Motivation Articles

7 Times the Scale is Lying to You

Knowing When to Ignore the Scale

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

  • Yeah as a guy I don't have as many excuses for it but I STILL hate the scale I have to get weighed prior to donating every Tuesday I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT. - 3/13/2015 9:41:42 PM
  • I'm a little concerned about the writer's take on women's bodies. We are not going to be seeing huge differences in our weight when we ovulate or when we are going through PMS. Don't say not to weigh when we're going through any of the phases of the menstrual cycle, because duh. We are women, and if we are in our childbearing years, we are always in some phase of the menstrual cycle. So don't tell me not to step on the scale until after menopause, because I am not hearing it! Nor do I need to stick a thermometer up my vagina every little bit to see if I'm ovulating or not. I would prefer to read more gender neutral articles, especially considering no one at SparkPeople is an expert in women's bodies. Unless you are a doctor, and you've gone through all of that training, you have no right to be telling people not to weigh themselves. Because you know what? When you see your doctor, what is the first thing you are asked to do? Yes, you know it. Get on the scale! - 2/27/2015 7:32:50 PM
  • TinaJane76, my sentiments exactly. What needs to be tempered is the response to the INFORMATION our scales are delivering and to put it into context. I weigh myself daily but I only record my weight on the tracker weekly. This helps me to later have an average reading over time while keeping me informed of the daily fluctuations that are normal. - 2/27/2015 1:23:16 PM
  • TinaJane76's comment below is PERFECT. If you weigh only weekly or monthly, how will you know if the number you see is real data or one of those weird fluctuations?

    If seeing the number on the scale messes with our mind, it's our attitude that needs adjustment. If our mood is severely affected by any number in our lives (waist size, pants size, checkbook balance), or even thoughtless comments by others, it's our reaction to those things that we must work on.

    Avoiding the scale to avoid bad news isn't very different from avoiding blood pressure readings for the same reason. - 2/27/2015 11:01:05 AM
  • Although I think this article makes valid points to be taken into consideration before stepping on the scale, I'm concerned about the message the title in particular sends to people. The scale is neither friend nor foe, it's simply a tool that provides information--and it's up to us to decide how rationally or irrationally we want to use that information. I think that, if you're mindful of the many fluctuations that are possible, weighing daily is very useful for people who struggle with managing their weight. Many of the long-term maintainers I know here through the At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance team are daily weighers. Some use that information to guide them on their eating and/or fitness plans on a daily basis and others use it as part of mapping an overall trend, which is more difficult to gauge if you're only weighing yourself once or twice a month on days which could be artificially high or low for the very reasons listed in this article. I think weighing daily also raises your awareness of your body's natural ups and downs, which can actually DECREASE your emotional response. As I was losing weight, for example, I knew there would be a few days a month where my weight would go up no matter how virtuous I was being due to hormonal fluctuations and that I would drop several pounds overnight once things normalized for reasons that had nothing to do with how I was eating or exercising. I also know that my body holds onto every morsel of a big meal and it's not unusual for me to see up to a five-pound gain the day after--not a problem for me to see anymore, but I know that if those extra pounds are still there a week later, I need to make some changes. It's so very easy for those of us with weight management issues to become avoidant when it comes to the scale and that's why I think daily weigh-ins, tempered with an awareness of what can cause dips and spikes and an eye towards longer-term trends, can really helps us keep our heads in what can be a very challenging game. - 1/21/2015 2:45:23 AM
  • I guess I should print this article and stick it everywhere in my flat... I tend to get a bit obsessive, weigh myself many times a day and get puzzled (to say the least) by the 'strange changes' you mentioned. I should learn to consider averaging among fluctuations and definitely, weigh myself less often! - 1/20/2015 12:55:10 PM
  • I can definitely relate to and agree with #7 which is why I don't weigh myself during that time - 1/20/2015 9:17:22 AM
  • As a couple others have said, I find it helpful to weigh every day. What if the one day in 2 weeks I'm weighing myself is on an "uptick" due to my menstrual cycle or just a lot of salt the day before? I'd rather see the numbers on the scale daily. I don't expect them to go DOWN daily, but seeing them is reassuring and also indicates to me how my body works.
    I don't let it discourage me if I'm up one day, unless I go up for a few days in a row, then I need to check my tracker and see what I'm eating (or not eating) that's causing it!
    If I weighed myself every 2 weeks, and I only saw for example .5 - 1 lb of weight loss, I would be tremendously discouraged indeed!! - 1/20/2015 7:42:51 AM
    I think it's time to buy a scale and weigh 1X week - I always go by how my pants fit! - 1/20/2015 7:37:55 AM
    I think it's time to buy a scale and weigh 1X week - I always go by how my pants fit! - 1/20/2015 7:37:10 AM
  • I'm on the scale at least twice a day. I measure all my progress by the scale. - 11/26/2014 10:21:01 AM
  • 8 morning post hard workout. Sore muscles make me heavier.
    I measure daily but don't believe ANY reading until I see the 3 day trend. - 11/25/2014 9:39:55 AM
  • The key for me is to understand "fluctuate" which means up AND down. If it only goes up, I need an honest look at what I'm doing, The only way for me to stay in my goal range is to weigh in every morning. Avoiding the scale is how I gained the weight in the first place. - 9/30/2014 6:54:02 AM
  • I use the scale at the gym and tried cutting it down to once every other week... just to give myself a little more time to see progress - still leaves me depressed! Thanks for the article! - 9/29/2014 9:51:09 AM
  • I am having the opposite problem. I am losing weight , but not inches. I have lost 10 lbs and zero inches in the last two months? - 8/10/2014 7:47:14 PM

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