Do you weigh yourself daily for weight loss? You may be making some classic weight loss mistakes. We dive into the research to determined how water retention, hormones, diet and other scale tipping factors play into your daily weight.
In an increasingly wired world, we have become obsessed with the need for self-knowledge, especially when it comes to our personal health. But even as technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, there is one practice that remains decidedly basic, the original self-metric- weighing ourselves.
When you weigh yourself, the number on the scale often becomes a statement of self-worth- a badge of honour for some, and a symbol of self-loathing for others. Even with a greater understanding of whole-body health, with a strong focus on fitness and nutrition, how much weight we give our weight remains a point of contention.
So the question remains: Should you weigh yourself daily?
Let’s get one thing straight first and foremost. Weight alone is not an indicator of health and fitness. A single number does not reflect your body composition: how much lean muscle you have or how much fat you have. It doesn’t reflect your new squat max (and how good your booty looks in those jeans), or how many seconds you crushed off your 5K this morning. It doesn’t reflect how many flights of stairs you can carry five bags of groceries with a kid on your back. It also definitely does not reflect your self worth.
Muscle Causes Weight Gain
A better indicator of health than just weight alone is body composition. The amount of lean muscle mass compared to the amount of body fat you have, and how it is distributed, is a much better predictor of your health status. Increasing your lean muscle mass, while also reducing the amount of fat in your body (especially around your mid-section) has a number of well-studied benefits: better weight maintenance due to more calories burned to maintain muscle, increased strength, and less risk of injury. Just remember, gaining muscle is going to show on the scale too, as muscle weighs more than fat mass.
Another measurement you may of heard of is BMI or Body Mass Index. BMI compares your weight to your height, and then categorizes that value between underweight and severely obese. Even this method for predicting health can be misleading, as only overall weight is considered, and not lean muscle mass. Based on BMI many athletes are deemed to be ‘obese’, despite being the picture of health. If that doesn’t convince you not to weigh yourself daily, keep reading on.
Water Causes Weight Gain
Despite what most fitness magazines will tell you, your body composition doesn’t change overnight. So no, that decadent dinner (with the drinks and dessert) doesn’t immediately convert itself to fat on your thighs. Repeat with me: fat loss and fluid loss are not the same. It turns out your weight fluctuates over the period of a day which is why we don’t recommend you weigh yourself daily. Your eating habits, exercise regime, fluid intake, bathroom regimen, hormone balance and medication list will influence how your body retains fluid. Let’s look at how all of these factors influence the number on the scale.
Carbohydrate intake can have a two-fold effect on water retention which you would see if you weighed yourself daily. Carbs are stored in our muscles as a special form called glycogen, where for every 1g of glycogen you store 2-3g of water along with it- weight you will definitely see on the scale. The reverse of this is common with low carb diets. As your body uses up all the carbohydrate reserves in your muscles, all the water bound along with it is also released. Voila, quick weigh loss overnight! But is that weight loss fat loss? Nope- you have to work for that.
When you eat a meal high in salt (sodium), the sodium in your blood temporarily increases too. Water is pulled into your blood from your cells to balance the excess salt, and your cells become slightly dehydrated. Now that you’re thirsty, any water you drink will be retained to help reestablish a normal blood balance. You may see physical symptoms, like swollen hands and feet, and bloating. And you will definitely see a difference on the scale if you weigh yourself daily.
Ever wonder why lots of people love to weight themselves right after a workout? As you sweat, you’re losing lots of fluids through sweat. But the minute your start to rehydrate yourself, you’ll see that number jump back up if you weigh yourself daily.
How hydrated you stay during the day will also reflect the number on the scale. If you are quickly increasing the amount of fluids you are consuming, it may take your kidneys a little while to catch up and you may see a temporarily higher number on the scale if you weigh yourself daily. After time, however, your kidneys will adjust and you will just start peeing more often to accommodate the excess water.
Estrogen levels during your menstrual cycle may elevate fluid retention in some women. Have you every weighed yourself the day during and after your period and seen a huge discrepancy. Unless you ate more than 3500 calories more than you usually would, those numbers are reflecting water retention- not fat.
Certain medications (Oral contraceptives, some NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, and ibuprofen, as well as beta-blockers) may cause water retention that you will see if you weigh yourself daily. NEVER stop taking any medications without speaking to your doctor, but if it’s bothering you, ask if there’s a less bloating alternative.
Other Reasons You Gained Weight Fast
If you haven’t been able to poop in a while, it will definitely show up on the scale. Depending on how long has been, you could be carrying a couple pounds of extra weight (I know, that’s kind of gross). Not to mention, pooping will help with the bloated feeling you may be having, so for your jean’s sake people, get some fibre into your diet!
What you weigh yourself in can also impact the number on the scale. Wearing heavy layers and thicker fabrics, or chunky accessories will add extra pounds that just aren’t there. If you are going to weigh yourself, make it a habit of weighing yourself in the same clothing (or none at all).
So to answer the question “Should you weigh yourself daily?” you need to ask yourself a few more questions.
“Why am I weighing myself?”
Despite the numerical accuracy and inconsistency of weighing yourself on a bathroom scale, the practice itself has been proven effective as a weight loss aid. For those trying to lose weight or maintain weight-loss, keeping an eye on the scale can provide motivation and accountability. However, that same motivation and accountability can develop into obsession and self-punishment when combined with strict and impractical goals.
“How often am I weighing myself?”
Remember, your weight can fluctuate daily. It’s likely what your weight in the morning will be different than how much you weigh in the afternoon due to that water retention we discussed. Weighing yourself day to day will not reflect any changes in your actual body composition which ultimately more important than absolute weight. If you absolutely NEED to keep daily tabs in order to stay on track, it’s better to use a weekly average than to punish yourself over day to day changes.
“How does the number influence my behaviour?”
This question is probably the most important. What kind of emotional response do you have to the number on the scale when you weigh yourself daily? If the number is higher than expected, are you likely to become upset? Will you punish yourself and restrict your food intake in response? Will you reward and over-indulge as a reward for your weight loss? If the potential outcome is unhealthy and upsetting, it’s not a helpful practice. Remember that emotional health is just as important as physical health to overall well-being, and isn’t that the ultimate goal anyway?
An Alternative to Weighing Yourself Daily
If you need a bit of reassurance that you’re on track with your health goals, try the following alternatives you weighing yourself daily.
- Tune into Your Body. Ask yourself how you feel after you eat. Are you satisfied or full? Are you still hungry and irritable? Does food give you energy to move and go about your daily activities or does it make you more tired? Ideally, your eating routine should leave you satisfied (not stuffed and never hungry), enjoying foods and with enough energy to get through your day.
- Examine Your Strength. As mentioned, weight gain is often a result of muscle gain and since muscle weighs more than fat, the number you see on the scale may be from a boost in strength. Without needing to invest in expensive body fat composition tests, reflect on your strength changes. Is the 20 lb chest press suddenly feeling easier or harder? Are you more tired after your usual set of 15 reps or could you push out an extra 5?
Do you weigh yourself daily? What alternatives to weighing yourself have you found help you stay on track with your health without getting yourself into a cycle of guilt? Leave us a comment below with your top hacks!
Contribution by RD2B Kourtney Gordon
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian, an avid food writer and blogger, a cookbook author and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc.