Think Your Scale is Telling You the Truth? Think Again.
There’s nothing better than seeing all your hard work at the gym pay off. You’ve been consistent in your workouts, dialed in your nutrition, and you’re ready to see some results.
So you step on the bathroom scale and what happens?
Your weight is up 5 pounds from a few days ago.
How is that even possible? You’re doing everything “right” and it still isn’t working. What is going on?!
Chances are, it isn’t you. It’s the scale that’s the problem.
Because the scale can be a dirty liar sometimes.
It isn’t that the scale is bad — it’s a useful tool when it's taken in the right context. But what you see on the scale doesn’t always give an accurate picture of your progress.
There are plenty of factors that cause the scale to tell you lies. Let’s look at a few of the most common reasons your weight on the scale isn’t going down.
You’ve Gained Muscle Mass
This is a good reason to see the scale stay in the same place (or even go up). After all, a lean, muscular body is the dream you’re chasing.
But even good weight still shows up on the scale.
You may have been fed some nonsense in the past about how muscle weighs more than fat. It doesn’t. A pound is a pound. A pound of muscle is the same thing as a pound of fat, a pound of dirt, or a pound of gold. But the difference between each of these substances is the amount of space that pound of weight takes up.
So here’s the good news — a pound of muscle is smaller than a pound of fat. (If you don’t believe me, try googling“a pound of muscle vs. a pound of fat” and prepare to have your mind blown!)
What does this mean?
It means that a person who has 100 pounds of lean weight on their body — muscles, organs, and so on — will look very different from a person who has 100 pounds of fat on their body. While their weight may be exactly the same, these two people will have very different physiques.
If you’ve lost 5 pounds of fat and gained 5 pounds of muscle, it would mean a noticeable change to your body. But it wouldn’t make a noticeable change to the scale.
If you aren’t paying attention to the mirror, or how your jeans are fitting, the scale might be telling you that your body hasn’t changed, at all.
Your Hormones are Running Wild
Hormonal fluctuations in your body can mess with the number you see on the scale. And this can be especially noticeable for women, who regularly experience this rise and fall of hormone levels during their menstrual cycle.
In fact, it's not uncommon to see as much as 3-5 pound swing (or even more) during certain weeks of your cycle.
As hormone levels fluctuate, your body may begin to retain more fluid, leading to bloating and a higher number on the scale.
But the positive of this weight gain is that it’s likely only a temporary increase — as your hormone levels return to normal, your body will shed the excess fluid and the extra pounds that go with it.
You’re Eating a Lot of Sodium
Much like fluctuating hormones, eating a lot of salty foods can also make your body retain fluid, causing an increase in weight. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the scale head in the wrong direction on Monday morning, after a weekend of binging on high-sodium foods.
The good news is that if you’re not making a habit of eating a high-sodium diet, your body should ditch the unwanted water weight after a day or two.
But over time, a high-sodium diet can lead to weight gain that is more than just water. Many high sodium foods are also high in calories, which can potentially lead to weight-gain. Additionally, high-sodium diets may actually make you feel hungrier, causing you to overeat, and helping you to pack on the pounds.
Make sure you’re keeping your sodium intake in-check — the scale, and your body, will thank you.
You’re Drinking A Lot of Water
Wait, isn’t drinking water supposed to help you lose weight?
And not only that, drinking enough water is necessary for your body to perform the way it should. Everything from your muscles, to your skin, to your brain function relies on being properly hydrated to fire on all cylinders.
But drinking a lot of water in a short period of time (or eating a large meal, for that matter), might also be the culprit of an increase on the scale if you’re weigh yourself too soon afterwards.
Until it’s been processed by your body, everything you’re eating and drinking is sitting in your stomach as additional weight. (For reference, a quart of water weighs around 2 pounds — the weight of the water doesn’t magically disappear when you drink it!)
After a few hours, though, your weight should return to normal.
You’re Weighing Yourself at Different Times
What you put in your mouth and what is going on with your body aren’t the only things that can affect your weight — the time of day that you’re weighing yourself can make an impact, too.
It’s not that one time of day is necessarily better than another. The problems start when you’re weighing yourself at different times and under different conditions.
If you weigh yourself as soon as you wake up one day, after a hard sweat session the next, and after dinner the third time, your results might be all over the map. How you’ve eaten, how hydrated you are, and how much stress you’ve placed on your body can show you different results on the scale, even if your body composition hasn’t actually changed.
To give yourself the most accurate results, commit to weighing yourself the same way every time. For most people, weighing first thing in the morning is the best option because it offers you a “clean slate” to check out your progress.
Is There a Better Way?
The scale can be a useful tool for checking your progress and keeping yourself motivated, but you can see now that it doesn’t always paint a clear picture for your body.
Weighing yourself is most effective when looking at trends — it’s a great way to see how you’ve progressed over time and it may help identify when you’ve hit a plateau and should be making adjustments.
Because the number on the scale can change from hour to hour, weighing yourself shouldn’t happen more than once a week, at the same time and under the same conditions each time (and realistically, you can even go a few weeks in between trips to the scale).
But does that mean you can’t regularly check your progress?
One of the best ways to see that your hard work is paying off is through progress pictures or taking measurements. These are great ways to show changes that might not translate to the scale — like dropping in size, even though your weight has gone up or stayed the same as you’ve gained muscle.
Looking back at your weight loss progress is one of the coolest feelings in the world — sometimes it blows your mind to see just how far you’ve come. And the best part? it doesn’t have to be tied to a number.
If you’re looking at a way to stay motivated and keep moving forward, try stepping away from the scale. The results might just surprise you!
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