Has this ever happened to you: after several days of intensive dieting, you are certain that you’ve shed a pound AT LEAST, and when you step on the scale it shows you’ve GAINED a pound?  Or how about this: for a few days you’ve given up on your diet, splurged a couple of times on pizzas and buffets, skipped trips to the gym, and when you decide to get back on the diet you weigh in and found you’ve LOST a pound?

It’s true: scales are fickle and weighing sucks.  But as I’ve said before, scales are like our glucose meters, just way less…accurate, consistent, predictable, reliable…take your pick.  Like a diabetic managing blood sugar, however, for those of us battling weight management issues weighing is a critical component of being aware of our condition.  Over the years I’ve discovered some things about scales and weighing, much of which I’ve heard in many books and blogs, and I’ve come up with some wild theories on why scales behave the way they do.  I’ll restate some of these observations here, plus throw in a few of my own observations and findings, and I’ll define the “Rules for Weighing” in my Sure-Fire Diet.

So why all the lack of accuracy, consistency, etc.?  If I’ve been truly diligent in my calorie consumption for a week, how is it possible to have gained weight?  Why do I step on the scale and weigh one thing, then a few minutes later–having neither consumed nor expelled anything–weigh something different?  Scales have always confounded me in my quest to lose weight.  Logic would have it that I might gain a bit of weight taking a shower (wet hair is heavier than dry, right?) or that I would lose a bit of weight by going to the bathroom (ok, perhaps a little TMI there), but my real-world observations don’t confirm any of these theories.  There’s seemingly no consistency in scales, but I’ve reached two important conclusions that become relevant in explaining these inconsistencies:

  1. Your body’s weight loss is not linear and is not directly related to your diet, at least not in the short run.
  2. Scales have widely varying margins of error.

I’ve heard the first point restated as your body will fight you, but I don’t think this is a logical way to think about it.  Your body is a complex system and will make short term adjustments to preserve energy, particularly energy stored in fat.  I’m no physician obviously, but it’s simple enough to realize that your body isn’t going to follow a predictable mathematical formula of “eat X calories and you will lose Y pounds in Z days”.  On the other hand, there is a certain inevitability in that if you are diligently limiting your daily caloric intake, the body must eventually stop conserving and utilize stored energy.  Then periodically your body adjusts again and weight loss becomes temporarily challenging (those annoying plateaus).  Hence, weight loss can’t and won’t be linear and directly associated with how much you’re eating or exercising.

The second point is much more controllable.  Scales are measuring devices and all measurements, of any kind, are subject to a margin of error.  In my experience it’s very safe to assume there is a correlation between quality of the device and its accuracy.  For almost all of the last 5 months as I’ve lost (now) 52 pounds, I’ve used a scale called an Everweigh.  I’ve had it for years, a not-so-subtle reminder from my Mom that I needed to keep an eye on my weight.  It was a digital scale with the nifty feature that it never needed replacement batteries.  It was a fine enough scale, but–especially during plateaus–it would become seemingly wild in its measurements.  One morning recently I weighed 215 when I first got up, 217 after my shower, and 214 after brushing my teeth…how can I rely on such crazy variability?

A way to improve upon this, obviously, is to invest in a better quality scale with a lower margin of error.  Realize however, that ALL scales will have some margin of error, hence we’re just trying to reduce it and we can’t eliminate it.  After a great deal of research I picked the LifeSource Precision scale.  At $98 on Amazon, it is certainly an investment compared to most scales you would pick up at Target or Wal-Mart, but then again at least I don’t have to spend $50 every couple of weeks on blood sugar test strips.  I’ve only had it a few days, but my first impressions are very positive; I’ll write a follow-up blog later, but I’m optimistic that simply using a better scale will help eliminate some of that “scale weirdness” all of us dieters have scratched our heads over.

So here are my guidelines (rules) for weighing.  They’ve worked well for me so far.

  1. Pick 2 days of the week you will weigh on, and plan to weigh yourself ONLY on those days.  If you’re like me, travel and other schedule variability makes that hard; no sweat, pick your 2 days each week based on your schedule for that week.
  2. Weigh yourself at the same time of day on those days, and under the same circumstances, and take a couple of measurements.  I prefer first thing in the morning (which for me is usually 6:00 to 6:30), just after I’ve been to the bathroom, just before I get in the shower, just after I get out of the shower, and after I brush my teeth.
  3. You’ll most likely get different measurements each time you weigh in 2 above.  Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and take the lowest one.
  4. If your best weight in 3 above is a gain since your last weigh-in, give yourself the benefit of the doubt again, chalk it up to your body making adjustments (fighting you), and ignore it.
  5. If your best weight in 3 above is a loss since your last weigh-in, put it in your log where you track your progress (MyFitnessPal.com is great at this)–and congratulations!

Of course the rules ONLY work if you are truly being DILIGENT in your caloric intake.  If you’re not being diligent then your body isn’t adjusting and fighting you, you truly aren’t losing weight.

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