Fat Loss: Why The Scale Isn’t the Best Measure of Progress

When it comes to determining fat loss results, the scale doesn't tell the whole story. Learn the shortcomings of scale weighing and better alternatives.

You’re working hard on your diet and hitting the gym regularly. You’re excited about the results you’re about to receive. But when it comes to actually tracking those results, what do you do?

If you’re like many, the first thing you do is step on the scale. While there’s nothing wrong with using the scale, you need to understand a few things about it.

So many women think that the scale is what best determines their progress, but this is completely incorrect. In fact, using the scale may only hinder your results because it can cause you to give up in frustration.

How many times have you stepped on the scale, not liked what you saw, and nearly vowed to just give up entirely?

Too many to count?

You aren’t alone.

While there is a time and a place for the scale, it really isn’t the best judge of your progress so it’s important that if you do choose to use it, you keep some other factors in mind.

Let me explain this concept in more detail so you don’t find yourself quite so hung up on it.

What The Scale Measures

First, let’s talk about what the scale is measuring. This one seems simple: the scale is measuring your body weight.

Period. It’s measuring how much total mass you possess on earth. What the scale is NOT measuring is how much fat you have or how much muscle you maintain.

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And that’s a big problem. Many women, when first starting a workout program, will actually gain muscle and lose fat. While they are not converting fat into muscle (as that’s something that is not physiologically possible), they are changing their body composition while staying the same weight or even gaining weight. If you are able to build more muscle than you lose fat, you may see the number on the scale go up.

Many will think they have gone horribly wrong, when in fact, this is actually a very good thing. Building more lean muscle mass as a woman is great because it helps give you curves and shape in all the right places, and also helps provide you with sufficient strength to carry out day to day activities.

Weight Training for Women

Those with more muscle will not feel as fatigued by day to day activities and as such, may find they move more during the day, burning more calories and seeing greater fat loss as a result of it.

Strong is sexy – it’s a fact you’ll want to keep in mind. So when you see the scale go up, if you’ve been working hard on your strength training program and eating well, you should actually celebrate, not berate yourself.

It means you’re making excellent progress. Too many women get so frustrated though if they as much as gain one pound, which shows they don’t really understand what the scale is telling them.

Factors Impacting The Scale

Another thing to know and remember is that many factors impact your scale weight. In fact, did you know that if you do an extra hard workout one day, you may actually be heavier on the scale the next?

That’s right. The reason for this is inflammation caused by microtears.

It’s totally normal after an intense leg workout, for instance, to notice less muscle definition in your legs and be a pound or two heavier. This is just because your body is working hard at recovery and things are a bit ‘puffy’ now. This is due to the body retaining more fluids to heal this microtrauma. Give it a couple of days and you’ll be back to your normal leaner, defined self. The scale will also return back to where it was.

It’s important you don’t let this temporary blip in the radar scare you.

Likewise, your time of the month will most definitely impact the scale. There are certain points during the 28 day cycle you will see your body weight shoot up by a few pounds. Usually, you can feel this too because you are more bloated.

I recommend that you track your progress according to your weekly schedule. For instance, if you weigh 130 pounds on the week right after your period, to see true progress, you need to compare this to the same week the following month. Don’t compare it to the week prior to your period because you will probably retain some extra water weight so it won’t be an accurate measure of progression.

In the same nature, certain foods can also cause this to occur. If you eat a very salty meal, prepare for some extra water weight to show up on the scale. Or, if you have been low carb dieting and indulge in a huge plate of pasta for your cheat meal, you will without a doubt gain a few pounds because all those carbs will bring with them some added water that now contributes to your body weight.

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If you wait a day or two, this weight gain will be gone. Many women freak out after a cheat meal because they see the scale go up and think they’ve gained weight back but this really isn’t the case.

There’s one more reason you may experience a little weight gain, especially if you’re new to strength training. As you work out, your body will store more water and nutrients, such as glycogen. This is so that you have fuel for your workouts.

But because glycogen (the stored form for sugar within the muscles) binds with water, this can cause a bit of weight gain through water retention. As you continue to work out, you’ll see the body rebalance itself and the water retention will decrease.

Other things that can impact your scale weight include stress and lack of sleep. Did you know that if you don’t sleep enough at night, your body may cling onto weight more than if you did?

It’s true. These are all factors that must be remembered each morning when you step on the scale.

Alternative Measurements to a Scale

Alternatives To Use

So if you ditch the scale, what should you use? Better measurements of progress are how your clothes fit, how your body looks, and your body measurements. These tell a more complete story.

When you look at how your body looks, for instance, you can tell if you are looking more defined. Are you seeing more muscle definition than before? If so, chances are good, you’ve lost body fat.

Likewise, if your pants are fitting looser in the waist, that’s a good sign as well. Muscle takes up less room than fat mass does, so it’s very possible to build muscle, lose fat, and have your clothes fit looser, despite the scale staying the same or going up.

When you use these factors, either in conjunction with the scale or without it, you will see for yourself the real truth. The scale is helpful only when these other factors are taken into account.

Using The Scale Wisely

Finally, if you are going to use the scale, it’s important that you do so wisely. This means that you don’t take the number on a single day to be the sole determinant of your progress. Instead, you look at weekly averages. What is the trend that’s taking place?

Weight loss doesn’t happen in a 24 hour period. Just like your body doesn’t magically ‘reset’ at midnight and you’re back to square one with your calorie deficit.

Averages are always what you want to look at and while doing so, it’s also important to keep the big picture in mind. As mentioned above, compare averages across a week and make sure you compare the average of the same week of your cycle to the same week the following month.

Take regular measurements, progress photos, and pay attention to how your clothes fit. The scale should be used only after one or more of these other forms of measurements are taken.

If you can do both of these things, you should not be hindered by scale misconceptions that detract from the progress you see.