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Motivation Articles  ›  Staying Motivated

7 Times the Scale is Lying to You

Knowing When to Ignore the Scale

-- By Erin Whitehead, Health and Fitness Writer
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The scale can be a valuable tool in any weight-loss journey. It can tell you where you started and help you track your progress. It's the tool people use most as a measure of success--or failure.

As useful as the scale can be, don't forget that it's just one tool you can use, not the only tool. It's entirely possible for those numbers not to budge, but you find yourself having to tighten your belt because you've lost inches. Used regularly, the scale can help you check in with yourself and help you catch upward swings in pounds before they become double-digit problems. But used too frequently, the scale can drive you crazy.

If you find yourself weighing in often (multiple times per day or every day of the week) you're not doing yourself any favors. There are certain times when weight fluctuates, and seeing every fluctuation can be disheartening and really mess with your head and your motivation.

Many people find it difficult to give up the scale entirely, which is fine--but there are a few times when the scale isn't doing you any favors. Take the results with a grain of salt in these situations.

7 Times to Ignore the Scale

1.  Right after you've eaten.
You ate a meal and now the scale is up five pounds? What gives? No, you didn't actually gain that body fat from eating a heavy meal. It's more likely that your blood volume has increased due to the quantity of food you've eaten, and the weight of all that food is still sitting in your stomach and digestive system. Likewise, high sodium content can cause you to retain fluid. Chances are you're not going to like what your scale is telling you for a few hours or days, but that doesn't mean the meal you ate caused real, permanent weight gain.

2. During your first few weeks of a new diet or exercise program.
When you first start exercising or eating healthier, it's tempting to start jumping on the scale constantly to see progress. If you do, you may see some pretty significant losses, which can be really motivating! But don't get discouraged when those numbers slow down a few weeks into the new plan.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a rapid weight-loss is normal in the first few weeks of almost any weight-loss program. When calories from food are reduced, the body gets needed energy by releasing its stores of glycogen, a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver. Glycogen holds onto water, so when glycogen is burned for energy, it also releases water, resulting in substantial weight loss that's mostly water (not body fat).
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About The Author

Erin Whitehead Erin Whitehead
is a health and fitness enthusiast who co-founded the popular website and co-wrote The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (available May 2014). Now busier than ever with two kids, she writes about healthy pregnancy and parenting at

Member Comments

  • The day after eating ANY Chinese food - even if it is steamed veggies with chicken in ginger sauce. Also? A day or two after eating Chipotle - even if you've skipped the rice. Anytime you've eaten something super salty it is good to avoid the scale for a day or so because it can really mess with your head. Every time I eat Chinese food I gain two pounds, even if it is from their "light" menu. - 4/8/2014 11:01:15 AM
  • I just learnt my lessons about weighing as a woman. I am sure I want to weigh just once a month now, that should work better for me. - 4/5/2014 7:34:19 AM
  • Another big one that they did not mention his illness. Anything that affects your level of hydration, diarrhea or food or consumption/reten
    tion will affect your weight. Your body will likely bounce back after a few days of normal metabolism. - 2/22/2014 8:54:53 PM
  • The mayo clinic link gave an error. This is where I found the article: http://www.mayocl
    au/ART-20044615 - 1/10/2014 5:19:26 PM
  • MEGAHEARN, I think the scale in the image is showing the weight in KGs. I think that can be the only explanation for having numbers at 140. Thanks for being so observant. I missed the image altogether :) - 11/23/2013 3:06:22 AM
  • My scale lies to me when the batteries are almost spent. Replacing the batteries can be worth a nice four-pound weight loss. - 11/22/2013 7:48:21 AM
  • Helpful article. I weigh myself every day, but record it only once a week. The other days I normally weigh myself in pyjamas and subtract their approximate weight. Helpful tip about not weighing yourself after a journey. I am always amazed how much weight I appear to have lost in the first day or so after my return!! I am getting a lightweight travel scale so. i can monitor my weight when travelling. I put on 3 kilos in 3 weeks on holiday in Germany, though I now seem to have shed about 2 of them in the 2 1/2 weeks since I returned. I also put on 2 inches round my waist and am delighted to have shed an inch. But I find tape measure measurements unreliable. I can measure myself twice at the same time and the measurements differ! - 11/22/2013 2:25:04 AM
  • I love that this article offered suggestions about measuring your weight loss. Everyone has their own way to measure their change. I have only one thing to add - only use one scale to weigh yourself on. There can be big changes if you use your own, the gym's or your doctor' s. - 10/31/2013 5:38:05 PM
  • I find this article silly and its headline misleading.

    First, the scale does not "lie." The scale tells you how much you weigh. If a person thinks body weight is the only measure of health, he or she is deceving himself/herself.

    I weigh myself everyday because that's what works for me. I don't view any one day's weight in isolation: I view it as a rolling average (just like stock prices). If my weight is lower than the day before but my body fat percentage is higher, I know I'm actually a little dehydrated. If it's up, but my body fat percentage is lower, I'm okay with that because I'm properly hydrated. If I ate a LOT of food (by either weight or calories), I expect it to be up. That's okay - I'll burn it off.

    I weigh myself everyday because it works for me. If I were to only weigh in once a week, I'd find ways to deceive myself. And then all of sudden, I'd be up five or ten pounds.

    This web site stresses that we're each individuals and we should learn to trust and respect our bodies, and we should do what works for us. And then it undermines that message by publishing articles that contain absolutes. Have a little faith in us and in our intelligence. Telling me I'm doing myself a disservice by following a recommendation from a doctor I trusted shows a lack of respect for my ability to take that one number in stride, just as the rest of the article suggests. - 10/29/2013 3:49:25 PM
  • In my opinion, a tape measure can give you more information than the scale most of the time. Here's a tip...if you weigh in daily and you see a 3-5 pound increase, I can just about guarantee you it is water weight. Remember, a pound of fat is 3500 calories. To gain a pound of fat in a day, you have to eat 3500 calories MORE than you burned the previous, if you're Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) requires 1500 calories to just lay in bed and breathe, and you have a relatively active job, AND you work out, you will probably burn about 2000 calories (give or take...) a day, and perhaps more. So, to gain a pound in a day, you have to eat 5500+ calories in that day to gain a pound. If the scale is up by 3 pounds, that means you would have to have eaten 16,500 calories plus to have gained that weight. Um, probably didn't happen. Water weight can fluctuate 3-5 pounds daily for various reasons. For this reason, be very careful of weighing in can really confuse you for literally no reason. - 10/29/2013 3:15:20 PM
  • Add "Upon return from a trip". Lengthy flights (the low cabin pressure and humidity and long periods of sitting lead to excess bloating) and disruptions in your sleep cycle, diet and exercise routines all contribute. I suggest to wait at least a day before hopping on the scale to get a real idea of the damage caused by your business trip or vacation. - 10/29/2013 12:56:22 PM
    Is there someone to get the recipe?? Or some way to save the video? - 10/29/2013 9:48:21 AM
  • I weigh myself everyday, and I am aware that weight fluctuates, which is why I weigh every day. I feel that a once-a-week weigh-in would not be an accurate reflection of my weight. Daily weigh-ins give me a good average to work on. Having said that, measuring the waistline and/or tracking bodyfat percentage is also a good way to judge improvements to overall health. As mentioned, I would LOVE to tighten my belt in spite of no movement on the scale. It can happen! - 10/29/2013 9:40:25 AM
  • weight only fluctuates by up to 2 pounds during menstruation? i wish. i feel like i gain 3-5 pounds about a week before and it sometimes doesn't come back down until the week after... - 10/29/2013 9:18:52 AM
  • One other time to avoid the scale: the day after eating a Chinese meal! Chinese food is loaded with sodium (soy sauce, etc.), and the salt makes me, at least, hang onto water like crazy. Even a relatively low-calorie Chinese meal can APPEAR to pack on the pounds the next morning! - 10/29/2013 8:18:54 AM