Using the Scale to Track Diet Progress: How to do it properly
Probably the most common way people use to measure progress on a diet is to weigh themselves. While it is a good tool, it should be used it conjunction with at least 1 other method, as I discussed in this article. However, most people do it wrong. Or at least, they could do a better job.
You’re doing it wrong
Most people I’ve come across seem to weigh themselves once a week. And this is what happens at the weight loss groups such as Slimming World & Weight Watchers. However, this is a mistake and could skew how well or poorly you perceive the diet to be going, and therefore affect a whole host of things.
Several different factors can alter how much you weigh on any given day. The below can lead to you holding more water weight if you eat a lot of it.
Don’t confuse this to mean they’ll necessarily increase fat stores, that’s not what’s happening. It’s just that you’re weight might increase due to more water retention.
Other factors to consider
- How much water you drank the previous day,
- The amount of food in your digestive tract, (If you had a bigger meal or ate later than usual)
- How long it’s been since you went for a number 2
It’s totally normal to have daily fluctuations in body weight, so picking just 1 day to weigh yourself and then use that 1 piece of information to tell you if you’ve made progress or not isn’t a very good idea.
It’s akin to picking 1 day of the week’s weather and then saying that the whole week’s weather was the same.
If it happens to be warm & sunny on the 1 day you pick, it’d look like a good week. If it happened to be cold & raining on that day you pick, it’d look like a bad week. But as you know, to accurately say how the weather was in a given week, you need more than 1 day’s weather.
Does that make sense or am I just talking rubbish?
I’m going to pretend you know what I’m getting at and carry on…
The same goes when it comes to weighing yourself. You need more than 1 data point to be able to accurately say if it’s been a good week or a bad week. Weighing yourself at least 3-4 times a week, taking an average, is a much better way to do it. You then compare weekly averages, instead of focusing on daily readings. That way, it should level out any daily weight fluctuations.
Even weekly averages might be too short term in some situations. For women that hold a lot of water during certain weeks of their menstrual cycle, it’s probably a better idea to compare the weekly average to the same week from your previous cycle. You then get a better idea of actual body fat loss. Instead of just seeing the fluctuations in water retention that mask what’s actually going on.
Lyle McDonald talks about this in much more detail in many articles on his website, but this one in particular is a good place to start if you’re interested in reading more.
Side note: If you want to learn more about training & nutrition then spend some time and read everything on Lyle’s site. It’s a gold mine of quality information. And it’s free!!
Back to the topic at hand
The problem with just weighing yourself once a week is that depending on if it falls on a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ day, you could either have lost a bunch of weight or put on a bunch of weight.
Let me give you a real world example from myself, from a period of dieting last year.
Below are my weigh ins over nearly a 2 week period:
There isn’t really much difference between most of them, but the ones in bold are slightly different.
If I only weighed in once a week, and picked these 2 days to weigh in, it could look like I’ve put on 1.2kg (2.64lbs) in a week, which could then affect how I approach the next weeks diet. Depending on the person, it could cause them to restrict food even more, (unnecessarily), or perhaps give up completely because, ‘what’s the point?’.
But on 30/11/16, my weight came back down to 82.6kg, then down to 82.3kg on 01/12/16. So the increase in weight to 83.5kg would just have come down to water retention, food in digestive tract etc. Not actual body fat or muscle gain.
That’s why it’s so important not to get hung up on a small snap shot of information and take a more long term view of things. Hopefully you can see why weighing yourself once a week isn’t a good idea if you want to use your body weight as a way to measure progress.
A good way to do it, if you can’t be bothered working out averages, is to use an app or website that will plot your weight on a graph. Simply update it with your body weight on a daily basis and just monitor the trend. You can tell if you’re making progress or not, by paying attention to the trend, i.e. the direction the line is going, without getting hung up on the individual data points in themselves.
How to weigh yourself
This might sound like a silly section to include, but I’m still surprised how many people don’t know how to weigh themselves properly. I mean, obviously they can stand on the scale and look at the number. But to get to get an accurate, useful reading you need to be consistent & remove the number of variables.
Weigh yourself first thing in the morning, naked, after going to the toilet but before eating & drinking anything.
This might sound obvious to some, but clearly isn’t obvious to everyone.
Why am I telling you this?
As I mentioned above, weighing yourself just once a week could give you false readings. It can make you think you’re not losing weight, or you’re putting on weight, when that’s not actually the case. Which can lead you to take actions that don’t need to be taken, i.e. cut calories further when you might not need to.
It’s completely normal for your weight to fluctuate on a day to day basis. It’s a mistake to only take one reading of something that fluctuates. That way, you get a better idea of what’s going on so you can make more informed decisions on any adjustments to your diet.
Take home points
- Weighing yourself just once a week won’t give you an accurate representation of what’s going on
- Weighing yourself at least 3-4 times a week, taking an average and comparing weekly averages is a much better option
- Many factors can cause daily weight fluctuations, so it’s totally normal for your weight to fluctuate on a daily basis
- For women who hold a lot of water during certain parts of their menstrual cycle, comparing the same weeks of their cycle to each other, instead of the previous week, will give them a better idea of their progress
- You should weigh yourself first thing in the morning, naked, after going to the toilet but before eating & drinking anything.
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