Should you weigh yourself along your health journey? It’s one of the most frequent questions I get asked, and it’s one of those where the answer is a giant “it depends.” It depends on SO much … your starting place, your goals, your emotional relationship with this piece of metal that has so much power over so many of us. It’s a question that can speed up or hinder your progress as it relates to your health goals. It’s a question that can cause us a lot of mental anguish, or give us a lot of freedom. So let’s dive in, and figure out whether you should weigh yourself, and how to measure progress without the scale if the answer is “no.”
Your starting place
Let’s say you’re starting a health journey, and that journey, for you, involves losing weight. You may not know exactly how much weight you want to lose, but you likely know if it’s closer to 5 pounds or closer to 100 pounds. If you do have a larger amount of weight to lose, I actually think the scale can be a helpful tool. After all, it does measure body mass precisely, and when we have a lot of excess body fat, we will see a drop in the number on the scale as we begin to eat more vegetables, drink more water, and reduce processed food (and yes, I know it’s not always quite that simple … trust me, I work with dozens of clients per week on this!). So, if you know you have a larger amount of weight to lose, skip ahead to “your goals” and “your emotional relationship with the scale” before deciding.
If you want to lose weight, but you know it’s a small number (often referred to as “vanity weight” because the weight is not prohibiting you from achieving optimal health, but rather getting in the way of the aesthetic you prefer), then the scale becomes a lot less helpful for two reasons:
- The scale fluctuates up to several pounds per day based on hormonal fluctuations, digestive efficiency (how much you eliminate), water retention due to high sodium foods, inflammation, stress, hydration status, muscle recovery, and more. If you’re trying to lose 5 pounds, but know that there is a fluctuation of 2-3 pounds daily, your journey might feel like much more of a roller coaster than it really is.
- Muscle is a great thing! And that muscle has weight. See “your goals” below.
If your goal is to stay healthy overall, improve digestion, increase energy, reduce processed foods, or anything else unrelated to weight, I’d love to work with you! In this case, the scale is likely an unnecessary tool.
If your goal is weight-related, I’d love to work with you, too, and we have more digging to do to determine whether or not we’ll use the scale as a measure of progress.
If the primary motivator behind your goal is to look better and feel more confident, let’s consider the value of muscle first. We’ve all likely heard “muscle weighs more than fat,” which is a term that kind of ruffles my feathers (after all, a pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat!), but the point is valid. 10 pounds (or any number) of muscle is more compact than 10 pounds of fat, so adding 10 pounds of muscle to your frame at the same time as you reduce 10 pounds of fat will leave you looking leaner, more toned, and more defined – yay! Yet, you still haven’t “lost weight” on the scale, because the 10 pounds of muscle cancelled out the 10 pounds of fat. If this is the case, you might skip to the “how to measure progress without the scale” section.
If your goal of weight loss is unrelated to how you look, I’ll bet that a doctor or other health practitioner gave it to you. You see, overweight and obesity are correlated with numerous chronic health conditions, and we know that losing weight does reduce risk for these conditions. However, based on “your emotional relationship with the scale” below, you may be able to achieve your weight loss goal without the scale. As I teach my clients, focusing on the inputs (how you eat, how you take care of your body, how you move) is often more productive and less frustrating, but leads to the same (or better!) results than a strict focus on the scale.
Your emotional relationship with the scale
Have you ever been in a grumpy mood after seeing a certain number on the scale? Have you ever put in a ton of emotional build-up into actually getting on the scale, nervous about what you’ll see? Have you ever compared the number you see on the scale to a number someone else has mentioned, or a number you’ve seen in a magazine, and thought less of yourself because of this comparison? Have you ever weighed yourself multiple times in the same day, hoping that, by some twist of fate, the number would decrease? Have you ever beaten yourself up emotionally or shamed yourself because of a number you saw on the scale? Have you ever held yourself back from something important (e.g. a best friend’s wedding, your own birthday cake, wearing a bikini on a vacation) simply because of a number you saw on the scale?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, you have a precarious relationship with the scale. Join the club – there are a ton of us in here! First, I encourage you to think about why you put so much emphasis on the number on the scale. For many of us, the number we see evokes a deeply ingrained emotional response. We would likely never say that we’re truly a “good person” or “bad person” based on what we see on the scale, but we talk to ourselves as if that were true! This is one of my very favorite things to work with my clients on.
In the past, I have spent a lot of time and energy beating myself up emotionally based on the number I saw on the scale. I have years and years of spreadsheets filled with daily weight tracking, and the emotional energy behind those spreadsheets is enormous (and really saddens me to think about!). If you think the scale is causing you more emotional stress than it’s worth, please, step away from it. I promise, you can break out of the vicious cycle of self-judgment and still get the results you want. It’s simply not worth the self-flagellation that often occurs when we’re using the scale to degrade ourselves.
How often to weigh yourself
If all of the above has led you to believe that weighing yourself is helpful, there’s one more caveat. In order to maintain a healthy relationship with the scale, I believe that weighing yourself must take place on a consistent and pre-determined basis.
Most people decide to weigh themselves either “when they’ve been good” or as punishment for an overindulgent weekend, to see how “bad” it was. My clients know that I HATE the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as they relate to weight, health behavior, or self-judgment. And that could never be more true than here.
If we weigh ourselves only when looking for validation (when we’ve “been good”) or punishment (when we’ve “been bad”), we’re perpetuating the cycle of self-judgment as it relates to the scale. So, I encourage you to set a cadence of when to weigh yourself and stick to it. In this way, it becomes just information … not validation or punishment. Here are a few choices:
- If you’re a numbers nerd (me too!), weighing daily might be a good experiment for you. It can be helpful to see trends (for example, each time I have dairy, the scale increases 2 pounds based on inflammation … this may be complete opposite for you!), and can take the thinking out of when to do it. If you’re really into tracking, I might even suggest setting up a spreadsheet with a rolling average of the last 7 days to eliminate daily fluctuations.
- Setting a day of the week (Mondays tend to be popular days!) on which you weigh yourself can be helpful to take the thought out of it without requiring as much time as daily weigh-ins. Weekly weigh-ins help catch any upward trends and keep some people on course.
- If you know the scale could turn negative for you emotionally, but you still want to do it, monthly might be the right cadence. It’s enough time to see some progress, but gives you plenty of time in between without worrying about the number.
How to measure progress without the scale
If, instead, you’ve decided not to weigh yourself, awesome! You might still want to measure your progress, and I think that’s great! Here are a few of the MANY potential ways I suggest measuring your progress without the scale:
- Subjective 1-5 ratings. This is an offering I make to my 10-Day Reset participants, and people are often amazed at how much better they feel when they focus on their health, without even worrying about the scale! Simply rate each of the following 1-5 (5 is best!): sleep, energy, digestion, cravings, overall feelings of health, and anything else you wish to include. Measure again each month and watch yourself progress!
- A simple tape measure is a great way to measure progress without the scale! I recommend measuring (at least) each bicep, your bust line, your belly button line, the largest part of your hips, and the largest part of each thigh.
- How your pants fit. Who cares about the number on the scale if you feel great in your pants? Find a pair of pants that you LOVE, and try them on every month or so to see how they’re fitting! Celebrate how cute you look!
- How consistent you were on your inputs. This is, honestly, one of my favorites. Have you eaten your vegetables consistently? How many days per week have you hit your sleep goal? Are you getting your meal prep done? These things will lead to results over time, but measuring them instead of the number on the scale can be much more empowering than simply staring at a little number and agonizing over its slow movement.
- Progress pictures. We often don’t notice the progress in our own bodies when we look at ourselves in the mirror daily. But taking pictures a month or so apart can help you see how strong and fit you are becoming!
- Body fat measurements. If you have access to a body fat scale (like this home version) or an InBody or DEXA assessment at a gym or medical center, watching your body fat percentage change over time can be a great way to measure progress without the scale. I especially recommend this one if you’re working to build muscle!
- Athletic accomplishments. How many push-ups can you do? How fast can you run a mile? Can you walk up the stairs without being out of breath? All of these things are great ways to measure physical progress that have nothing to do with the scale.
Now it’s your turn … Do you weigh yourself regularly? What did you learn from this post?