In this post I would like to try and cover something that comes up daily with my clients – the number on the scales. It’s probably the single biggest element that people on a weight loss journey try and deal with.

It’s THE metric people obsess over, yet I think it’s important to recognise that… it’s just ONE metric to use among many. It’s important – but like everything, context is important.

Before we get into it – I sometimes try and set down some guidelines for how you should take the information I’m presenting. Before I get into things I’ll do it here;

If you are NOT following a structured plan – nutrition/exercise/sleep – to try and achieve your weight loss goal then don’t try and apply the following information to your situation. If you are not actively trying DAILY to hit certain targets, then by default you’re very unlikely to lose weight.

The assumption is you are active, you exercise and you are being pro-active in your approach to how you want to look. Weight/fat loss and improved body composition is the goal (I’ll mention if there are different rules for alternative goals along the way anyway).

If you’re not consistent, or are not following any plan at all then what I’m going to cover loses most of it’s relevance.

[Mittens plan for fat loss needed work] Okay, lets get started…..

Does the number on the scales really matter?

Yes, of course it does. It’s the representation of what the sum of all your parts actually weighs. BUT, what it doesn’t show is the context of those parts – muscle, fat, water etc. Here are some considerations;

  • In most cases, over time YES – what you weigh is very important. The number should drop if your goal is weight loss.
  • HOWEVER, weight loss is never linear – don’t expect the number to drop every time you step on the scales.
  • It is just one metric. Tape measurements, body fat percentage, physical performance, mental outlook…all as equally important. Progress is progress, look beyond that number… IF you are working hard, remember that’s the caveat.
  • For someone who is already lean – putting ON weight can result in a more preferred body composition for the individual. The person may look better with more muscle mass. It’s all about context.

Should you be weighing yourself every day?

It’s that word again…context!. It can be a good way to get one person to adhere to a plan, while on the other hand it can negatively affect another person. The thought of constantly being weighed may cause a huge amount of stress, but I hope this post will remove that. Everyone’s weight will fluctuate day to day, even at different times of the day. However, if you know how to use the information, from a broader perspective it’s an excellent way to monitor your progress.

There is no perfect formula for weight loss , you need to try and use whatever tools you have at your disposal to help you along the way. Look at the scales as that – something to help.

If you’re doing the right things with training and nutrition it should generally look pretty good anyway.

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[Mittens didn’t agree with me on any of this part. His email skills were also pretty good for a cat]

I think the vast majority of people looking to stick to a plan need support – myself included. I have someone else look after my nutrition and training. I know what I have to do to reach my goal – I just need someone ready to kick me up the arse if I don’t stick to things.

There are times when I am made weigh myself daily, then there are times where it’s more flexible. There is no ‘one answer for all situations’. If you are currently in a plan which involves weighing yourself, the next piece of information will be useful.

Two major factors that may affect your weight.

  • Food intake (more specifically, glycogen stores*).
  • Water retention.

(*glycogen stores – when you intake carbohydrate, much of it is stored in muscle tissue as glycogen (assuming your stores aren’t already full). The amount varies for each individual depending on how much lean mass you have. But bear in mind it does actually weigh something. And no, before you ask – the answer to dropping weight isn’t to cut out all carbs.)

[Jean-Luc was great at intergalactic exploration, but his diet advice needed work] The body needs a certain amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat to function. Beyond just functioning is ‘functioning really well’, supporting a healthy and lean body. Again, this is something that is hard to pinpoint and has a ton of variables affecting it. But that’s a different topic, back on track – look at the picture below.

[Eternal question: is the glass half-full or half-empty?]

This simple concept is lost on people. Replace the cup and water with your body and food. If you put something in to the system it’s going to weigh more. If you wake in the morning you are in a fasted state – you haven’t eaten or taken on fluid in around 8 hours.

Weigh yourself.

If you then go about your normal day of eating/drinking fluid you are putting items that do actually physically weigh something into the system…it doesn’t just disappear after it passes your mouth. If you weigh yourself that night and find yourself a kilo or two heavier on the scales does it mean you’ve put that on in fat stores over the course of the day? No**.

**If you stay in an energy surplus (eat more than you need) on a daily basis – Yes, that number on the scales will continue to creep up. And yes, it’ll probably be fat stores (there are situations where this is muscle).

Water retention – A diet high in refined, processed carbohydrates (think junk food) will cause you to retain water as these foods are generally high in sodium content (they also are calorie dense, another reason to avoid them). The key to having a normal sodium/water balance is to drink plenty of water (it can be anywhere from 2-3.5 litres per day depending on the individual) and restrict junk food.

Eat a well balanced, healthy diet aiming for the calorie amount relevant to your goal.

These are two of the more simple things that people don’t take into account when weighing themselves. I’ll get into more detail later in the post using a client and his data as an example of how weight can fluctuate when your body composition is changing.

[Mittens finally got his act together, but he’s definitely getting no repped here] Psychological factors

This is anecdotal – it’s purely from my own experience and observations. For the most part people are incredibly hard on themselves. You might jump on the scales one day and the number is fine, then you look in the mirror and simply aren’t happy with how you look, even though the number looked okay. I’ve been there – and it still happens. God forbid anyone who jumps on the scales, doesn’t like the number and then is having a ‘fat day’ too!

Give yourself a break.

The ‘fat day’ explained. The chances are you might have eaten something that bloats you (try and rule these foods out through trial and error), you might be retaining a little more water than normal on that particular day. For ladies, it might be that time of the month. If you’re working hard at a smart plan then remember, you’re mentally having a bad day. Try your best to deal with it and move on.

I think (again, anecdotal) we are also quick to pass off our progress.

I look in the mirror and I see progress. I look in the mirror the next day and still see the progress. But keep looking in that mirror and that progress soon becomes the norm. It takes MORE progress to be satisfied again.

It is human nature to want more and more. Keep working hard, try your best to be happy with your progress. I always try and remind myself of the reality check that physical strength and how you look is worth nothing without other traits such as courage, wit, respectfulness and intelligence to name a few.

Everything isn’t quite as simple as I outlined above. There are lots of different scenarios and different circumstances in managing weight and improving body composition. That’s what it is, an outline of how to better understand the basics of why you shouldn’t beat yourself up. But be realistic as well – if that number isn’t dropping over a period of weeks and months then something isn’t right.

The next section will shed some light on what I’ve just covered using a client and his data.

James – a closer look at a client’s journey.

James came to me in January ’16 looking to get his nutrition on track. His weight was 95kg, he wanted to drop body fat and improve body composition without losing any performance level in the gym. Basically he wanted to look his best and be able to move when needed in workouts.

James – ‘Before I started the most important metric was weight.I wanted to lose weight and like everybody else wanted to do it quickly.’ 

A lot has happened in that time, his weight touched just under 89kg at his lightest point. Currently it is back to 91.95kg. He has had to modify training recently to work around an injury, but he is still training regularly.

If you have a look at the chart below you’ll see some data James has accumulated over a 28 day period. You may look at this and think ‘how could anyone do that EVERY day?!’, but realistically it only takes a few seconds to fill in. The information gives a great insight into James’ progress, and it keeps him accountable along the way.

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[Data is your friend, if you (or your coach) are not measuring – you are guessing]

You can see his weight fluctuates on different days, but day 1 and 28 are the key. It may seem like a small drop, but remember, he started out at 95kg.

Here’s some context on how using more than one measurement, the scales, compares with using two – the scales and a body fat calipers.

I took a body fat reading in March;

90.7kg / 16.08%

Our most recent reading taken at the very end of May looked like this;

91.95kg / 15.07%

His weight has increased yet his body fat has dropped…

James has worked hard at being consistent with his training AND nutrition. You can see here he has shifted his body composition slightly to ‘more muscle mass/less fat’**. Exactly what we are aiming for.

**building muscle mass is an incredibly hard process which takes time, and requires excellent conditions with nutrition and training. This and the added discrepancies which can occur doing a caliper body fat test mean it is improbable (outside drug use) that this is a straight trade of fat loss/muscle gain. I would argue that it has happened to some extent, as James is meticulous… it’s just less than what the numbers show here. [11/3/17]

If you just look at the weight on it’s own with no context what does it look like? It looks like he got ‘fatter’.

The number on the scales doesn’t always tell the full story.

James – ‘Now I measure my progress and understand how I need to look to body composition changes as well as the weight on the scales. This is a huge change for me. I see progress as something that will take place slowly over a year of work rather than weeks.’

Not everything was perfect along the way as you’ll see from the picture below. Here is some context from another point of view – falling off the wagon for a few days.

It was important that James himself, and not just me, knew what had happened around days 11 and 12.

Days 11/12

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[From 89.22kg to 92kg within the space of a few days]

James – ‘One of my best mates arrived home from abroad looking to get drinks in and a chat. I suppose I jumped too far into the rabbit hole, drinks led to bad food, which led to chocolate etc. The day after came as no surprise, but I knew if I just went back to plan, took it day by day the damage would be undone. I was well annoyed with myself but definitely learned from it.’

You can see once James got back on track things got back to normal quite soon, but that was the important part – get back on track as soon as possible. If you look at days 1-7 and days 22-28 this provides a more clear picture outside of the blip. He didn’t lose all his progress in one weekend.

A huge thanks to James, his hard work and dedication to the plan and logging information made this post possible.

I hope this identifies some situations where it’s important to analyse and not just simply jump to a conclusion.

In closing…

  • Your scales is a valuable tool if the context is understood. Use more than one metric when measuring progress (your coach can help with this).
  • If you do weigh yourself daily or regularly, make sure it’s the same time of day. Pick morning as it’s when you are at your lightest.
  • Weight loss is non-linear. IMPORTANT. VERY IMPORTANT. Over the medium to long term you should see a downward movement on the scales though.
  • If you want the most control over your weight loss journey I would advise you to keep some kind of diary or log.
  • Stick to the plan AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. You’ll have crap days, just make sure they are few and move on quickly.
  • If you are working hard with your food/sleep/nutrition, trust the process and don’t be so hard on yourself just because some number isn’t what you thought it should be.

Thank you for reading, I hope it helped in some way. If you have any questions or feedback feel free to drop me a mail.

phillykinsella@hotmail.com