Let’s talk about weighing yourself – for most it’s a love hate relationship with the scale!
Weight is down, we’re ecstatic, weight is up we’re totally bleak! Whatever your feelings are towards the scale, weighing yourself often has its benefits. Your weight doesn’t determine your self-worth. It can however be handy to give insight into many other factors concerning your body. New research suggests that the optimal frequency to weigh yourself is every day**. This goes against the growing trend of #screwthescale preachers and those coaching self-acceptance. But weighing yourself every day is highly beneficial for those trying to lose or maintain their weight. That is if you learn how to interpret the numbers correctly.
When weighing yourself every day it’s important not to place much value on the actual weight
but rather identify patterns your body follows in response to your changing habits, working with a weekly average to determine your overall progress. Many people believe that when their weight increases, their fat mass has increased – not so.
Weight is a reflection of:
- Fat mass
- Lean body Mass (muscle/organs/bones etc)
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Water/fluid levels
- Digestive emptying rate
- Sodium intake
- Carbohydrate intake
- The effects of physical activities you take part in
All these factors need to be considered when you interpret your weight. Weighing yourself everyday under the same circumstances gives you more information than weighing yourself weekly or monthly. Of course you can use how you feel as a guideline of your progress too. But many people aren’t objective enough of their own bodies. They tend to base most of what they feel about their bodies on emotions. By using the numbers to tell the story you get a much more accurate picture of what is happening. It is for that reason that measurements are equally relevant.
It’s important to note that of the contributing factors for your weight, the biggest one has got to do with water retention.
Carbohydrate intake, sodium intake, exercise as well as hormones will all affect your water retention rate and subsequently your weight. If you consume more carbohydrates or sodium on a particular day your weight will increase on the scale. This is due to holding additional water (not fat!). Perhaps you’ve heard of people who start a diet and within the first week or two they lose a significant amount of weight. This can generally be attributed to a loss of water due from a decrease in carbohydrate and or sodium intake.
Water can be retained outside of your bodily cells (extracellular) or inside your bodily cells (intracellular) and certain factors affect each type.
For example, weight training will cause an increase in intracellular water weight where the muscles store additional fluids. This is beneficial for recovery and long term will produce an increase in lean body mass. More muscle mass has the added benefit of increased strength, increased immune system functionality and increased energy expenditure. ie you burn more calories at rest.
Carbohydrate and sodium intake as well as hormonal fluctuations – due to your menstrual cycle or stress levels - lead to an increase in extracellular fluid retention. A certain amount of fluid retention is necessary in the body to help flush out waste. But the ideal body water distribution has been estimated at a 3:2 ratio of intracellular water to extracellular water.
Avoiding excess extracellular water should be your primary focus. The natural function of the body is to draw water out of the cells (intracellular) in response to sodium and carbohydrate intake. While both sodium and carbohydrates are needed by the body its important to find a balance. ie Ensure your extracellular water does not exceed intracellular water. Balancing your hormones and reducing stress levels also goes a long way to ensuring your fluid retention levels are ideal.
The rate at which your body digests and eliminates food affects your body weight too.
Infrequent bowel movements can cause temporary weight gain (again not fat gain) due to the build up of matter in the intestines. Constipation also increases stress levels for some which further exacerbates the issue. Getting sufficient fibre in your daily diet, making sure your gut bacteria is thriving can assist. Physical activity can also help those who suffer from infrequent bowel movements.
Now that you have better understanding of the factors affecting your weight, how do you interpret the numbers you collect by weighing yourself daily?
Fat loss -
As mentioned it can be useful to weigh yourself daily and calculate your weekly average. This gives you an indication of your progress. By recording your daily weight, you will soon find patterns emerging in response to what you eat and drink. Or how much exercise you’re doing. From these numbers you can learn what habits are causing weight gain and make behavioral changes to prevent or reduce it.
If you find that your weekly average is decreasing, you’re on the right track. If you find your weekly average is the same or it has increased, you need to make some adjustments. When you adjust down for the week ahead, look at your overall dietary intake. Pay attention to carbohydrate intake and sodium intake. Are you relying on too many processed foods which could be high in sodium? Are you hungry and filling up on too many carbohydrates?
At this point it would be beneficial to assess protein and fat intake. Cravings are likely to strike if your intake of those two macronutrient groups are too low. Are you consuming too many calories on the weekends causing your weight to increase for the days following. This increases your overall weekly weight average! Tighten your reigns a bit more on the weekend by keeping healthy foods on hand and moving more.
Weight maintenance -
By continuing to weigh yourself daily while attempting to maintain your weight, you should still work with the weekly average method as with fat loss. You will need to give yourself some flexibility with your weight and determine what range you’re happy for your weight to fluctuate within. I would recommend a 2-4kg variance depending on how easily your body responds. If you see your weekly average creeping up you can then adjust dietary intake again as you would when trying to lose weight. This ensures you don’t gain excess weight back and keeps you accountable for maintaining your weight loss long term.
When weighing yourself weekly as majority of people do, its difficult to account for why your weight might have increased or stayed the same that week. Especially when you remember all the factors which affect your weight. If you consumed more sodium the day before your weekly weigh-in for example, your weight will have increased. But this is only a small representation of the whole picture. If you had been weighing yourself daily and noticed the only day your weight increased was the day following this higher sodium intake, you’d be able to determine the reason for the weight gain. You would also be able to adjust accordingly – knowing that the weeks’ efforts were not in vain.
This method of daily weighing is not meant to be obsessive, its meant to be educational.
Weighing yourself daily can be a valuable tool you use to learn more about your body, to take responsibility for your progress and your goals. Just as you brush your teeth every morning, take a few seconds to hop on the scale and jot down your findings. Using a digital scale would be best. Forget the hang-ups you have regarding the scale, it can be an instrument of great value. Try it for a month and weigh yourself every day, I have a feeling you might start appreciating the scale a lot more and make progress in leaps and bounds.
**Weighing yourself daily is not recommended for those recovering from or currently experiencing any form of diagnosed eating disorder.