Ignore The Scale – It Lies

Health on June 10th, 2010 No Comments

You're trying to lose weight.  You're exercising and eating better.  So how are you going to measure your success.  Most people's first answer would be to weigh themselves on a scale.  While I do believe this is the easiest way to monitor your progress, it can also be misleading and depressing.

It is a fact that 1 pound of fat is equivalent to 3500 to 4000 calories.  In order for a person to gain, or lose, 1 pound of fat, you must either create a caloric deficit, or gain, of 4000 calories, above or below, your base metabolic rate ( the average female burns 1800 to 2000 calories per day while the average male burns 2000 to 2200 calories per day).  If your metabolism burns 2000 calories per day, and you go on a 1200 calorie diet.  Each day you create a caloric deficit of 800 calories.  At this rate, you can expect to lose 1 pound of fat  approximately every five days.

In general, the most weight that you can realistically expect to lose as a female is 1 to 11/2 pounds per week and for males 11/2 to 2 pounds per week.  Weight loss greater than this is usually simply water weight or muscle tissue (that you don't want to lose). 

If you are utilizing the scale to monitor your weight on a daily or even weekly basis you can be greatly disappointed.  Even after a week of dieting, you may often times see a rise in your weight.  This does not mean that you're not succeeding in working toward your dieting goal. It simply means the scale is not telling the whole story.  1 gallon of water weighs approximately 7 pounds.  Your body's water weight can fluctuate greatly on a day-to-day basis.  Water weight can shift as much as five to 10 pounds in one day from simply sweating and becoming dehydrated.  You can also have significant water fluctuations based on your diet.  If you are eating a high sodium diet, or a diet high in carbohydrates (see my earlier blog on why carbohydrates are not bad) your body will tend to retain more water.

Obviously, water weight, which can fluctuate up to five to 10 pounds per day, can easily mask a fat loss of one to 2 pounds per week . For example, you could start a diet in a dehydrated state weighing in at 150 pounds.  The next day you may rehydrate and your weight may bounce back up 155 pounds. If you're a female, and lost 1 pound of fat over the course of the week your overall weight would be 154 pounds.  This is 4 pounds greater than your start weight. You're doing great on your diet but the scale is telling you that you are not.

These misleading scale readings can cause you to become frustrated, leading you to unhealthy dieting strategies or abortion of the diet altogether. When assessing your progress with any weight-loss strategy, you must be patient and look at trends of one month or longer.  Very few people lose weight in a linear fashion.  Most people experience peaks, valleys, and plateaus.  If after three to four weeks you show no improvement in with your diet, then it is time to consider changing your strategy.  Prior to this, I would encourage you to ignore the scale and persevere with your current strategy.  The scale is a helpful tool when used properly.  If used improperly, the scale can cause you grief.

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