For many the scale can be a source of self loathing, a square rectangle met with trepidation, and at it's worst - a barometer for how we feel about ourselves.
At its best it's a compass, a tool.
As a Fitness Trainer who has helped hundreds of people lose weight and meet their goals I'm not opposed to scales, and being aware of our weight. Not at all.
But I definitely have an opinion on how often you should be using one. So I'm sharing some tips on how to have a better relationship with the scale, and simultaneously reach your goals.
To be frank I've realized the the people I know personally (and the clients I've worked with) who insist on weighing themselves every day typically fall into two categories...
The first group veers on obsessive - they step on the scale, and without meaning to let it determine how they feel about themselves. I've had clients and friends share that the number they saw could ruin their mood or even their entire day if they weren't happy with it.
The second group is one that gets on the scale the way they brush their teeth - it's an automatic. They may not be all that affected by the number. But they get so used to that little check that if they are trying to achieve fitness or health goals they actually lose motivation.
Here's an example - Meet Tess (I changed her name, but this is a situation brought to me recently by a newer client.) Tess doesn't feel great about herself, or her body. She's low energy and doesn't have a ton of confidence. She eats a diet of processed food with a rare vegetable making an appearance. She goes in and out of exercising, but isn't consistent. She tells me she feels pretty crappy about herself. Tess weighs herself daily, and she says she sees herself fluctuate in a range of about 5 lbs, but she figures she's not so out of her norm that she has little motivation to take care of herself or change her habits.
The scale has become a crutch, and a deterrent from treating her body better.
My advice to Tess was to take the scale out if it. I asked her to consider how she FEELS vs what the number on the scale was telling her. My advice was not to weigh herself for awhile.
When she did this she came back to me saying she felt more motivated to make healthy changes. She took action on adding healthy habits because she was able to gain perspective on the changes she wanted to make without the scale dictating.
Tess committed to exercise, and eating more whole foods. She started feeling in her words " a million times better with so much more energy." When she did get on the scale after a few weeks she was happy to be on the low end of her range.
But that wasn't the point. The point was she felt GREAT. She was stronger, and more fit. Her clothes felt a little looser, and she learned how to distance herself from an arbitrary number.
Okay so how often should you weigh yourself?
Below are the general guidelines I use. Plus some of the things that can affect the number.
If you're on a weight loss journey
If you're looking to lose pounds weighing yourself ONCE a week to track progress is sufficient. I strongly suggest using the same scale, and weighing yourself at the same time of day.
The same scale helps you measure fluctuations accurately.
The best time to weigh yourself is (naked) first thing in the morning after using the bathroom. (Ever notice how when you go to the Dr midday that number is higher? There is a very natural uptick by a few pounds as the day goes on.)
For the clients I work with who are looking to lose weight we usually do "weigh in Wednesday" - because it's easy to remember.
What if weighing yourself once a week stresses you out? Wait two weeks. I promise the amount of times you weigh yourself will NOT be the reason you lose, and keep off weight.
The scale cannot tell you the composition of your body. Your weight could potentially be the same as when you started a fitness program - yet if you are building lean muscle mass and losing fat , your body composition (how you actually look) will be different.
If you want to maintain your weight
My advice is to step on the scale around every 6 weeks. This provides a check in without the DRAMA.
Sometimes I forget I even have a scale, and go closer to two or three months.
More often than that isn't necessary if you're looking to maintain your current weight.
And this part is key, guys. Please remember people - especially women! - fluctuate through the month.
Some may easily see the scale go up 3-5 lbs around their menstrual cycle.
If you find you are triggered by a number I'd make it a point to stay off during that week. The same goes for the day after you eat a salty meal like sushi with soy sauce, or right after vacation.
What good will checking that number do for your mindset after a week away spent enjoying life? A friend recently shared she makes it a point to stay away from the scale right after a trip because if the number is higher than she hopes she doesn't want to associate great memories with something negative. I feel like this comes down to knowing yourself, and if you anticipate your mindset being negatively affected why wouldn't you protect it?
If you find that the scale is just not helpful and triggering serious negativity throw it OUT! And let your weigh in be yearly at your annual Dr. appointment.
Ways other then the scale to check in with your body and assess progress :
There's so many other ways to check in with yourself, and monitor changes.
- Take measurements. This is something I do with many clients, and it works extremely well If you're a numbers person, and need tangibles. Do this every 6 weeks or so to gauge progress.
- Use progress photos. I'll admit this can feel cheesy initially , but it's absolutely one of the best ways to see change (or consistency if that's your goal.) I always recommend clients do a front angle, a side angle, and from the back wearing leggings or biker shorts and a form fitting top or bra. No one else has to see these ! Many of my clients share with me, but you can easily save to a private file on your phone that's password protected.
- Consider benchmark tests or personal records. Challenge yourself by tracking your reps when strength training, or adding mileage to your walks or runs - those victories can feel so good and motivating.
- How do your clothes feel? Do your go-to jeans feel snug and uncomfortable ?
And beyond all of that - how do you FEEL in your body day to day should always be paramount over a number. Confidence is the sexiest thing on a person, and no amount of weight loss or weight gain can give you that feeling.
There was definitely a time in my life years ago where I put too much emphasis on the scale. But when I stopped letting that square contraption in my bathroom tell me how to feel it was incredibly FREEING. And I didn't gain weight or fall off the rails because I was no longer stepping on all that often.
If you are feeling triggered negatively by the scale, and think you may be suffering from an ED please seek help with the NEDA. I'm sending you love.