Scale Weight & The Meaning of Progress
How many times have you felt good about yourself and the progress you’re making until you step on the scales and see a number you weren’t expecting?
You’re working hard to dial in your nutrition, smash your training each and every day and how does your body respond? By doing the complete opposite of what you were hoping for...What the hell!
This has happened countless times to me and the clients I work with. In fact, I would hedge a bet that anyone who has ever attempted to achieve body composition changes has experienced this on numerous occasions.
There are two important lessons to be learned:
Fluctuations in scale weight are normal. The problem isn’t the scale weight but rather:
a) Our interpretation of it.
b) Our reaction to it.
Changes in scale weight are not the end goal. They are a byproduct of you engaging in a course of action that will bring you to your goal. There is a difference.
Let’s unpack this further.
The scales are not a direct measure of body fat levels.
When you step on the scale, it is measuring your bodyweight, from your head to your toes and everything in-between. There are many things that make up your body composition - you are not just a lump of fat! A large component of this is total body water.
Total body water accounts for about 60% of body weight in men and 50–55% in women and total body water volume can fluctuate up to 75% daily in healthy individuals .
There are many factors that can affect water balance and cause the scale to fluctuate:
Volume of food consumed/timing of meals
Type of food consumed
The scale may go up and down on a daily basis and this has nothing to do with body fat gain or loss. We covered many of the reasons behind weight fluctuations in a YouTube video which you can find HERE.
This is why at Flex we ask our clients to weigh in each morning, after going to the bathroom and before eating, every day. We then take an average and track the trend over time.
A single measurement tells us absolutely nothing about what is going on.
Even monitoring trends over time is a rough guide at best. It certainly doesn’t warrant the gravity of the reactions that we respond with.
So why bother weighing ourselves at all?
Well, as humans, not only are we impatient but we also like to see signs that things are moving in the right direction. The scales aren’t a great measure of body fat but when combined with photos and measurements, they give us some indication of what is going on. The alternative would be to get regular DEXA scans, and even those have a margin of error.
Daily self-weighing has also been shown many times to be an effective monitoring and accountability tool that facilitates fat loss .
Having said that, it’s important to remember that the scales aren’t the only measure of progress. Sure if the goal is fat loss, the number will go down over time but this will probably be far slower than you’d like. Not to mention that the leaner you get, the smaller the changes will be.
How Do I Know If I’m Progressing?
Think about what your goal really is.
Unless you are trying to reach a specific weight class for your sport, the sole focus of your goal is not to weigh less.
The goal is likely to involve losing fat and feeling better, whether that’s physically or mentally. It’s to perform well, become educated, gain control over your food intake and feel confident about yourself and your abilities.
And if all of these things are happening, who cares what the scale says?
It can be easy to get hung up on the damn number but it shouldn’t be your primary focus. It’s something that you only have partial control over.
Yet you have full control over the actions you take on a daily basis and as a result, these actions should be what you dedicate most of your attention to.
Focus on the daily wins and the other small signs of progress.
Were your meals on point today? How did your training go? Are you progressing? How are you feeling - better? More confident? Has your sleep improved? Are you more organised and on top of things? Do you have more energy?
Take note of all of these things as they are true signs of progress. Scale weight loss is just a side effect. Direct your attention to the things that really matter.
Scale weight is not a determinant of progress. It’s simply one of many byproducts.
Diet Smart Not Hard
 Askew EW. Water. In: Ziegler EE, Filer LJ (eds), Present Knowledge in Nutrition. International Life Sciences Institute: Washington, DC; 1996. pp 98–107.