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Ntombi 03-01-2013 12:11 AM

Article: Why the Scale Lies
I used to post this article on a fairly regular basis, to help people understand why the scale is simply one of many tools. I can no longer find the source link, as it's been a looooooooong time since I first copied it, but here we go!

Why The Scale Lies...

By Renee Cloe, ACE Certified Personal Trainer

We've been told over an over again that daily weighing is unnecessary, yet many of us can't resist peeking at that number every morning. If you just can't bring yourself to toss the scale in the trash, you should definitely familiarize yourself with the factors that influence its readings.

A single teaspoon of salt contains over 2,000 mg of sodium. Generally, we should only eat between 1,000 and 3,000 mg of sodium a day, so it's easy to go overboard. Sodium is a sneaky substance. You would expect it to be most highly concentrated in salty chips, nuts, and crackers. However, a food doesn't have to taste salty to be loaded with sodium. A half cup of instant pudding actually contains nearly four times as much sodium as an ounce of salted nuts, 460 mg in the pudding versus 123 mg in the nuts. The more highly processed a food is, the more likely it is to have a high sodium content.

That's why, when it comes to eating, it's wise to stick mainly to the basics: fruits, vegetables, lean meat, beans, and whole grains. Be sure to read the labels on canned foods, boxed mixes, and frozen dinners. Women may also retain several pounds of water prior to menstruation. This is very common and the weight will likely disappear as quickly as it arrives. Pre-menstrual water-weight gain can be minimized by drinking plenty of water, maintaining an exercise program, and keeping high-sodium processed foods to a minimum.

Another factor that can influence the scale is glycogen. Think of glycogen as a fuel tank full of stored carbohydrate. Some glycogen is stored in the liver and some is stored the muscles themselves. This energy reserve weighs more than a pound and it's packaged with 3-4 pounds of water when it's stored. Your glycogen supply will shrink during the day if you fail to take in enough carbohydrates. As the glycogen supply shrinks you will experience a small imperceptible increase in appetite and your body will restore this fuel reserve along with it's associated water. It's normal to experience glycogen and water weight shifts of up to 2 pounds per day even with no changes in your calorie intake or activity level. These fluctuations have nothing to do with fat loss, although they can make for some unnecessarily dramatic weigh-ins if you're prone to obsessing over the number on the scale.

Otherwise rational people also tend to forget about the actual weight of the food they eat. For this reason, it's wise to weigh yourself first thing in the morning before you've had anything to eat or drink. Swallowing a bunch of food before you step on the scale is no different than putting a bunch of rocks in your pocket. The 5 pounds that you gain right after a huge dinner is not fat. It's the actual weight of everything you've had to eat and drink. The added weight of the meal will be gone several hours later when you've finished digesting it.

Exercise physiologists tell us that in order to store one pound of fat, you need to eat 3,500 calories more than your body is able to burn. In other words, to actually store the above dinner as 5 pounds of fat, it would have to contain a whopping 17,500 calories. This is not likely, in fact it's not humanly possible. So when the scale goes up 3 or 4 pounds overnight, rest easy, it's likely to be water, glycogen, and the weight of your dinner. Keep in mind that the 3,500 calorie rule works in reverse also. In order to lose one pound of fat you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in. Generally, it's only possible to lose 1-2 pounds of fat per week. When you follow a very low calorie diet that causes your weight to drop 10 pounds in 7 days, it's physically impossible for all of that to be fat. What you're really losing is water, glycogen, and muscle.

This brings us to the scale's sneakiest attribute. It doesn't just weigh fat. It weighs muscle, bone, water, internal organs and all. When you lose "weight," that doesn't necessarily mean that you've lost fat. In fact, the scale has no way of telling you what you've lost (or gained). Losing muscle is nothing to celebrate. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue. The more muscle you have the more calories your body burns, even when you're just sitting around. That's one reason why a fit, active person is able to eat considerably more food than the dieter who is unwittingly destroying muscle tissue.

Robin Landis, author of "Body Fueling," compares fat and muscles to feathers and gold. One pound of fat is like a big fluffy, lumpy bunch of feathers, and one pound of muscle is small and valuable like a piece of gold. Obviously, you want to lose the dumpy, bulky feathers and keep the sleek beautiful gold. The problem with the scale is that it doesn't differentiate between the two. It can't tell you how much of your total body weight is lean tissue and how much is fat. There are several other measuring techniques that can accomplish this, although they vary in convenience, accuracy, and cost. Skin-fold calipers pinch and measure fat folds at various locations on the body, hydrostatic (or underwater) weighing involves exhaling all of the air from your lungs before being lowered into a tank of water, and bioelectrical impedance measures the degree to which your body fat impedes a mild electrical current. If the thought of being pinched, dunked, or gently zapped just doesn't appeal to you, don't worry. The best measurement tool of all turns out to be your very own eyes. How do you look? How do you feel? How do your clothes fit? Are your rings looser? Do your muscles feel firmer? These are the true measurements of success. If you are exercising and eating right, don't be discouraged by a small gain on the scale. Fluctuations are perfectly normal. Expect them to happen and take them in stride. It's a matter of mind over scale.

~PaperMoon~ 03-01-2013 12:15 AM

Very good information! Thanks for posting!:up:

Mimosa23 03-01-2013 01:02 AM

Mods, can we make this a sticky?

This is a great article, thanks for posting Ntombi!

And: BUMP!

yvonne326 03-01-2013 03:53 AM

What a great article! Thanks for posting.

Punkin 03-01-2013 04:38 AM

The other thing to add is that if you suddenly reduce carbs like you do when you go on the induction phase of atkins, your body deletes all of its glycogen stores and with that goes a lot of water weight. I miraculously lost about 4lbs in that first week, which could definitely not be fat because it is just mathematically impossible to lose that much fat. After that initial weight loss I seemed to stall for quite a while. I was a bit frustrated but then I remember that the fat loss has to "catch up" with the water weight loss from the first week. Now I am losing at a rate of .25/week which seems more realistic. In total I have actually lost about 6lbs in 9 weeks, which is actually pretty good. :)

ValR 03-01-2013 05:39 AM

The article was very informative. Thank you for sharing, Ntombi.

Just Russ 03-01-2013 01:04 PM

I agree totally... but I still get on the scale each morning as motivation & jot it on my calandar... but I total my losses once a week on the anniversay of my start. Since many things can swing weight... though my first morning weights are remarkably consistant... I don't consider it as real until I've held the weight 3 days.

Same scale, same place in the room, same clothing.

biancasteeplechase 03-01-2013 01:19 PM

Thank you for posting this! So many newcomers seem to come in asking "Why did my weight go up?" or "Why didn't it go down as much as I expected?" It's so important to understand that the day-to-day weights will reflect lots of things, and what's more important is the longer-term trend.

Ntombi 03-01-2013 01:48 PM

I weigh daily because it helps keep me on track, not because I think it's the best measure of success.

Strawberry 03-01-2013 02:14 PM

I LOVE this article!

I'm so tired of seeing a post saying "OMG, I ate "x" and now the scale is up 5 lbs! I must never eat that again!" or conversely "I ate "y" last night and the scale is down 5 lbs this morning - its a miracle food!" Its all Water Weight, people!

Sharss 03-01-2013 07:18 PM


Originally Posted by Strawberry (Post 16289034)
I LOVE this article!

I'm so tired of seeing a post saying "OMG, I ate "x" and now the scale is up 5 lbs! I must never eat that again!" or conversely "I ate "y" last night and the scale is down 5 lbs this morning - its a miracle food!" Its all Water Weight, people!

Maybe you're tired of reading posts like that, but for our Thread, our daily weigh-ins are teaching us something. We know why and what to do and what works and what doesn't work. :) We know if we screw up, there are consequences that may take several days to overcome.

Keep your eye on YOUR goal and you'll way more easily navigate around the discouraging obstacles.


Strawberry 03-01-2013 09:42 PM


Maybe you're tired of reading posts like that, but for our Thread, our daily weigh-ins are teaching us something.
Do you all have a daily weight thread? (If so, i've never seen it) I mean no disrespect to weigh ins. I weight daily as well. My point was that if you find you weigh 3 lbs less one morning, its not because whatever dinner you had last night caused some huge fat loss. Its just not physically possible to lose and gain fat that quickly, its water weight.

Any loss of fat is going to be on the order of ounces a day, which is hard to see clearly on a scale when you are dealing with issues as mentioned in the article above. You need to give any changes in your diet a good week or so (at minimum) to see the overall trend of weight loss.

Mimosa23 03-05-2013 01:13 AM


Vita oldie 03-05-2013 11:00 AM

Interesting article.

Ntombi 03-11-2013 06:45 PM


160orbust 03-12-2013 09:39 AM

Another thing to remember is that after strenuous exercise (or doing any exercise more than usual) your body retains the water to repair the muscles.

I read somewhere that your muscles need 4 molecules of water to store one molecule of glycogen, but I'm having trouble finding a link. Therefore, it would make sense that after working out intensely, your body readies itself for another expenditure of energy by storing more glycogen, and hence, more water. This would result in increased water weight, which would decrease as your body used up the glycogen.

I always expect a gain after my work-out days but worry not as the weight is usually gone and then some by the next work-out day.

JMacB 03-12-2013 08:45 PM

Fantastic reminder.

I weigh daily, but I have learned so much from that. I also look carefully at my hands before i step on the scales. My hands tell me how much water I am retaining. Then I look at the scale. Makes me less crazy,to be honest.

Ntombi 03-27-2013 11:16 PM


zombiegoat2000 03-30-2013 04:44 PM

I sometimes get on the scale daily and sometimes I don't but for the most part I go by how my clothing fits and as long as they are not tight Im all good to go, I will NEVER BUY BIGGER CLOTHING AGAIN UNLESS I GET PREGNANT!

Ntombi 04-09-2013 12:17 AM


Strawberry 04-09-2013 03:27 PM

YES! This article needs to be bumped daily, or be a sticky!

It seems like we almost daily we have questions about frustration with scale fluctuation!

Ntombi 04-23-2013 05:05 PM


kiwistars 04-23-2013 05:11 PM

To demonstrate this point ,today I gained half a pound and lost a whole inch around my waist in the same ten minutes :)

Ntombi 04-23-2013 05:25 PM

Along those same lines, I've only lost 1.2 pounds in this past 6 weeks, but went down a size and a half in jeans, two sizes in shirts and skirts. :)

kiwistars 04-23-2013 05:27 PM

Yeah it is funny how it works.Most of the 12 pounds I have lost in the 7 weeks I have been lowcarbing was in the first 3 weeks but now it is in the last two weeks that I am looking slimmer,body or face.

Ntombi 05-10-2013 07:57 PM


Ntombi 05-21-2013 07:33 AM


dazygyrl 05-21-2013 09:31 AM

i'm experiencing this exact thing right now. i am doing a version of the hcg protocol. i weighed before i started the low cal portion. one week after starting the low calorie portion i weighed again. i was SHOCKED to see that the scale told me i weighed a whooping ONE POUND less than when i started. BUT this didn't freak me out as i lost a LOT of inches in the time i have been doing my modified protocol. so yeah, i completely agree with this article. i'm walking briskly twice a day along with my diet changes which i normally never exercise, AT ALL...have always hated it. so i'm totally peaking at the scale for amusement, lol, but only measuring my progress by the mirror and fit of my clothes.

heidihoopi 06-13-2013 11:37 PM

What a good article, and tips from the posters, thanks!

Ntombi 06-18-2013 05:14 PM

Bump, as it's come up again. :)

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