Should You Really Throw Out Your Scale?
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Should You Really Throw out Your Scale?

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Tossing your scale is all the rage, especially in Paleo circles. But is that really a good idea? Find out why keeping your scale around might make sense.

throw away the scale
Your scale is only one measure of your health. istock.com/ereidveto

This is a guest post written by staff nutritionist Kelsey Marksteiner, RD. Click here to read her blog or join her newsletter!

What kind of scale-user are you? Do you weigh every day at 7am sharp and keep a journal of the numbers? Do you barely know what that dust-covered object on the floor of your bathroom is? We all have a different relationship with the scale – some healthy, some not. How useful (or harmful) is the bathroom scale?

Tossing your scale seems to be all the rage these days, especially within Paleo circles. In the age of focusing on health rather than thinness it’s clear why we hear this advice – for some, weighing frequently can cause anxiety, low self confidence, and destructive diet and lifestyle behaviors. (1)

Throwing away the scale can be a downright liberating experience; we are no longer defined by that number. Forgetting the numbers and focusing on other factors of health may be just the ticket some folks need to lead a much happier life.

There is more to health than the number on the scale. What kind of scale user are you?

Trust me, I see my fair share of clients that need to toss their scale. But is it something everyone should do? In my opinion, no.

There are certain types of clients that do really well using the scale as part of their overall healthy lifestyle, and it’s one piece of the puzzle that helps get them to a healthy, manageable weight. When used appropriately, the scale can tell you that your weight is steadily increasing or decreasing earlier than you might be able to tell by the fit of your clothes. Because of this, you can correct the problem before it becomes harder to deal with.  Research shows us that those who monitor their weight are likely to not only lose more weight but also to keep it off longer than their non-weighing counterparts. (2, 3)

So should you toss the scale or keep it? If you identify with two or more of the following statements, you’ll likely be better off without it:

  • I avoid weighing myself or become very anxious at the idea of stepping on the scale
  • I place a lot of pressure on myself to be at a certain weight
  • I am very disappointed in myself if I am not at my target weight
  • I ruminate on my weight for the rest of the day after weighing myself
  • If a number is higher or lower than I wanted, I will make extreme changes to my diet or exercise habits
  • I have a history of disordered eating
  • I feel better when I don’t weigh myself

If these statements sound like you, get rid of the scale! It’s causing you more problems than it would solve. However, if you don’t identify with these statements, read on to see my top 3 tips for using the scale to your advantage.

Weigh Frequently, but Not Too Frequently

For those who can handle the scale, I usually suggest weighing yourself once a week in the morning, before eating anything. This will show you your weight trend over time, and you can monitor the general increase or decrease as you go along.

Women may want to weigh themselves less as their weight fluctuates more depending on where they are in their cycle. Some may get discouraged if they weigh themselves on a weekly basis and note large fluctuations. If you tend to get discouraged when your weight fluctuates, monthly weighing (at the same point in your cycle each month) might be best.

While I do think that daily weighing can work for some, I generally discourage it for most people. I don’t think it provides enough extra information to be worthwhile, and the people who ask if they can do it are generally those who I think should toss their scale in the first place! If you feel compelled to weigh on a daily basis, it’s worth exploring why you want to do this. More often than not, those who want to weigh daily want to do so because it somehow validates themselves or motivates them to make extremely drastic diet and lifestyle changes on a day-to-day basis. These are not healthy behaviors.

As I mentioned before, the benefit of weighing regularly, but not too often, is that you can start to notice the general increase or decrease in your weight over time. Knowing that you’re heading toward weight gain (or loss) early can help you modify your behavior in a manageable, healthy manner so that you don’t find yourself facing a 20 pound weight change down the road.

Understand What the Scale Can Tell You

The number on the scale does not tell you how much muscle or how much fat you have. If you’re someone who has started weight training recently, the number on the scale can sometimes go up as you start working out and increasing your muscle mass. This is not a bad thing!

Since muscle is denser than fat, you may see the number creep up or stagnate when you’re trying to lose weight. But fear not! This is simply an increase in muscle mass and (usually) a decrease in body fat. I encourage you to keep track of your body measurements (hips, thighs, waist, chest etc) as well; while the number on the scale might go up, you’ll notice you’re also losing inches off your body. You’ll be stronger and fitter, but your weight will be higher or the same. Fair trade-off in my book!

Also realize that a scale shows even small fluctuations in your weight that have nothing to do with the amount of fat you have. For example, if you ate a lot more salt yesterday than usual, your body will retain more water as a result. Water weighs something too! You’ll notice that your weight might be higher today because of the extra water you’re holding onto – a totally normal fluctuation, and nothing to worry about. It does not mean that you need to cut your calories, carbs, fat, etc. to burn off the extra two pounds of fat you suddenly sprouted overnight.

Because we will see these normal fluctuations in weight, it’s important not to base your dietary and lifestyle habits on that sudden two pound increase. What you’ll want to look out for is a steady increase or decrease over time.

Below are two weight logs over a 6 week period as an example.

Weight Log Chart

See that small but noticeable shift upwards in example #2? That indicates a subtle weight gain, whereas #1 has some fluctuation but overall it doesn’t necessarily seem to be increasing. Both examples start off at the same weight, but you can see #2 steadily climbing upwards.

But let’s say both had just started weight training. That increase on the scale for #2 could be an increase in muscle mass and potentially not much decrease in fat. They might be perfectly happy with those results, or they could choose to modify their diet to help with some extra fat loss too. For #1, their weight maintenance could indicate a slight increase in muscle mass and a small decrease in fat mass.

Let’s change things again: perhaps #2 spent weeks 3 and 4 consuming a high salt diet and retaining lots of water as a result. We can assume that those numbers are a bit inflated because of that, and thus those numbers don’t necessarily represent an actual increase in weight over those 6 weeks.

My point here is that a scale isn’t perfect and that the numbers need to be taken in context with everything else going on. As long as you can accept what the scale can tell you (and probably more importantly, what it can’t) it can be a useful tool for weight management.

Realize There Is Way More to Health Than the Number on the Scale

The scale does not measure your happiness, your stress level, your fitness, or any other measure of your health. It’s simply one number in the midst of many measurable (and unmeasurable) things in your life. Do not let it dictate how you feel about yourself. If you give it that power, it will absolutely lord it over you!

Make sure to focus on all other areas of your health, like your sleep, your contact with nature, your friends and family, and your stress management in addition to using the number on the scale to manage your weight. Your weight is one number in your overall health and the same can be said for any facet of health: your blood pressure does not tell you everything about your health, nor does your vitamin D level. While they’re both important, they do not determine your overall health or happiness.

That being said, if you are able to use the number you see as just that – a number – the scale can help you manage your weight better than you could without it.

I think it’s great that people are embracing a life without numbers – I’m all for throwing counting calories, grams, pounds, and everything else out the window if it’s a healthy choice for that person. But I also think it’s important to remember that the scale can be useful if implemented correctly and that it’s possible to use it in a healthy way to help you reach your goals.

Now I want to hear from you: what do you think about using the scale? Are you someone who can use it without getting attached to the number or are you better of tossing it?

Kelsey MarksteinerThis is a guest post written by Kelsey Marksteiner, RD. Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian with a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from NYU and a Master’s in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. She works in private practice and recommends individualized dietary therapy focusing on biologically appropriate diet principles to aid her clients in losing weight, gaining energy, and pursuing continued health. She is a firm believer that everyone is different, and she tailors her plan for each and every individual. Through her work, she aims to meld the dietary wisdom of traditional cultures with the latest science in integrative and functional medicine to create plans for her clients that work in the modern world. You can learn more about Kelsey on her staff bio page, or by visiting her private practice website. Join her newsletter here!

  1. Hello,
    I completed a 30-day autoimmune protocol before the holidays. I had some great success with weight loss approx. 20 lbs. I added eggs, potatoes and wine back in with out noticing any symptoms. My reintroduction stopped with the holidays, etc. I picked up where I left off about 5 weeks ago. I am doing an autoimmune protocol plus eggs, potatoes (2 glasses of wine/week). I also started a lifting program (~1hr 3x/week) about 5 weeks ago. I also do about 20 min cardio on the other days and some yoga 1-2x/week for stress management. I weight myself once a week and do measurements from my waist and one leg. Since I started the protocol (the second time) my weight loss has looked like this:
    week 1 -2.0 lbs
    week 2 -0.5 lbs
    week 3 +0.5 lbs
    week 4 -0.5 lbs
    week 5 0.0 lbs
    I only did measurements the last 2 weeks; I would say a slight reduction in waist, no reduction in thigh measurement. I am feeling frustrated. It has been about a month with out any weight loss results. I know muscle gain can effect this but I some point the muscle gain slows down and some fat loss should show up, right? I gained about 100 lbs with my two children and I have only lost 40 of it so I still have a long way to go. I would appreciate any help or suggestions. What I am currently trying is removing items I previously added back in so I cut wine on week 4 and I am cutting potatoes this week to see if this helps.

    Thank you!
    Molly

  2. I’ve tried tossing the scale before, and it usually resulted in a 30-50 pound weight gain without even noticing it! I’ve been just a little on the heavy side all of my life (and briefly a LOT on the heavy side right before going Paleo), and I think that gives me a slight advantage over the scale. I learned a long time ago not to attach my self-worth to the number on the scale. Is it sometimes discouraging? Yes. But I can usually look back over the days or weeks before an increase and recognize the behaviors or factors that contributed to it. When I’m avoiding the scale, it is usually because I am avoiding responsibility for my actions, and never in my life has an extended hiatus from the scale ended with a loss. When I’m taking care of myself, the scale typically reflects that as loss or maintenance. When I’m not taking care of myself, the scale is a useful reality check (I really CAN’T have nachos and margaritas once a week or more and imagine it has no effect on my health…). I think life must be much harder in some ways for people who were always thin until a certain point in life.

  3. At one time, I was forty pounds over my “ideal.” I used to ignore the scale before that. I remember that day, staring down at the number. Here was one mystery solved and one mystery gained. How did I ever get so heavy? And that’s why my friends sometimes give me a little pat on the belly! I was wearing 36″ pants. After drastically changing how I was eating and after two years ago beginning to commute by bicycle, now my 34″ pants refuse to stay up without tightly fixing my belt.
    I still check the scale regularly, especially as we go into the Canadian winter. The bike doesn’t get our nearly enough, so monitoring constantly is one way to head off getting that heavy, ever again!

    • Shane,
      I remember myself in the same situation. I knew I had gained some but never knew how much. Until one day I was at a store, trying on clothes and I realized I didn’t know my size anymore. Everything that I though would fit, didn’t. I was horrified and I then bought a scale. Only to find out I was about 7-8 kilos above my “ideal” (that’s about 15-17 pounds). I was horrified for a second time and then vowed to never let myself gain so much just like that. It was among the scariest experiences I’ve ever had, the feeling that I’ve totally lost control of my body. And it’s good that you brought that memory back up as it serves me as a great reminder to get of my behind and move.

  4. Great post. I tell my clients to weigh once a week to monitor their weight. However, some of my clients are better off staying away from the scale because it sucks so much mental energy from them. I have a scale in my office that measure body fat percent. It’s not gold standard but I try to track fat % change over weight change and also how they feel about their body.

  5. I’ve been Paleo for years, and love the way I look and feel, so there’s really no need for a scale.
    I do have one and I do use it. But, what I’ve come to realize is that I pretty much know what it’s going to say, before I step on it, and it’s always what I thought it would be.
    It’s old and I was thinking of replacing it, but after reading this, I think I’ll just toss it and go on with my healthy, happy, fit, Paleo life!

  6. I weigh myself every day, using one of those internet-connected scales. I use Withings, but there are many other brands, and I’ve actually set it up so it posts my weight to Twitter at each weighing.

    I’m not a neurotic person, so the daily monitoring or posting has not caused me stress or any of the other negative effects you cite in your article. One benefit I’ve noticed of using such a scale is that it automatically records your weight data and thus makes it very easy to spot trends. I’ve been doing this for years, and as I’ve accumulated more data, I’ve noticed one other big benefit of recording this data. With a significant amount of historical data, you can begin to see how major life events may or may not affect your weight. Things like marriage, a new child, a dog put to rest, the onset or diagnosis of a disease, school starting up again, summertime vs wintertime, the purchase of an exercise machine, etc., all have the potential to affect your weight, and one can correlate those events with your data. Once you see how these things may affect your weight, it gives you the opportunity to prepare and/or adjust your diet accordingly when such an event happens again or is looming.

  7. I haven’t had a home scale since I left my parents house decades ago. I do hop on in others homes, the doctors office and the vet. I usually know exactly what I weigh. I do go by how my clothing fits, and how I look naked, and it’s often correct. Muscle mass is most important to me, and I suppose if I’d had a scale all these years I may have fallen into the “scale neurotic” category, but chose to sidestep that and as a result, I’ve had a primarily consistent size/weight thus far. Great discussion!

  8. I weigh myself after I’ve had my recovery shake, every day that I work out at a high intensity. I love it because it gives me data points. In fact, I’d love to make a graph with the data points from the scale. It of course has to be taken into context, and it is, but I like to see the trend lines.

  9. Early in our marriage, I threw out the scale because:

    1. I got tired of tripping over it in the small bathroom
    2. It was getting rusty from shower humidity

    I never replaced it. Instead, whenever I go to the vet’s office, I just hop on the doggy scale–much more accurate than anything I could ever buy for the home. Occasionally, even when I don’t have a vet appointment, I stop in (it’s on my shopping route) and weigh myself whenever I feel like I’ve gained or lost some.

    Usually, my “feeling” is right.

    • I agree, I use a scale elsewhere, we have one at the grocery store and when I visit my mother, if I feel the need, but really my clothes tell me what i need to know. [I used to be overweight, daily weigher, and would fixate way too much on the scale].

      • Glad you recognized the scale wasn’t a healthy choice for you. There are definitely people like you out there and it’s important to realize if you fall in that camp. Good for you!

  10. The scales are helpful IF you want to lose weight. I can see no good reason to lose weight for most people though unless it is fat. I have weighed the same, about 135 lbs. for at least 10 years with only 5 lb variations in either direction. But my body fat % has gone down from about 30% to 18%, which means my muscle mass has accordingly increased. I’m very happy with this change which is the result of my low-carb paleo diet and I am now working on gaining weight (muscle of course) which is actually going slower than losing was. 🙂

  11. I personally, am more concerned about my body fat levels than how much I weigh. Everyone has their own individual priority, however, muscle definition and lower body fat is considerably more important to me than how much I weigh, so consequently I never weigh myself on scales.

  12. I weigh myself most days. My weight is now sitting in a very comfortable low range and it helps me keep on track with what I eat. I don’t make any specific changes based on the scale reading on any given day. What you weigh is just information. It is how that information gets used that can be problematic.

  13. As a male I do not bother with the scale for over time my weight fluctuates. For me a better indicator is my gut size and thus I wear a belt that is always the same size – if it gets too tight I know I have to cut back or cut out something without stressing over it – it is a snug reminder that gets uncomfortable if I do not take note. So, having a scale maybe interesting but for people like myself I don’t think it would force me to deal with the issue as quickly as feeling the tightness of the belt.

  14. I am also a daily weigher. I have found that I have several food sensitivities that result in 2-3 lb weight gains overnight. Needless to say I try to track this to see if any other foods are causing a problem. For instance I know it I eat Thai food that they say is gluten free, I still have a weight gain so I know there is something in their food that I am reacting to. I also find that if I don’t weigh I have a tendency to eat more, I don’t know why, but it is what I have observed.

    • I also weigh daily to watch for food sensitivities. My real weight is almost absurdly stable, so when it jumps 3 lbs overnight, I know I got dairy-ed somehow (like the sneaky Parmesan in the sub shop salad dressing, or the bad batch of ghee). I could just measure my waist instead, but stepping on the scale is faster.

  15. I’m a daily weigher. My scale has a body fat percentage estimate as part of the output and when I get on in the morning those two numbers can give me good estimate of how well-hydrated I am and whether I slept well.

    I know this because I know where both numbers are trending. If my weight is up but my % is down I know I didn’t get a full night’s rest. If my weight is normal but my % is up I’m dehydrated.

    This info allows me to make adjustments to my day which support long term health such as taking soup for lunch, drinking more tea, going to bed earlier. I think those are sensible reasons to weigh daily.

    My numbers go into an electronic food diary, which computes a trend graph. I think of that weight as my actual current weight and not the number on the scale.