A New Way To Read The Scale

Putting the scale in its proper place.

My friend, fellow health coach, and registered dietitian, Stacey Frattinger, opens her heart to share with us the journey of her relationship with the scale

How often do you step on a scale?

Does the thought of stepping on a scale make you feel a little anxious or fearful, or are you more ambivalent towards the act of weighing in?

For most of my life, I’ve weighed in daily. There have been periods when I’ve had a very unhealthy relationship with the scale. When I was in a dark place relationship-wise with my scale, I’d notice a change in my mood or feelings each time I’d step on and off. 

If the scale went up, I’d feel like a failure, or I’d be grumpy. On the other hand, if the scale went down, I’d start to feel more self-confident and generally lighter and brighter. 

Today, I have a much different relationship with my scale. I have shifted my perspective and view my weight objectively. If you still struggle with looking at your weight objectively, it may help you understand what your weight indicates and why it fluctuates so often. 

Learning to view the scale objectively.

It is important to understand that your weight is merely a piece of data. While it can help you to assess how your weight management “plan” is working for you, there are many other ways to evaluate your progress or what changes may be of benefit.

Many skilled health coaches will recommend taking progress pictures, and tracking inches lost as a better way to assess how your body changes over time in response to a nutrition plan or exercise program.

When you step on a standard home scale, and a particular number appears, it is telling you your body weight at that specific point in time. Some also review your weight as your gravitational pull towards the earth. Sure, if you have a fancy scale, you may obtain a body fat percentage or look at your percent hydration, but a standard scale only provides one reading.

Keep in mind that your actual weight is the number the scale reads first thing in the morning, naked, before eating and drinking, and after using the bathroom.

Your weight will fluctuate throughout the day immediately following your “first thing in the morning weight” as you begin to eat, have a few sips of something to drink, move your body, or even move your bowels again.

Is that an accurate indication of weight gain resulting from putting on body fat?

Not always.

Here’s why…

Three major factors that lead to fluctuations in weight.

  1. Hydration Matters

    The scale will indicate weight gain or increase when you are adequately hydrated versus showing a weight loss when you are dehydrated. Remember, if you’ve had quite a bit of sodium throughout the day, you may hold on to water. If you are “pushing” water all day to improve your hydration and find yourself in the bathroom hourly, you could be more on the side of being “dehydrated,” though only due to being in the bathroom more often.

  2. Exercise Habits

    Retaining water due to muscle soreness or following an intense workout often leads to the scale going up. If you weigh in immediately following a workout and see the number decrease, you most likely see a loss of water weight from sweat and haven’t had enough fluids to drink to replenish the water that was lost from a sweaty workout.  

  3. Eating Schedule

    If you’ve had a fairly large meal the night before, and your body is still digesting some of that food throughout the night, you may see the scale go up simply for that reason. The scale can reflect the weight of the food you’ve eaten that is still being digested or waiting to be excreted. 

Those are three of the biggest factors, but if you’re looking for more knowledge about weight fluctuation, I’d highly recommend reading this blog post from Healthline.

What the scale doesn’t determine…

The scale does not determine your self-worth or your value. It doesn’t determine your strengths or your contributions to the world. It shouldn’t dictate if you are deserving of more rest or if you are deserving of proper nourishment.

Don’t ignore your body’s biofeedback just because the scale has gone up or down!

Although the scale can be used as a helpful tool to know when to tweak your routine, this is only accomplished when you look at the bigger picture rather than changing your plan day to day according to your weight.

If your weight is trending in a particular direction after a few weeks or a month, it may be time to consider changing your habits and behaviors outside of nutrition or exercise. Maybe you need to add more stress-reducing activities or self-care, or perhaps you need to prioritize rest over pushing harder in the gym. 

Sometimes it’s best to take a break from the scale.

If you find your moods changing depending on what the scale says, it may be time to take a break from weighing altogether and use that time to listen to your body instead.

The scale will always be there, and you can bring it back when you are ready to look at it as an objective observer who appreciates data more mindfully!

More about the author:

Stacey Frattinger is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Integrative Health Coach, Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and a Nationally Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach