If you’re one of the 45 million adults trying to lose weight, you probably have a love–hate relationship with your scale. Or maybe it’s just hate. Does the idea of stepping on a scale fill you with dread? If so, you’re not alone. But as much as you may dislike the scale, it does serve a useful purpose in your weight-loss journey. So let’s try to turn that dreadful foe into a helpful friend.
One of the best ways to come to terms with the scale is to change how you think about it. Instead of looking at it as a tattletale who is about to reveal your most shameful secrets, try thinking of the scale as just one of many tools you can use to help you reach your weight-loss goals. Weight-loss guru Jillian Michaels recommends viewing the scale as a compass – something you can use to help keep you going in the right direction.1
How often should you weigh yourself?
There are two schools of thought regarding how often you should weigh yourself if you’re trying to lose weight.
- Daily Weigh-ins: Some experts recommend weighing yourself daily. Their reasoning is that daily weighing increases awareness of how your eating and exercise habits impact your weight and helps you to adopt healthier choices. A 2016 study, which found that people who weighed multiple times a week lost more weight and kept it off better, seems to support the idea of daily weigh-ins.2
- Weekly Weigh-ins: Other experts say you shouldn’t weigh yourself more than once a week. They point out that becoming too focused on a number on a scale can lead to discouragement and giving up. Because your weight is naturally going to fluctuate a few pounds from day to day––even from hour to hour––daily weighing can often be misleading and self-defeating.
Which option you choose is up to you and your personality. Keep in mind that a good, healthy amount of weight loss is one to two pounds a week. If going several days in a row without losing any weight––or even possibly gaining a pound or two––would cause you to become discouraged and make you want to give up, then weighing weekly may be your best option. However, if not losing for several days just motivates you to try even harder, then daily weighing is probably your best bet.
Consistency is key
If you want the scale to be your friend and provide an accurate assessment of your progress, you have to be consistent about when and how you use it. There are three important things you need to be consistent about:
- Weigh yourself at the same time of day. Your weight can fluctuate as much as four to five pounds throughout the day depending on a number of factors, such as what you’ve eaten, how much water you’re retaining and elimination. Many people find it best to weigh themselves first thing in the morning before eating anything––for one thing, that’s probably when you’ll weigh the least.
- Wear similar clothes––or no clothes––each time you weigh. Clothing has weight so if you want an accurate measurement of your progress, what you wear or don’t wear when weighing yourself can make a difference. This is another good reason for weighing first thing in the morning––your pajamas or nightgowns are probably similar in weight.
- Use the same scale. Scales––particularly the home scales most of us use––are going to vary a little bit in their accuracy. To get a valid measurement of your progress, it’s important to weigh yourself on the same scale each time.
Other effective ways to measure your progress
The scale should be only one tool you use to assess how far along you are on your weight-loss journey. While it can be a helpful guide, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Think about why you want to lose weight in the first place. Is it just to reach a certain number on a scale? Unlikely. For most of us, losing weight is more about looking better, feeling better and getting healthier. The scale can’t tell you if you’re achieving those goals, but there are other ways to see how far you’re progressing.
If you’re doing any kind of exercise as part of your weight-loss plan, you’re most likely increasing your muscle tone. And as you probably know, muscle weighs more than fat. Assuming your goal is to lose fat, you can see why the scale might not be a completely accurate measurement of your progress. This is why measuring inches is every bit as important as weighing yourself.
How to measure: Wear lightweight form-fitting clothing (or no clothes). Try to wear the same thing every time you measure for accurate comparisons. We tend to think of someone’s measurements as bust, waist and hips, however, for the purpose of evaluating weight loss progress, the four most important measurements to track are: waist, hips, thighs and upper arms.
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Most people find that measuring yourself once a month provides a good picture of how your weight loss is progressing.
Calculate your body fat percentage
If your main goal is to lose fat, calculating your body fat percentage will give you a more accurate measurement of your progress than a scale is able to give you because, as the name implies, it will tell you how much of your body is made up of fat.
There are several different options for testing body fat, but the simplest is this handy tool you can use to calculate your body fat percentage, compliments of VeryWellFit.com:3
To get a good reading on your progress, calculate your body fat percentage no more than once a week or even every other week.
Use your clothes
One of the easiest ways to tell if you’re making progress on your weight-loss journey is to see how your clothes fit. If you usually wear loose-fitting clothing and stretchy fabrics, it may be difficult to judge your progress. Instead start by choosing something like a snug-fitting pair of pants or jeans, then try them on once a month. Although you won’t have a set of numbers to compare like you do with the other measurement tools, as your clothes move from too tight to comfortable to loose, you’ll really feel how much progress you’ve made.
Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief, as well as being the Editor of both the IBS and Weight Loss HealthWatch newsletters. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997 and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, then worked for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network before coming to ProHealth.
1. Michaels J. “MYTH: Weighing Yourself Daily Will Help You Stay on Track.” 10/26/15. https://www.jillianmichaels.com/blog/weight-loss/myth-weighing-yourself-daily-will-help-you-stay-track.
2. LaRose J.G., et al. “Frequency of self-weighing and weight loss outcomes within a brief lifestyle intervention targeting emerging adults.” Obes Sci Pract. 2016 Mar; 2(1): 88–92. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021162/
3. Frey M. “Body Fat Calculator: Get an Instant Body Fat Percentage.” 01/19/19. https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-use-body-fat-percentage-calculator-3858855