Stop! Don’t give in to the impulse to throw your scale out the window!
We’ve all been there. You work hard to avoid unhealthy (and some of your favorite) foods, you’ve been killing it at the gym, and then you step on the scale. Much to your amazement, the stupid thing hasn’t moved a bit.
And this is often the point where many people throw up their hands and quit.
Before you give up and trash the scale, there’s something you need to know – your weight doesn’t tell you everything. There are many different reasons your weight may not be changing. Turns out, your scale isn’t telling the whole story.
1. Fat or muscle?
All pounds aren’t created equal. Your total body weight doesn’t tell you much about your body composition. In fact, two people can weigh the exact same amount and look completely different when one has more muscle, and the other one has more fat.
A standard scale doesn’t differentiate fat loss from muscle gain.
A pound of fat takes up more space than a pound of muscle. Even if you’re losing fat, if you’re replacing it with muscle, the scale may not be moving. But this doesn’t mean you’re losing ground. Unfortunately, a standard sale doesn’t take your body composition into account.
Research shows that people with higher percentages of body fat have a much higher mortality rate, no matter their weight. This means that even if the scale doesn’t appear to budge if you’re lowering your body fat percentage, you’re doing something great for your body.
If you notice that your weight isn’t changing much, try taking your measurements regularly or pay attention to how your clothes fit. When your building muscle and losing fat, you’ll slim down, even if the numbers on your scale don’t change much. You can also buy a body composition scale that breaks down fat and muscle percentages so you can better gauge your progress.
2. Water might be weighing you down.
Even worse than the scale failing to budge is seeing your weight go up a couple of pounds when you’ve been working hard to lose it.
Don’t panic if your scale suddenly shows a quick gain. There’s a good chance that it’s water retention weighing you down.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, as much as 60% of an adult human body is made up of water, your heart and brain are about 73% water, kidneys and muscles are around 79% water, and the lungs are composed of approximately 83% water.
Sometimes the body actually retains too much water, something that can happen for several reasons. Overconsumption of sodium is one of the most common reasons the body holds onto water. It dehydrates your body and starts making it hold onto any moisture possible, leading to water retention. If the scale isn’t budging or you suddenly gain a couple pounds, it may be a sign you need to reduce your sodium intake.
As hormones fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, many women feel bloated or puffy, particularly during the days leading up to menstruation. Usually, this goes away in a few days. However, some studies show that taking magnesium may reduce water retention related to premenstrual symptoms.
3. It’s Time to Look at Calories In vs. Calories Out
Ultimately, losing weight is a numbers game. One of the significant factors in losing weight is the number of calories you’re taking in versus the amount you’re burning daily. If your weight isn’t changing, it’s possible you’re eating more calories than your burning.
Studies show that most people underestimate their calorie intake significantly. It’s also easy to overestimate how many calories you’re burning.
How do you deal with this problem?
The first step is to figure out how many calories you should consume in a day to lose weight. Try using a calorie calculator to determine this amount. Apps like MyFitnessPal and SparkPeople can also help you come up with your target calorie goals based on your age, weight, lifestyle, and weight loss goals.
Next, start tracking what you’re eating. Keep a food diary, whether you write it down or you track what you’re using with an app like My Food Diary. Stay honest about what you’re eating. Look at how many calories you’re actually consuming. You may be surprised to see how many calories you’re actually taking in every day.
Once you have a better idea of what you’re actually eating, start taking steps to lower your calorie intake, so you meet your target goal. Increasing your activity level can also help you make sure you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in. And that will start making the scale move again.
The Bottom Line…
The Number on the Scale Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story
The scale undoubtedly has some important uses. Studies show that weighing yourself can make it easier to maintain weight loss, and regular weigh-ins may help you eat fewer calories throughout the day.
However, focusing on fat loss is more important than just looking at your weight. As you lose body fat, you’re making healthy, permanent changes to your body composition. And sometimes that takes time to register on a scale.
Remember that your weight is only one way to measure success on your journey toward a healthy body. Other methods to measure your success include:
- Taking your measurements and losing inches
- Using a body composition and losing body fat
- Going by the fit of your clothes – clothes never lie about your progress
While your scale can be a helpful tool on your weight loss journey, the critical thing to remember is that the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story.