Addicted to the Scales

scalesDuring a weight loss program or dieting plan, people think that it is important to have a daily weigh in… I strongly disagree and I’m going to explain why!

Take John Smith* for example. He insists on weighing himself daily at the beginning of every gym session to check his progress. After weighing himself one day and not losing as much weight as he’d hoped for, he was affected by very negative consequences. There are a number of reasons why I hate scales and encourage people NOT to weigh themselves, and here’s a bit more insight into why…

John fell into a bit of a downward spiral that evening… He felt de-motivated, and didn’t train as hard or as intensely as normal, further affecting his long term weight loss efforts. Mentally he had also given up and was already deciding what bad stuff to eat and drink when he got home to make himself feel better about not losing enough weight.

If John hadn’t weighed himself he would’ve come to the gym focused and motivated to train super hard and get great results, he would’ve stuck to the nutrition guidelines and not eaten unfavourable or naughty foods when he got home from training that night, and finally – and most importantly – THE NUMBER ON THE SCALES MEANS NOTHING IN THIS CONTEXT!

Let me elaborate…

There are so many variables with weight, so many factors that can affect your overall body weight on a day to day basis such as:

– Time of day

– What you’ve had to eat or drink during the day or the night before

– Whether you’ve been to the toilet

– For women, where they are in their menstrual cycle

– How much salt you’ve been eating or have eaten the day before as this affects water retention in the body

– Different scales are calibrated differently; meaning that if you weigh yourself at home and then weigh yourself at the gym the reading will be inaccurate because the scales are not the same.

It’s really hard to see progress on a daily basis, due to the above mentioned issues but also because even if you are losing weight in a healthy time frame, of about 0.5 to 1kg a week, the daily loss would be too small to measure on home bathroom scales as they are not very accurate.

Weighing yourself is not beneficial and will more often than not result in you being frustrated, de-motivated and encourages you to fall off the wagon rather than striving to meet your goals. I have found that people get addicted to weighing themselves every day; they become so fixated with the number on the scales that they start to forget what the number actually means. It becomes an unhealthy obsession and can actually lead to eating disorders which we obviously want to avoid.

Now you might be asking “but you ask me for my weight in The Chief Life questionnaire, why is this ok?”

Well, weighing can be useful over a longer time frame as a measure or marker of whether you’re meeting your goals. It can also be used as a baseline to help us – you’re dietitian and trainer – to figure out how much food you need or which training will be most appropriate. We use this weight to monitor long term change every 4 to 8 weeks rather than to think of the number as how heavy a person is. The more important measure is the body fat to muscle ratio that can be worked out using a DEXA or BIA. So essentially, your total weight is only used to work out your ratio! And again these numbers are only to monitor change over time rather than a comparison between you and someone else as to how much fat you have… everybody in different and results are individual to you.

A much better measure for you guys to use as a measure of change is how your clothes are feeling on your body, for example if they are feeling looser around the waist, what you look like and feel like when you look in the mirror and how you’re feeling mentally and physically. These things are much more important to focus on and will prevent you from falling into John’s downward spiral. Waist circumference is also a better measure than the scales in terms of progress but again should not be done every day. If you like having something to measure then maybe do this once a week on the same day at the same time each week and keep a record, but remember this could also lead to that same downward spiral, so BE CAREFUL! Numbers are not as important as long term habit change.

Let’s spin this on its head – I can hear you saying “But if the number on the scales is less it will motivate me to continue working hard and remind me to stay on track with my guidelines and goals!”

And to this I give you another example. Mary Jones* gets on the bathroom scales every morning when she wakes up. Yesterday her weight was 1kg less than the day before. “YES!” she thought, “I’m making progress – I’ve done so well this week I’m going to treat myself”, so she eats something outside the guidelines… Uh oh! You might be thinking “but this is ok, she did well – she should be allowed to have something a little naughty”, but she then realises what she has done, feels guilty, decides that the day is now a complete write off and continues to drown her sorrows by eating more crap for the rest of the day. “I’ll start again properly tomorrow!” She promises herself… And so the cycle continues.

In this case I would also encourage people to remember something that I always like to promote – “You are only ever one meal away from getting back on track”, don’t let one bad meal or snack get you down, just pick yourself straight back up and make that next meal or snack a perfect one!

So, the bottom line is PLEASE don’t weigh yourself every day– use your clothes and other visual markers to measure your progress over a long term change rather than becoming addicted to the scales. Leave the measurements to only every 4-8 weeks and stay MOTIVATED on making long term changes for your health. And this doesn’t only apply to dieting/weight loss programs; use this philosophy throughout your life…

Most of all… make the most of your life by being the best version of yourself you can be!


*names changed to protect identity

– Stace, “Make good choices”

Matthias Turner

I have a love for health and fitness, music and laughter as well as a deep passion to help people. Follow more great advice from Matty on Instagram.