"I believe that scales are like opinions...none are wrong, just different." PEDAL-PUSHER|
It's happened to all of us—that triumphant moment when you weigh yourself at home and see that the scale is finally reflecting all of your hard work. But then at a doctor's appointment a day or two later, you see that an extra five or 10 pounds have snuck into the "official" weigh-in, despite the fact that you haven't strayed from your healthy eating and exercise regimen. In addition to trumping your prior excitement, this unwelcome surprise goes on your permanent medical record, making it tougher to discount than the numbers on your bathroom scale. What gives?
Doctor Scale vs. Home Scale: Consistency is Key
It's not a foregone conclusion that the scale at your doctor's office is more accurate than your home scale. If it seems less forgiving, the likely reason lies in inconsistency from one weigh-in to the next, rather than in the equipment itself.
"If using a scale as your metric of loss or gain, the most important thing is to maintain consistency," says weight loss therapist Dr. Candice Seti. "That means using the same scale, at the same time of day, wearing the same type of clothing. There can be a lot of discrepancies from one weigh-in to the next, so measuring yourself on one scale midday and another in the evening could show a massive difference that’s not necessarily accurate."
Most people on weight-loss journeys have very specific routines for tracking their body mass. For instance, you might weigh yourself first thing every Wednesday morning before breakfast, wearing only your birthday suit. But at the doctor's office, you may not be able to shed every last stitch of clothing or postpone eating.
"Weighing yourself, without clothing, in the morning before you've eaten is likely to be more accurate than with clothes on at various times of day at the doctor's office," says Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center.
Other Reasons for Weight Variations
It's normal for weight to fluctuate throughout the day for a variety of reasons, resulting in scale discrepancies. A higher reading during your checkup could be due to many factors outside your control. "Some weight fluctuations are to be expected from things like eating salty foods, monthly hormonal fluctuations, strength training and weight of clothing," says Dr. Apovian.
ICEDEMETER often sees her weight travel within an eight-pound range within a single day, which is why she relies less on daily scale sessions and more on the long-term trend over many weeks.
"This morning, I weighed 153.8 pounds, a whopping 6.4 pounds more than four weeks ago," she shared in a SparkPeople post. "If I only weighed [myself] once per month and didn't know the quirks of my own body, then I could very well go into a panic. But I know that I did a huge hike on Friday, then sat in the truck out in some farm fields all day Saturday and all day Sunday, it has been very hot and very humid, I have had to take a large number of antihistamines, and I let myself get a bit dehydrated on Sunday—all of which cause my body to retain fluid as well as cause some constipation, and so the scale reading is way up. [My weight] will be down again in another day or so as my body adjusts."
5 Tips for Ensuring Scale Accuracy
If you have a love-hate-but-mostly-hate relationship with the scale, consider some new ways to gauge your progress, such as taking measurements, monitoring your overall health and paying attention to how your clothes fit. It's great to have a goal weight on the horizon, but it's equally important to learn to embrace every number along the way.