Scale Weighing You Down? We Explore The Number On Your Scale

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Does my body weight really matter? Muscle weighs more than fat, right? Should I weigh myself every day? How did I gain five pounds overnight? I haven’t cheated on my diet in weeks and the scale isn’t moving, what gives? My weight dictates my mood, is that normal? Fitness enthusiasts often find themselves asking these questions and wondering if they should let the scale guide their progress.

To weigh or not to weigh? That is the question. Based on my own personal experiences and those of my clients, here’s how I address these common issues related to scale use.

Does my body weight really matter?

Yes and no. Personally, I think the number on the scale is the easiest objective measure of progress. There are much better methods to use when assessing body composition (e.g., skin folds, hydrostatic weighing, bioelectrical impedance) but there’s still room for error with these methods. Hydrostatic weighing is the most reliable of the three, but these machines are often housed in labs and difficult to access. Generally, a measuring tape and changes in how your clothes fit are the two best indicators of progress. That being said, if you’re not participating in an intense exercise program, the scale will not lie. If you just started a new walking program, it is unlikely that you will gain enough muscle mass to explain a stagnant scale.

Muscle weighs more than fat, right?

Which weighs more: a pound of bricks or a pound of feathers? They weigh the same (one pound), but the space or density that the pound of feathers occupies is much larger than that of the bricks. We can apply this same concept to muscle and fat.

Muscle is about half as dense as fat. Two individuals could weigh the same but their measurements would be much different depending on their body composition. What does this mean for you? A change in weight does not always mean your body composition has worsened but could instead indicate loss of body fat and gain in muscle mass.

Should I weigh myself every day?

This is debatable. Personally, I have found that weighing myself a couple times per week is best. I have gone months at a time avoiding the scale, but found that I became a lot more lenient with my nutrition because it was more difficult for me to gauge my progress.

Many of my former clients became slaves to the scale. If they saw a slight increase in weight, it impacted them negatively and often caused them to give up on their goals completely. It is better to use these situations as motivation to kick it up a notch in the gym or as an indication that it may be time to reassess your meal plan. It’s important to be honest with yourself on this one and figure out what works for you on a long-term basis.

How did I gain five pounds overnight?

One pound of fat constitutes a surplus of about 3,500 calories. I highly doubt that you over ate by the 17,500 calories needed to gain five pounds! For this reason, you can rest assured this increase is an outcome of many different factors. After my last shoot I didn’t just gain five pounds, I gained 20 lbs overnight! I attribute the impact that water, sodium, carbohydrates, and alcohol had on my body to this severe change. After cutting sodium and fluids prior to the shoot, then loading up on my fair share of alcohol, carbohydrates, and sodium afterwards, I bloated up like the Michelin Man!

How did this happen? Carbohydrates store fluids – every gram of carbohydrate stores around three grams of water. When endurance athletes “carb load” prior to an event, they can gain about five pounds over the course of the load if done successfully. Their muscles become saturated with glycogen to fuel their performance. This accounts for the immediate weight decrease experienced with low carb diets – it’s often only water weight you lose.

A salty meal will increase your hold onto water and cause significant weight gain and bloat the next day. Alcohol bloat is much the same. I never weigh myself for a couple of days after a big night out because of the radical impact alcohol can have on the body. Alcohol is a diuretic and will cause dehydration the next day. As your body fights to restore equilibrium, you bloat to compensate. The best thing to do to correct this as quickly as possible is to drink more fluids to flush your body and try to incorporate more high potassium foods in your diet.

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Kristen Vidlak is a registered dietician and personal trainer. She grew up as a competetive gymnast and later attended the university of Maine on a full athletic scholarship where she was captain of their record breaking women’s track & field team. Currently, Kristen enjoys modelling and competing in fitness events throughout North America. Her experiences in athletic training and competing, coupled with her dietetic education give Kristen a unique and well-rounded perspective when it comes to health in fitness.

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