Some of my clients weigh themselves daily, others not at all. In my experience what’s best depends on your relationship with the number. Some research indicates that people who weigh in daily are more successful at losing weight and keeping it off. But, if you tend to become stressed or obsessive about the number staring back at you, banishing the scale may be best. In any case, understanding how weight works is key. Here are three facts to keep in mind:
Fluctuations are Normal
When you step on the scale, you're weighing everything that has weight, not just your muscle, bone, and body fat, but also water, undigested food (even if it will all later be burned off), and waste that your body hasn't eliminated yet. The latter three are why your weight on a scale can shift very quickly, even if your body fat remains exactly the same. Sodium is another factor. It’s attracted to water like a magnet, so if you eat more sodium than usual, you’ll temporarily retain more water. Two cups (16 oz) of water retention equals one pound on the scale, yet you could be losing body fat at the same time. Bottom line: weight fluctuations from hour to hour or day to day are completely normal and to be expected. What’s most helpful is understanding your personal patterns - maybe you weigh more during a certain time of the month, or after eating a meal that’s saltier than usual. Rather than worrying about slight ups and downs, focus on putting blips in perspective and tracking larger changes over longer spans of time.
Pounds Don’t Tell the Whole Story
Two women can be the same height and the one who weighs more may be healthier, in better shape, or even wear a smaller size. While it’s not true that muscle weighs more than fat - a pound of muscle and a pound of fat both weigh a pound - muscle is more compact. If you think about the size of a pound of chicken breast compared to the size of a pound of shortening you can see the difference. The truth is a body that’s leaner (more muscle, less fat), well nourished and hydrated will weigh more than one that’s less toned, undernourished and dehydrated. It’s the quality of those pounds that matters most.
Weight Doesn’t Dictate Health
We live in a very weight-focused culture, but the truth is being at your ideal weight doesn’t guarantee health, and being overweight doesn’t automatically make you unhealthy. I’ve counseled women who have achieved the “right” weight for their height, but struggle with low bone density, a weakened immune system, fatigue, and hormone imbalances. I’ve also worked with fit women with higher than ideal weights who are amazingly strong, eat healthfully and have cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar numbers all within the normal ranges. While weight can provide some important info, it’s one piece of a much bigger health puzzle.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.