SOCIETY HAS CONVINCED US THAT THE NUMBER ON THE SCALE DEFINES WHO WE ARE AND WHEN WE SHOULD DIET. I DISAGREE AND THINK THAT THE NUMBER ON THE SCALE IS OVERRATED. ALLOW ME TO WEIGH IN ON THE MATTER…

The progress of your diet is influenced by many factors. Unfortunately, society has blinded us to all factors but one: the number on the scale.

Yes, society has convinced us – myself included not too long ago – that the pesky number on an unreliable clunk of metal validates whether you or I are sexy. And it has driven each of us to alter our nutrition and exercise habits to see a number that had been validated by others, with no care about how we feel.

Fortunately, I’m here to tell you that the scale is only one piece of the progress puzzle.

The quicker you understand and appreciate this, the more freeing your life will be. If you put too much weight into the scale – see what I did there – as your sole indicator of progress, you’ll set yourself up for an unsustainable approach to weight loss and an unhealthy relationship with the scale.

THE OTHER PIECES OF THE PUZZLE

Your energy levels, exercise performance, body composition, well-being, confidence, and understanding of nutrition are far more valuable indicators of progress than that pesky number on a clunk of metal.

Would you rather drop 18 pounds over the course of 12 weeks, yet, regress in the gym, and suffer through recurring bouts of hunger and fatigue daily, or, would you rather drop 10 pounds during the same period, yet improve your exercise performance and only encounter hunger on occasion?

Hopefully, you’d prefer the latter.

Focusing on the scale leads to rash decisions – think drastic calorie cuts and cardio increases. This leads to frequent hunger and continuous fatigue. Ultimately, it primes you for an unsustainable approach to weight loss and blinds you from seeing that many other positive changes are taking place.

THE UNRELIABLE PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

The scale is not only one of many pieces of the progress puzzle, but it also may be the most unreliable piece. That’s because many variables impact your morning weigh-in:

  • Your previous day’s food, fluid, and sodium intake
  • Your previous day’s exercise
  • Your stress levels
  • Your sleep schedule
  • (For women) your menstrual cycle

Eating and drinking more food than usual the day before should yield an obvious impact on the scale. By choosing saltier food (or more salt – hello, soy sauce) than usual, you’re likely to experience a bump in the scale because sodium retains fluid.

A high-volume exercise session may increase muscle damage and inflammation, which leads to water retention and a bump on the scale. Additionally, a longer than usual workout will alter food, fluid, and sodium intake, which may lead to seeing a greater number on the scale the next morning.

Stress increases the production of the hormone cortisol, which influences water retention and balance within the body, thus, can impact tomorrow’s scale number.

If you sleep significantly less or more than the previous few nights than you can expect to see a different number on the scale due to a change in food, fluid, and sodium intake, as well as time spent without food than usual prior to weighing in.

[For women] During the menstrual cycle there’s a cyclic rise and fall in hormones that impacts fluid retention. Depending on where you’re at in your cycle, you may see a higher than usual number on the scale for a short period.

Body composition measurements and progress photos are much more reliable and influenced by far fewer factors.

If you have a laser-like focus on the scale number, the moment you see a jump in the “wrong” direction, you’re likely to further reduce calories or to add another 30 minutes of cardio to your day. If only you remembered that you had a soy sauce-soaked, homemade stir fry the evening before…

HOW TO INCLUDE THE SCALE IN YOUR MEASURES OF PROGRESS

Weight loss is not linear.

Your weight will ebb and flow daily based on the factors described above. The sooner you can come to terms with this, the less stressful stepping on the scale will be (though, it shouldn’t be stressful at all). If you encounter one of the variables discussed above, i.e., you had a very salty meal yesterday, drank significantly more water, or had a longer than usual workout, I recommend postponing your morning weigh-in by a day or two to get a more accurate number.

What’s most important is that the trend over time corresponds with your goal. Your nutrition and exercise habits should set you up to achieve a rate of weight loss of 0.5 – 1.0 percent of body weight per week. That’s 0.75 – 1.50 pounds per week in a 150-pound person, and 1.0 – 2.0 pounds per week for a 200-pound person. Losing weight any faster than this will significantly increase the risk of muscle loss and binge eating behaviors during your diet.

I recommend choosing two or three set days per week and weighing in first thing in the morning after using the rest room and before drinking any water – you do drink water soon after waking, right? I like Monday-Wednesday-Friday, or Monday-Thursday.

Additionally, I recommend taking initial photos before starting your diet and then photos in the same location every 3 – 4 weeks. If you can have a trusted partner take body composition measurements (you should use a measuring tape and marker to indicate where you too the measurements to enhance repeatability) as you embark on your diet and every 3 – 4 weeks, too, that’s a bonus. Having this information available to demonstrate progress when the scale is proving to be feisty can make or break your dieting efforts.

And it may prove to be the saving grace you need not to throw in the towel early…

Lastly, take note of your energy, appetite, and exercise performance. You may not feel like a rock star each day, or set a new PR every workout, but you should experience steady energy levels, infrequent hunger, and steady performance improvements throughout your diet if you’re indeed eating appropriately and losing weight at the optimal pace.

If you notice a consistent dip in energy, spike in hunger, or inconsistent gym performance, you may want to consider your stress and sleep habits, as well as your total nutrition and hydration approach. You can grab my top 12 fat-loss tips to further understand how to keep hunger in check during a diet by clicking here.