Losing weight isn’t easy. It requires a daily commitment to making healthy choices and sometimes doing things you might not feel like doing — like exercising every day. So it makes sense that you want to see proof that all your hard work is paying off. But if you’re relying on the number on the scale to give you that proof, you may be disappointed.
Weighing yourself every day may actually do more harm than good. If the number on the scale doesn’t go down — or even worse, starts creeping back up — you may become discouraged and give up. But you may not realize that you were on the right track all along. Focusing on the number on the scale only tells part of the picture: there are other important factors besides body weight that can indicate that you’re moving closer to your health goals. Here’s why weighing yourself every day isn’t a good idea.
- Weight loss and fat loss are two different things. When most people talk about losing weight, what they really mean is reducing body fat. If you haven’t already, have your body fat percentage and BMI calculated. These metrics can help you determine how much actual body fat you need to lose. For women, the ideal body fat percentage is between 15-30 percent; for men, it’s 15-25 percent.Losing actual fat takes time. You can drop weight fairly quickly — by fasting or going on an unhealthy near-starvation diet — but most of it will be water weight or muscle loss. Realistically, you can expect to lose 1-2 pounds of fat per week.
- Changes in glycogen levels can cause weight fluctuation. Your body contains energy stores known as glycogen, which are mostly produced from carbohydrate consumption. For each gram of glycogen your body stores, 3-4 grams of water are bonded to it. If you start restricting your carbohydrate intake (for example, if you stop eating things like bread and pasta), your body will start using its glycogen stores, and that bonded water will be shed in the process. This is why people on carb-restricted diets like Atkins or a ketogenic diet often shed weight very quickly. But as soon as you resume eating more carbs, your body will restore its glycogen supplies, and the water weight along with it.
- You’re replacing fat with muscle. If you’re exercising regularly as part of your weight-loss program, you’re doing it right! All that exercise will build muscle, so the number on the scale may not change, even if you’re losing fat. This process can take time (think several months), so you may not see it happening. Taking regular photos can help you see your progress — try to take photos in the same place, with the same lighting. And what about the age-old question of whether muscle weighs more than fat? You may have heard people try to refute this by saying a pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat, but this logic is flawed. A pound of anything weighs the same as a pound of anything else. Muscle is more dense than fat, and therefore weighs more by volume. That is, a liter of muscle weighs more than the same amount of fat. So if you’re building muscle and shedding fat, you could see the number on the scale go up, even though you’re getting more fit.
- You’re weighing yourself at different times of day. Depending on the time of day and what you’ve done that day, your weight will fluctuate. If you weigh yourself first thing in the morning, you’ll weigh less than you will after eating a full meal. If you’ve had a lot of carbs that day, your glycogen stores — and thus your weight — could go up. If you’ve just finished working out, you may weigh less due to water loss. The number on the scale is constantly changing, so don’t be ruled by it. Find other ways to measure your success — how do you feel? Do you have more energy? Do your clothes fit better? These accomplishments — often referred to as non-scale victories — can be better indications of your progress and your overall health.
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