was 148.8… that is progress.
Along with daily weights, averages, and lowest weight, I recommend taking weekly or bi-weekly progress pictures and measuring at least 1-3 sites to add data. At the minimum one measurement around the navel can help. You can also add a measurement 2-3inch above and below the navel since fat will be lost at different times across the stomach. The more data you can obtain, the more accurate the overall picture becomes.
If you weight has not dropped but you are losing inches off your waist, and you compare previous images and find yourself leaner, you know there is nothing to change or worry about.
- The bathroom scale lies and fluctuates.
- The bathroom scale deserves no emotional attachment to the number; it only measures one thing.
- Averaging daily weights and comparing weekly trends in averages helps smooth out fluctuations.
- Add in more progress markers like measurements and progress photos for a much more accurate overall picture of progress.