Health & Wellness Articles

Take the Stress Out of Weighing In

Regain Your Power Over the Scale

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Does seeing the wrong number on the scale make you crazy? Many people find that a “bad” weigh-in ruins their mood and saps their motivation, making it difficult to keep doing what they know they need to do.

Things don’t need to be this way. You can learn to use the scale as a helpful tool, instead of giving it the power to dictate your feelings and your actions.

Many experts and experienced dieters will tell you that the only realistic way to take the stress out of your weigh-ins is to skip them altogether—or at least keep them to a bare minimum. After all, there are many other ways to measure your progress towards your health and fitness goals, especially since weight loss is rarely predictable or orderly.

Although we talk about weight loss in terms of numbers—calories in versus calories out—your body is not a calculator and it doesn't operate like a checking account. A number of things (like fluctuations in water weight, increased muscle mass, and your body’s anti-starvation mechanism) can and regularly do conspire to make the number on the scale the least reliable measure of weight loss success. And if you’re the type of person who needs to see that number coming down on a regular basis in order to avoid frustration, despair and panic, frequent weigh-ins may be exactly what you shouldn’t do.

But let’s face it. Expecting yourself not to weigh-in frequently is like expecting yourself not to scratch when you’ve got an itch. For many of us, it’s just not in the cards. And besides, there are some good reasons to track your weight frequently. Since most of us don’t exactly match the “average” person used in all the formulas for predicting energy expenditure, you may need a little experimentation to find the right combination of calories and exercise that will work for you. Watching the scale as you experiment can be an important part of that process.

So, maybe the real issue here is how you can have your cake and eat it, too. Here are three things you can do to make sure your love-hate relationship with the scale doesn’t cross over the line and become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

3 Ways to Take the Stress Out of Your Weigh-Ins
  1. Be clear with yourself about what that number on the scale really means. That number on the scale only tells you how much you weigh at that moment. It tells you absolutely nothing about what kind of person you are; what life has in store for you; whether or not you’ll ever look the way you want to look or feel the way you want to feel; or how other people see or think about you. If you experience thoughts or feelings like these just because you see an unwelcome number on the scale, then your expectations about what weight loss can do for you need a major overhaul. You may want to take the Is Weight Loss Stressing You Out? quiz to see if you need to do some work on that front—before you paint yourself into a corner you can’t get out of.
     
  2. Remind yourself that you are choosing to use the scale as a weight loss tool. It is NOT your judge, jury and executioner. It’s probably a good idea to post this reminder where you will see it each time you step on the scale. It can help to include a short list of the most important reasons why you are trying to lose weight in the first place, and some of the ways you can measure your progress towards those goals (besides the scale).
     
  3. Use the number on the scale to actually help your program work for you. If you’re going to use the scale as a tool, you might as well do it right. Try keeping a journal (or better yet a computer spreadsheet) where you track your weigh-ins (daily, weekly or monthly), your total calories eaten during that time period (from your Nutrition Tracker) and your calories burned through exercise (from your Exercise Tracker). Once a month, add the numbers up and see if things are going the way they “should” be. Figure out your total calorie deficit for the month, and see if your weight actually behaved according to the "3500-calorie deficit equals one pound lost" formula. If it didn’t, then try to figure out why, using a method like this:
    • First, go back to basics. About 90% of the “mysterious” differences between what should happen and what does happen can be traced to underestimating calorie intake and/or overestimating calories burned. For the next few weeks, double check yourself on your calorie counting, portion estimating, etc., and make sure you’re not leaving anything out of your nutrition tracking.
       
    • If that doesn’t solve the problem, figure that there may be something wrong with the estimates you are getting for your exercise calorie burning and/or your non-exercise calorie burning (your basal metabolic rate—BMR). Consider investing a little money in a heart rate monitor with a calorie estimating feature to wear during exercise, and/or having your BMR tested at a local gym with a device called the BodyGem (costs about $50). Use this info to adjust your calorie intake and/or your exercise, and see how this new plan works for the next month.
       
    • If all else fails, talk to a dietitian or your doctor to rule out any unusual metabolic problems, or medical issues. But again, 9 times out of 10, it's most likely a simple problem with getting the right numbers.
Above all, keep in mind that it is NOT a lower number on the scale that makes all the work you are putting into your weight loss efforts worthwhile. What makes it worthwhile is the increased happiness and other benefits that come with doing the best you can to eat a healthy diet, being as fit and active as you can, and doing all the other things that make you feel good about yourself. These benefits depend much more on your attitude and the quality of your efforts than on any number you see on a scale.

Shifting your focus from the scale to the quality and consequences of your own attitudes, perspectives, and efforts is the first step in moving from a “diet mentality” (which doesn’t work) to a “lifestyle change” (which can get you where you want to go). You can read more about these issues in the following articles:

Stop Dieting and Start Living!
Dieting with a Positive Twist
6 Weight Loss Mistakes to Avoid

This article is Step 2 in SparkPeople's Mind Over Body series, a 10-step program to ending emotional eating and creating a permanent healthy lifestyle. View the full series here or continue to the next step.

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Member Comments

  • The numbers on a scale go up or down for a reason, and most of the time we know what that reason is--that's what stresses us out--knowing that we did this to ourselves, and that's why we track everything that goes into our mouths--to make sure we are being honest with ourselves, and to make sure something else isn't going on with our weight issues.
  • Research has shown that those who weigh often, even daily, have more success than those who weigh less frequently. I chalk this up to the improvements in digital scale technology which allow very precise measurements with a high degree of accuracy. Weighing daily allows one to plot far more points on the trend line, and see progress even where weekly weigh-ins might miss it.
    I feel my daily weigh-ins have been a huge part of my success, keeping me accountable. It's much easier to maintain a good habit for 24 hours than for 7 to 14 days. Each day that I weigh in I reaffirm my commitment to succeed.
  • I've found that weighing myself before I drink anything first thing in the morning in the same "outfit" shows me where I'm trending.

    If my weight goes up, I feel a little disappointed at first. I can see that I'm retaining water - maybe I had more salt than usual or was dehydrated.

    I feel a bit of a rush when the scale shows a drop in weight. But then once I record it, it becomes like the higher weigh-ins. A data point.

    Some may find daily weigh-ins too much. We each have to be mindful of our own responses. What works for me, might not work for others. I find that I feel overwhelmed the first week of daily weigh ins. Then I notice I'm less overwhelmed by it. It becomes a data point, like my pants feeling loose or my bra feeling tight.

    My childhood best friend would get so angry weighing in that she broke every scale she ever purchased. She finally stopped buying them. Other measures worked better for her.

    The scale doesn't tell me who I am. I'm more than my weight.
  • I would love to have a weight-loss spreadsheet, as mentioned, but I hate the idea of setting one up. Gonna find it. Gonna find it.
  • This is such a sensible article and expresses my feeling exactly. I weigh every morning. I never get upset by daily fluctuations. I expect them. But if the trend is up, up, up, I've got to reevaluate what I'm doing.
    Avoiding the scale is how I gained weight in the first place.
    Keeping an eye on it daily is how I've maintained for over 4 years.
  • PATRICKSNEED
    Hi,

    New to spark. How do you weigh in and get a chart of your weight in?

    Thanks,

    jr
  • I don't like the scale. I just like for my doctor to tell me where I am.
  • JKFROMTHEBLOCK
    I can sympathize with you! I remember that my body isn't a machine and even if I'm doing all the right things it takes time to catch up some weeks, or I am just weighing in at a bad time. I weigh in on Monday mornings and if the # doesn't look right based on what I've been doing I weigh in again Tuesday morning and take that # instead. Sometimes I've eaten a large meal the night before (within my cal count) or had a salty meal, etc. Otherwise, if the # is going up I may need to change something and review my behaviors. Overall, if my intake is less than my output I know the scale will cooperate eventually. That # is feedback, telling us something about what our body is doing...it's not a verdict.

    Be patient but persistent!
  • Great article and I especially appreciate the perspective that the number on the scale only means that is what you weigh at that moment. So often I've attached so many other things to that number when really, it is exactly as the article says: what my body weighs at that moment. Cool!
  • All this estimating portions is such non-sense, sorry to say that. Come on folks, if you are serious about your weight loss, stop estimating and do measure. A kitchen scale costs less than $20 and it tells the ultimate truth! Never seen a person who reached and maintained any significant weight loss with these "estimates".
    Exercise is a benefit, not a method to lose weight (unless you are a pro-athlete, you can't out-train your diet); being conservative and excluding it from the energy balance may be a good idea.
  • a great inspiratonal and helpful tool,to help you along this journey,
  • 2012BELLE
  • So true. Scale is not the final judge of whether the healthier eating is working.
  • While the number on the scale may not be the whole picture, how my body actually looks can vary with even a couple of pounds, I am not even 5'1" and have very small bones. I have SO SO SO much stress in my life - a good body would be my only source of joy (or whatever seems like joy. I really don't remember it.)
  • This has been me. I always get so upset when the scale shows Ive gained. I rarely looked at a scale at all for a few years, but that just enabled me to gain weight. I need a healthy relationship with the scales. I need to get over my thinking that the scale is the end all source of success.

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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