All you need to know about Scale weight
Updated: Oct 16, 2021
Anybody who has dieted before has experienced what it feels like when despite all their efforts, the scale weight seems to be climbing up. This is not only discouraging but also perplexing.
In this article, I want to dive into the reasons why your scale weight fluctuates, how we can tell if what we’re seeing is really a change in body mass (muscle and fat), and a better way to approach the scale.
To fully grasp this and treat scale weight for what it really is- a measure of your body mass, we need to first understand the make-up of the body.
Your body is made up of Lean body mass and fat mass. Lean body mass consists of not just muscles, as most people would think, but it also includes your organs, connective tissues, bones, skin, hair, the list goes on, basically everything that is not fat. While Fat mass is a measure of how much adipose tissue you carry on your body. Up to 60% of your body is also made up of water. Your brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.
What people really want
Usually, when people approach that damned bathroom scale of theirs, they are hoping to see the number drop, but a drop in the scale weight does not necessarily mean you have lost fat. So to reframe this, what people really want, is to have more muscle mass and less body fat.
It’s also important to realize that it is far easier to lose fat than it is to gain muscle, which means even if you do manage to lose fat, if you didn’t take the time to build muscle beforehand, you would just look skinny, not lean. Building muscle takes hard work in the gym, specifically hypertrophy training. We can’t just expect to cut all our belly fat and have a 6 pack showing if you didn’t have a 6 pack underneath the fats, to begin with! We have to put in the work to build muscle.
Tracking body changes
When it comes to tracking changes in our body composition, I highly recommend using MULTIPLE measures.
Firstly, I like to get clients to weigh themselves daily, at the same time in the morning, using the same weighing scale, at the exact same place on the exact same floor in the bathroom, after they poop and pee before they have anything to eat, completely naked.
With the understanding that 1-2% differences in weight from day to day are completely NORMAL, I will look at the weekly AVERAGES which tell a clearer story about body mass changes, rather than simply water weight fluctuations. We want to be looking at TRENDS, not singular data points. Also note that sometimes weekly changes can still be skewed by water or gut content, but this would be far less than daily changes, allowing us to make a more informed decision when it comes to changing the client's nutritional plan.
Another reason why I always get clients to weigh in DAILY is this, imagine two weeks where your weight was as follows:
Week 1: 60.7, 60.4, 59.9, 60.3, 59.6, 60.5, 60.4 (Average: 60.25)
Week 2: 60.1, 60.1, 60, 60.2, 60.2, 60.9, 60.2 (Average: 60.24)
If you had taken your weight daily and were looking at the weekly averages, you would notice the average was trending down slightly, but if you had only weighed in on the days in bold, you would think that your weight was up 1.3kg when it fact it is almost the same, if not less!
Secondly, body measurements. These are an easy way to measure body circumference around various parts of your body and notice changes that we would otherwise not be able to pick up if we were just looking at weight. While you were busy fixating on that stubborn belly fat, you failed to notice that your thighs were trimming up!
Thirdly, pictures. Pictures are by far one of my favorite ways to track changes because it tells a more complete story, alongside the rest of the measures of course. A lot of times clients beat themselves up when they look at the scale, but when I point them to their progress photos they are able to behold the changes, notice greater definition in their bodies which was what they were after, to begin with!
Fourthly, performance in the gym. This is huge, especially for those of us who not just want lower body fat, but also want to put on muscle mass and gain strength. Are you feeling stronger? Are the weights on your benchmark lifts increasing? Is your form improving? Have you been setting PR’s? If so, all of these point to the fact that you are building muscle!
I want to drive home the point that there are and should be multiple ways of assessing progress, and I haven’t even gone into things like monitoring biofeedback which is definitely something that gets looked at during coaching. It is important that we view all these things holistically, not just the scale weight in a silo or worse on a pedestal. We also want to ensure that clients are adhering to their protocols BEFORE making any manipulations to nutrition. We don’t want to make changes based on incorrect input. You know the age-old, rubbish in rubbish out.
The Scale as a tool
Last but not least, a scale is merely a tool. The number on it doesn’t reflect anything about you other than how much you weigh. It is not a measure of your self-worth, and when viewed alone, it's definitely not an indicator of progress either. We need to treat it as what it really is, a tool, that’s all. Nothing less, nothing more.