For years now people have relied solely on the scales as an accurate measurement of how their diet is going.
Weighing scales are not an ideal way to track your body composition – in fact all they seem to do is trigger anger, judgement and self-doubt in those who don’t see the numbers they want to see when they step on them. Sound familiar? You’re not the only one.
What is body composition? How is it different to body weight?
Body composition is basically everything you are made up of. You have a body within which there are vital organs that have a certain weight, there are different types of muscle that have a certain weight, bones, blood etc., you get where I am going with this.
Your body is made up of multiple components, all having their own weight.
Then you have your body weight. This is the total weight of your body and everything inside it, all those different components together.
Now when you try to lose weight, it is really fat you want to lose, not muscle, not blood, not organs, bones etc. And when you are trying to gain weight, it is muscle you want to gain, not fat.
This is where the difference in body weight and body composition becomes clearer.
What the scales tell you:
The scales can only give you your total weight. Not how much your heart alone weighs, your bones, muscles etc. Therefore how are they the most accurate way of telling whether that weight you lost was from fat and not muscle? Or for those wanting to gain weight, how can the scales tell if the weight you gained was from muscle and not fat?
Some people become so obsessed with the scales that they actually don’t care about this as long as they get the numbers they want to see when they step on the weighing scales. That’s where it becomes dangerous.
If you are an avid weighing scales advocate I hope you realise that there are multiple reasons for the fluctuations you see in the numbers on the scales.
For example, living in the Middle East I train in weather that can be over 40 degrees Celsius. In order to stay hydrated, I weigh myself both before & after training to see how much weight I lost through sweat, in turn telling me how much water I need take to rehydrate.
(For every pound of weight you lose from sweat in a training session, replace each pound with around ½ litre water/electrolytes)
Let’s be realistic, I don’t step on the scales after training & think of the couple of kg’s I lost in that hour as fat lost. (I wish!!) However, it just wouldn’t make sense.
But there you have one scenario where weighing scales can come in handy!
Back to a few different reasons why your weight can fluctuate on the scales…
For example, if you have a relatively low sodium diet, then you go and have a pizza at the weekend, you stand on the scales on Monday and almost cry because you’ve gained 2kg’s of fat. Relax, no you haven’t. That extra weight is due to water retention because of the pizza you ate, as you are used to a low sodium diet the majority of the time.
Your muscles are made up of around 70-80% water which is stored from muscle glycogen. Glycogen comes from the carbs we eat. Therefore if you drop your carbohydrate intake when you begin your ‘diet’, as most people tend to do, this will give you the false impression that you have lost fat if you are using the scales as a measure. When in fact your body (your muscles) are just holding less water than usual.
If you eat more high-fibre foods than usual, you may find your weight on the scales has increased. Don’t be alarmed, as this is more than likely due to more waste moving through your colon/digestive system. Just the same as your bowel movements can cause fluctuation in the scales – either more waste is excreted showing a lower number, or waste has yet to be excreted, showing a higher number.
Female Menstrual Cycle
Females tend to have it worse than men when it comes to weight fluctuations, especially around the menstrual cycle. You may find that the few days leading up to your period your weight will be anything from around 1-10 lbs. more than usual, so don’t panic! When you get your period, progesterone levels fall, and your weight will more than likely return to normal. Unless, of course, you give in to the cravings some people experience during their period and eat fatty foods, salt & alcohol, all of which trigger your body to hold onto water.
Sleep & Stress Levels
Both a lack of sleep and raised stress levels can lead to weight gain in individuals. Unlike the above reasons for your weight increasing on the scales, these two factors may cause an actual weight gain from fat.
When you are stressed the body releases higher levels of cortisol which in turn promotes visceral fat which is the type of fat that surrounds your organs.
If you are not getting enough sleep, this can affect the hormones in your body that regulate your appetite. Your leptin levels will decrease, which means you won’t get that feeling of fullness when you eat. Whilst ghrelin levels increase, which makes you feel hungry more often. Together these two hormones can lead to an increase in weight due to overeating.
So there you have it, several factors that affect your weight on the weighing scales. The majority of which mean that you should ignore the number on the scales and focus more on your appearance through progress pictures, measurements, how your clothes fit & how you feel overall.
So if you find that the weighing scales are dictating your mood for the day, leading you to overeat, beat yourself up about not hitting the numbers you wanted or even worse giving up on your goals – it’s time to ditch the scales!