There’s probably nothing that inspires more dread than stepping on a scale to see whether your diet and exercise program is working. Up a pound or two and you lose all motivation—you may question whether it’s worth the hard work if scale number won’t budge. But is that number on the scale telling you the whole truth about whether you’re losing fat?
There’s a reason to rethink using a scale to determine whether your Aaptiv weight loss program is working. A scale doesn’t differentiate between your body’s components as it measures water, muscle, bone, and fat-everything that makes up your body. When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s fat that is the target, not the other components. Using scale weight to determine whether you’ve lost fat weight won’t give you an accurate picture. But if you’re like most people, the scale has been the standard measurement tool, unless you have access to a lab that can do more high-tech bodyfat testing.
Why Scale Weight Fluctuates
Several factors can affect your scale weight:
Our bodies are made up of nearly 60% water, and that percentage can change in response to the environment, fluid intake, sodium in foods, as well as hormonal shifts. If you’re a woman you know that increased water retention during your period can affect your scale weight. The time of day can make a difference in water retention as well—we tend to retain more water weight towards the end of the day, and that can make a big difference in the number on the scale in comparison to a morning weight.
Muscle Hypertrophy or Atrophy
Starting a weight training routine stimulates muscle tissue to hypertrophy (increase in muscle fiber size), and this denser tissue can increase body weight. It’s a good increase that shows that your strength training is paying off, but the scale number going up isn’t something that feels great. On the other end, if you’ve been sick or unable to exercise, you may notice the scale weight going down. The lack of activity can result in muscle atrophy, and that loss of dense muscles tissue will be reflected in your scale weight.
A diet that’s high in sodium can affect your water weight balance and cause you to retain more fluid. Also, alcohol use and highly processed foods can contribute to increased fluid retention. Another cause of increased water weight is not drinking enough fluids-your body responds to being dehydrated by releasing a hormone that causes you to retain more fluids. Drinking plenty of water during the day can help promote kidney function and normalize body fluid levels.
The experts aren’t a fan of using the scale to monitor fat loss. Ellen Houston, MS, Clinical Exercise Physiologist, and National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach says that she dislikes using a scale for several reasons. The first being that the scale isn’t able to determine purely fat loss, so it’s difficult to determine whether a loss or gain in weight is a result of fat changes. Also, she feels that the scale has such an emotional impact on most people that it creates a situation where the number on it can make someone feel demoralized instead of encouraged. Instead of a scale, Ellen suggests using an easy and accurate method for determining fat loss, and it only requires a tape measure and a chart.
Tracking your fat loss with a tape measure is simple, and there are just a couple of tips to help with accuracy.
- Use a flexible tape measure that can easily fit around curves. It’s a good idea to buy one that has easily readable numbers and is sturdy enough that it won’t stretch over time. Avoid a metal or rigid tape measures as it won’t be able to follow the curves of your body accurately.
- Create a chart where you can record the measurements.
- Take your measurements at the same time of day on the same side.
- Measure against bare skin and while standing.
- Don’t do the measurements more than one time a week.
- The tape measure shouldn’t be pressing into the skin or feel slack-it should rest on the surface of the skin snugly.
- Chest: Measure around the fullest point at your chest.
- Waist: Measure at your belly button.
- Hips: Measure around the fullest point of your hips.
- Thigh: Measure at the middle point of your thigh.
- Calf: Measure at the middle point of your calf.
- Upper Arm: Measure at the middle point of your upper arm.
If you have someone taking the measurements for you, make sure that they are consistent with the placement of the tape measure the amount of tension used for each measurement. It can help to take a picture of the measurement site tape placement for reference each time if you feel you’re unsure of your placement accuracy.
Some measurement sites may change more quickly than others in response to where you store excess fat. You may not notice much change in the first couple of weeks but give it time and compare each month instead of every week to allow time for fat loss to be measurable. You’ll find it’s a lot more inspiring to see inches go down knowing that what you’ve lost is truly fat loss.