Are you weighing yourself wrong? Make the scales your friend, not your enemy

    2 June 2016

    For many people the scales are seen as the enemy. But used correctly they are a powerful ally in keeping your weight down. It is the job of this piece to convey the importance of understanding the scales so we don’t freak out when the numbers ping to the screen.

    First of all, it’s essential we understand the body and why our weight fluctuates.

    Small and frequent weight changes are not necessarily down to body fat levels. They are usually just an indication of how much water your body is holding. Specifically, this depends on your glycogen and sodium levels. It is thought that three grams of water are required for every gram of glycogen stored in your muscles or liver. Your average takeaway meal typically has a higher sodium content compared to home-prepared meals — you can start to see how small weight changes occur.

    For women’s weight fluctuations the menstrual cycle plays a major role. The female body can start to gain weight up to seven days prior to menstruation and then drop again once the cycle starts. Premenstrual weight gain can range from half a pound to ten.

    Issues such as infrequent bowel movements, or having larger meals the previous evening, can also affect weight — the large intestines can carry quite a load.

    In order to overcome these fluctuations and use scales effectively we must track our weight in a manner that makes our data valid. Like with any test, we must sample data in the same testing environment using the same testing instruments.

    This is what I suggest. Pick a set of scales to use throughout your weigh-ins and then decide what metric you prefer to use; pounds, kilos, stones etc. Keep this a constant throughout testing. Different scales can vary in readings and so using the same kit will keep the data reliable. From here, weigh yourself with minimal clothing at the same time and place every day — or at least keep this as consistent as possible, as life sometimes does get in the way. I recommend first thing in the morning after going to the loo. Log your weight and at the end of the week take an average reading from the data set collected.

    What you will quickly notice is the variance in scale weight over the course of the week’s weigh-ins and so comparing averages over weeks one, two, three and so on will help you interpret your weight in a much clearer light. It will help you to understand where your weight sits and give you the power to decide where you want to take your weight in future. Too often people take readings at random times, with different scales and in different environments — your scale weight here is simply irrelevant in the bigger picture.

    The graph below was created using an Excel spreadsheet and shows a client’s progress on a weight loss programme over 12 weeks. You can see that on a daily basis fluctuations occurred; however, on average over the course of the cycle, weight loss was achieved. This method keeps you motivated and accountable and stops you making meaningless comparisons.