by Caitlin H,
June 26, 2023
When you start a weight loss journey, you may find yourself focusing solely on one thing: the scale.
It’s easy to get stuck on that number and feel frustrated when it doesn’t budge, no matter how hard you try. While pounds play a role, they don’t tell the full story, not by a long shot.
Let’s explore why scales don’t tell the full picture and additional ways to track your progress for a more complete understanding of how far you’ve come.
The limitations of the scale
Scales are a good starting point for determining your progress. The number on the scale provides your body mass (in pounds), which includes fat, muscle, bone density, organs, and even the food you ate that day. Your body mass index (BMI) is an important indicator of your overall health — whether you’re underweight, average weight, overweight or obese. However, BMI has shortcomings as it does not distinguish between muscle and fat. For example, bodybuilders typically have very low body fat and high muscle mass, but may have a BMI that classifies them as overweight or obese.
Another problem with the scale is that we often get emotionally attached to the number. When it falls, we feel happy. But when it goes up, it can make us feel depressed and it can hurt our body image — even if we’re well on our way to becoming healthier.
A deeper dive into why your weight fluctuates
As mentioned above, the number on the scale includes your entire body mass. There are several factors involved:
Did you just eat a big meal? Did you drink many glasses of water? If you step on the scale right after, the number will include that weight. This does not necessarily mean that your body fat percentage has increased, but rather that you have not given your body enough time to digest food or water. Water is a particularly important factor for women, who tend to retain it during or just before their menstrual cycle.
You’ve probably heard that “muscle weighs more than fat.” And that’s kind of true, although a better way to look at it is that muscle is denser than fat. It also takes up less space than fat, which means the number on the scale can fluctuate, especially if part of your weight loss program includes exercise.*
Alternative ways to track your weight loss progress
Although the scale has the limitations described above, it is certainly a useful way to track weight loss.* Make the most of the following tips:
Weigh in monthly instead of weekly: This gives your body more time to respond to fluctuations due to muscle growth and the time it takes to digest food.
Weigh first thing in the morning: This eliminates a higher number due to eating or drinking during the day.
Keep an open mind: The number doesn’t cover everything. Even if it’s flat or going up, that doesn’t mean you’re not making progress, as it can be related to muscle gain.
Body measurements are a great indicator of progress because they show the specific areas of your body that have lost fat. On the same monthly day you weigh yourself, take a soft tape measure and wrap it around the largest part of each of the following:
- Waist: The area ½ inch above your belly button
- Hips: Most of your hips
- Bust: The area around the breast, right at the nipple line
- Chest: The area just below your bust
- Thighs: The largest part of your leg
- Calves: The lower leg
- Upper arm: The largest part of the arm, just above the elbow
- Forearm: The part of the arm just below the elbow
Be sure to note the numbers each time and watch how they change.
Make a mental note of how tight your clothes feel on you each day. Are they becoming more relaxed? You can even take pictures of yourself in the same outfit every month to see how it looks – you’ll probably notice changes every time you look back.
At some point, you might even need to buy a size down — talk about an exciting time!
It may be one of the simplest ways to track weight loss, but how your clothes actually fit is one of the best indicators of weight loss!
Ultimately, losing weight and getting healthy takes time and commitment. Results take time, but you will get there.
Be patient and consistent and take one small step at a time. You will likely start to notice that you have more energy, better numbers in the doctor’s office, and generally feel better.
Author: Caitlin H
Diet-to-Go Community Manager
Caitlin is the Diet-to-Go community manager and an avid runner. She is passionate about connecting with others online and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. She believes moderation is key and people will have the most success losing weight if they engage in common sense healthy eating and fitness.