Editorial: My scale is a dirty liar!


Scales misrepresent your weight more than you think.

Feet on scale
Feet on scale

I am sure that you have stepped on the scale and immediately began screaming profanity.  There is nothing like hearing your spouse yell “you are a freaking liar” as the scale to begin the day.  The scale may not have an integrity problem, but it sure seems like it is conveying false information.  Don’t worry; you do not need to toss your sale.  You just need to use it appropriately.  Actually, your scale is not lying; you are deceiving yourself.  

Nearly all dieters use a scale to judge their weight loss success, and all of us have looked down at the scale dejected when we did not see the success we expected.  Earlier this year, I, personally, lost from 231 to 224 pounds in 2 months.  I would have expected to lose about 16 pounds, but yet I have lost only 7 pounds.  It is easy to lose confidence when there is less progress denoted on the digital scale.

So, is the scale lying to you?  Yes, sort of.   The most common problem is that you are measuring the wrong vital statistic.   Weight is just not a good measure or “weight loss”.  Wait, what did you say?  The number on the scale is a poor measure of fat loss.  We often use weight as a measure of weight loss but what we really want to lose is fat.  Losing muscle to lose weight is not ideal because muscle is what burns the calories.  If we lose muscle, we will lower our metabolism.  If you gain muscle and lose fat, your waist circumference will drop so waist circumference combined with weight may be the best way to measure success.    

So how is your scale lying:  

  1. Losing weight and fat are not the same: The scale is not this magical device that measures health.  The only thing a scale can do is measure your body weight which is really the effect of gravity on your body.  The key concept is that pound for pound; fat occupies more space than muscle because it is less dense.  Instead of focusing on weight, you need to focus on the body’s composition instead.  Your ratio of fat to muscle is much more important than total body weight because it is a measure of your true “fatness” and a change in this will be a better measure of your future success.   
  2. Your body is mostly water:  Our hydration status or water content can fluctuate hour to hour and day to day.  These shifts in water can make you appear to gain weight from one day to another.  This shirt is worse if after large amounts of alcohol, carbohydrates, or salt.  Alcohol dehydrates your body and salts and carbohydrates tend to make retain water.   Sure you can lose water weight by not drinking as many fluids, but this is not the type of weight you want to lose.  
  3. Fiber load increases the weight in your bowels: Fiber pulls fluids into your bowels.  Everything in your bowels has weight, but food in your gut promotes strategy.  You do not want to cut fiber, or you will increase your risk of hunger.  The good news is that fiber is calorie free and will not be converted to fat.   

Not to mention, the number of things that can throw off the scale are insane.

Surprise From Scale
Surprise From Scale

I suggest that you track a list of vital statistics.  I track my weight, waist circumference, neck diameter, my caloric intake, and my steps.  I may lift weights or calisthenics, but I do not track anything more than the number of days per week.  You may measure more or less, but I recommend weight and waist circumference at a minimum.  

If you track your calories, a caloric or metabolic deficit is the goal.  The key to creating a deficit is getting portion sizes correct.   I suggest that you consider using Loseit or another online tracker.  If you create a deficit, you will lose body fat as you liberate fat molecules to meet your energy demands.  If you are losing body fat, you have your portions correct as you estimate.  

Portion size is difficult to judge and you may need to build a better understanding through weighing all your food.  If your weight is staying stable, then you aren’t in a calorie deficit.  You will never lose weight if you do not create a calorie deficit.  If you are estimating your serving sizes, then that can mean that you are eating more calories than you intended because your portions are incorrect.  When I started having difficulty losing body fat, I chose to use a food scale to weigh my food in order to better measure my caloric intake.  

The bottom line: The scale is not your enemy.  Using a scale is not fruitless, but the scale does not tell you how much of that weight is fat and how much is muscle.  Your scale is not an accurate way to measure fat loss, but if you add it to waist circumference, it is a fantastic way to monitor fat and weight loss at home.   Keep working hard and you will reap the weight loss benefit.  

Recommended scale that is smarter:

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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