Measuring your progress is an important part of your weight loss journey, and the easiest way to measure progress is to step on the scale. However, mindset issues can arise during the simple task of weighing yourself. If you get on the scale, and your weight has not decreased, you might feel defeated. Your thoughts might be: “I have worked so hard and I haven’t lost any weight. I’m giving up! This is useless! I will always be fat.” These are clearly unhelpful thoughts and can lead someone off target. So how do you avoid this or redirect those thoughts into some that are more helpful?
There is much more than just fat that affects your number on the scale
Let’s first talk about weighing yourself. First of all, weight is made up of more than just the amount of fat in a person’s body. The types of things other than fat that can affect the reading on the scale are:
1) Clothing. What is in your pockets? Are your shoes heavy?
2) Water weight (which is related mostly to the amount of salt that you had in your diet recently).
3) What you ate and drank in the last few hours that may still be in your stomach or intestines.
4) Urine in your bladder and stool in your bowel.
5) The actual scale (there can be differences and inaccuracies in a scale).
If you want to get the most stable weight, then you may want to measure yourself in a way that reduces these variables. For most people, this means weighing yourself first thing in the morning before eating or drinking, and after urinating (and after having a bowel movement if you do that in the morning). Use the same scale each time. You can get on the scale naked, or if you don’t feel comfortable with that, get on the scale while wearing underwear or pajamas.
There will still be fluctuations based on water weight and stool in your bowels. This fluctuation is normal. Remember, if your weight is higher by a pound or two, it does not mean you are gaining fat weight; there are other explanations.
Should you really only weigh yourself once a week?
Let’s also debunk the myth that you should only weigh yourself once a week. The reason that people say this is to avoid mindset issues associated with daily weight fluctuations. The thought is that if you only weigh weekly, the amount of fat loss will be greater than any day to day fluctuations. Essentially, the number on the scale decreases, which means less mindset challenges. But truthfully, many people only lose one pound a week and weight can fluctuate by two pounds daily. You can still have mindset issues if the scale does not decrease in one week of time.
However, recent research shows that weighing daily leads to greater weight loss than less frequent weighing. Dori Steinberg, assistant professor, nursing and global health school of nursing at Duke University, and her colleagues evaluated 47 people who were undergoing lifestyle changes for weight loss. Participants were asked to weigh themselves daily using an electronic scale; readings were sent to researchers. Fifty-one percent of participants weighed themselves daily, while the remaining participants weighed themselves less often. Over six months, participants who weighed themselves daily lost on average 20 pounds. The participants who did not weigh themselves daily lost an average of seven pounds over the six 6 months. That’s an average of 13 pounds more weight loss among the participants who weighed themselves daily.
Now, getting on the scale daily obviously did not cause weight loss; these participants were also more adherent to the weight control behaviors that were suggested in the program. It is not clear if there is something about weighing daily that encouraged the participants to be more adherent to following their weight loss program. Another possibility is that the participants who were more adherent to weighing themselves daily were just more adherent in general; they adhered to weighing themselves daily and they adhered to their weight loss program. Either way, the myth that you should only weigh yourself weekly is clearly debunked.
Strategies for tracking weight
So, how do you know if you are losing weight if you are weighing yourself daily and know that your weight can fluctuate up or down by a pound or two? Over a longer period of time variations in your weight will be small compared to the overall trend you might see over a few weeks or months. Fortunately, there are a few ways to track this.
The easiest strategy is to keep track of your lowest weight for the week. You can weigh yourself every day, and write it down. Then at the end of the week, take the lowest weight recorded and use this to assess your weekly weight loss. Another way is to graph out your weight every day and follow it over time. You will be able to see the long term trends as time goes on. You can do this with graph paper. Or use one of the apps available for tracking calories; these will also track your weight. Your app does the work and provides a graph over time of your progress.
Mindset challenges and solutions
So what if you get on the scale and your weight is higher by a few pounds? What unhelpful thoughts might arise? “I have worked so hard at this lifestyle change, and this is not working. I’m so frustrated. Nothing will work for me; I’m fat, I’m giving up.” Here are some potential ways to redirect those thoughts to be more helpful. “This increase in weight is just feedback for me. It could be related to water weight or other factors. I will continue on this eating and physical activity plan for another few weeks at least to see my trend. It is too early to tell if this plan is not working.”
You may reflect on the week and remember several times that you veered from your plan. This could have caused the weight gain. If this is the case, you might want to tell yourself: “I did make some mistakes this week, which is human and okay. I learned from those mistakes and I think I can stick with my plan in the next few weeks.”
Weighing yourself is an important way of measuring your progress, but stepping on the scale can trigger mindset issues. Whether you weigh yourself daily or weekly, beware of any unhelpful thoughts that arise. If you recognize unhelpful thoughts, then see if you can re-frame those unhelpful thoughts into thoughts that are more helpful which will keep you on track to your weight loss goals. If you want more information on the mindset of weight loss and much more, you’ll find it in my new ebook, The Obesity Solution, A compassionate step-by-step guide to finally losing the weight and keeping it off.