If you’re trying to lose weight, the scale can be a double-edged sword. When you’re slaying your diet and exercise goals, stepping on it brings a wave of joy. But when you hit a slump or plateau, you might have the urge to throw it out the window.
Your scale can be a useful tool in your health journey. But you need to know when and how to weigh yourself to get accurate and helpful info from it. Registered dietitian Chelsey Ludwiczak, RD, shares her expertise on how to use your scale to reach your health goals.
Should you weigh yourself regularly?
Your weight is just one piece of your overall health picture. So do you really need to weigh yourself?
“Regularly weighing yourself can help you stay on track with your weight loss or weight maintenance goals,” says Ludwiczak. “It’s like having a weekly budget. If you go over your budget one week, you want to know so you can fix it. If you don’t realize you’re overspending every week, it adds up.”
The scale helps you keep track of your own weight so that you can change behaviors before 1 pound of weight gain becomes 5 or 10.
But there’s an exception to the weigh-in habit. “If you have a history of eating disorders or anxiety about the scale, avoid weighing yourself for now,” Ludwiczak says. “Speak with a psychologist or mental health professional about these concerns.”
How often to weigh yourself
It’s not how often you weigh yourself, but how you do it, Ludwiczak says. The key is consistency.
“It should always be on the same scale, at the same time and wearing the same thing or without clothes,” she explains.
If you want to step on the scale weekly, for example, do it on the same day each week. “Your weight won’t be consistent if you weigh yourself on Friday and Monday,” she says. “Many people have a different routine on the weekends. They might eat out more, drink alcohol or snack more. Compare that to Friday, if you’ve been eating consistently for five days, and you’ll see a big difference.”
You’ll also get a more reliable result if you weigh yourself first thing in the morning, as food and drink can change what the scale says for a few hours.
The best day to weigh yourself
Some research says you should weigh yourself on Wednesdays because it’s the middle of the week. Ludwiczak says Wednesdays are good, but you’re not tied to that day.
“Many people like to see what they weigh on Friday because they’ve had a consistent routine throughout the week,” she explains. “You see where your weight is after you’ve held a routine for five days. Then you can adjust your routine if you’re not seeing results.”
Reasons for “overnight” weight gain
Certain things may cause a rapid change on the scale, sending you into a panic. But take a breath — overnight weight gain is not a thing. “Some people ask why they seemingly gained five pounds overnight,” Ludwiczak says. “We know that 3,500 calories equals one pound of weight gain. If you’ve gained five pounds overnight, it’s unlikely that you ate 17,500 calories. It’s probably due to other factors.”
Water retention is a major cause of an overnight change on the scale. You might be retaining more water if you:
- Ate high-sodium foods.
- Drank alcohol.
- Traveled, including flying or long drives.
- Have premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or started your menstrual cycle.
If you’re retaining water without an obvious reason, see your doctor.
Maybe you’re not bloated, but your weight still went up overnight. In those cases, think about the last time you went to the bathroom. Constipation is another reason people see a rapid weight increase.
When the scale won’t budge
Even the most dedicated person can hit a weight-loss plateau, which is oh-so frustrating. But the number on the scale is a piece of your overall health, not the whole picture.
“During any health journey, there’s more than one way to measure success,” Ludwiczak says. “The scale is just one factor. You can also take body measurements once a week, such as your waist or thighs. Those measurements may show that you’re losing inches instead of pounds, suggesting you’re losing fat mass and gaining muscle, since muscle weighs more than fat.”
Look in your closet for another way to check in on your health goals. “Maybe your favorite pair of jeans fits better, even though you haven’t lost much weight,” Ludwiczak says. “This could be a sign that your body composition is changing, even though the scale isn’t reflecting that.”
Your weight doesn’t define you
Maybe you’ve got a number in mind, but your scale taunts you with another one. Don’t give up. It’s time to take some power away from the scale.
“You’re more than that number,” Ludwiczak says. “Your scale isn’t going to reflect all the positive changes you make. Think about how your food choices are making you healthier. Focus on the amazing mental and physical benefits of regular exercise. Maybe you have more energy to play with your kids. So many victories are not scale-related.”