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Should You Really Throw out Your Scale?

by Kelsey Kinney, RD

Published on

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

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.

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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.

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Kelsey Marksteiner
Kelsey Kinney, RD

Kelsey Kinney, RD, is devoted to helping the world achieve great digestive health through her blog, private practice, and prebiotic & probiotic drink mix company Gut Power Drinks. Check out her blog, Gut Power Drinks website, or visit her on Facebook for more.

Kelsey is a registered dietitian specializing in digestive and hormonal health. She graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics and went on to complete her dietetic internship at Milford Regional Medical Center in Milford, Massachusetts. She also has a Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine from the University of Western States.

Kelsey loves helping people find their unique, personalized diet that will help them heal, not anyone else. She has always been interested in nutrition and health, and is honored to now help people find a diet that brings them happiness and longevity.

Professional website: https://kelseykinney.com

Gut Power Drinks website: https://gutpowerdrinks.com

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Join the conversation

  1. I’m a daily weigher. I’ve been on diet after diet since I suddenly began gaining significant weight at age 30. I’ve been a classic yoyo dieter, and I can tell in retrospect that the first symptom that another diet was about to fail was when I stopped getting on the scale daily.

    I’ve gained some inexplicable weight back in the last couple years ~ but I’m convinced that daily weighing is what has enabled me to keep off 80+ lbs for nearly six years now. Without that morning ritual I would have gained it all back and then some, as I did with every diet when I stopped stepping on the scale.

    • Yeah the research does show that weighing on a regular basis can help keep weight off so your results are not surprising. I don’t have an issue with daily weighers as long as they’re not making huge diet/lifestyle changes on a daily basis because of the number. You’re doing it right!

  2. The scale is an important tool depending on what you are trying to do. I weighed 596 pounds last year when I started Overeaters Anonmous. As a guy who is a compulsive eater, but has found a way to stop that behavior (http://oa.org) I really needed a good food behavior to replace it. I found the Paleo/Traditional life style when I was setting up my second food plan with Overeaters Anonymous. I have lost 141 pounds. I lost 19 pounds pre-paleo in 3 months. I’ve lost 122 pounds in the last 12 months on Paleo.

    The only reason a scale is important, to me is to make sure I don’t fall back on my compulsive eating. If you are close to a healthy weight, then a scale may not be a useful tool. a 1 pound variance is 2 glasses of water, not a real amount of info. Obsessing about pounds can develop in to other things. Bulimic or Anorexic behaviors for example.

    With weight and body measurements you can determine a more important number, your Body Mass Index (BMI). That information is more useful and it does not change a lot based on water intake or other arbitrary factors.

    If you’re trying to loose a significant amount of weight (I still weigh 455 lbs) a weighing may be a good idea. I only weigh my self twice a month. When I get below 300 lbs I reduce that to one time a month. when I hit my ideal weight I’ll only do it a few times a year. There is no need for more often., If I notice a sudden weight change, that my change things but if all is normal I don’t need the information.

    Regarding those questions, if you thought ANY of those sounded accurate or resonated, I would encourage you to consider getting help, Those questions indicate a good old fashioned obsession. That can lead to other behaviors. Finding what ever can help you live a happy life, not worrying about your weight, is a good thing.

  3. This article is really not that good. I do weigh myself everyday in the morning but it is not lose weight. Since I use myfitnesspal, I am able to see how noisy the data is and can easily spot where the trends are. I’m an engineer, I like my data, and weight is one of my data sets. I find abrupt weight gain is due to water retention. Funny how you don’t mention how fat loss is really a slow process. 3500 kcal is one pound of fat. If your weight goes up/down one pound after one day, it is not due to fat gain and most likely water. I can’t really justify salt having a big influence on weight gain. Carbs influence glycogen and insulin which effect water retention. Sorry, you are not technical enough to explain how your weight can change day to day and this article is way too simplistic! And of course, muscle mass does not rapidly increase in a day or two to have a large effect on weight gain.

    • That’s exactly what I’m trying to say, Michael. Increased salt intake retains water, as does increased carb intake. Those are often the fluctuations in weight you’ll see on a day-to-day basis. The whole point of tracking your weight over time is to see the general trend of loss or gain rather than focusing on the individual fluctuations.

  4. I am a daily weigher. I struggle to keep my 65kgs (my age nearly matches that number). I am also aware that a rapid decline in weight might be the first symptoms of (the return) of cancer. I’m not uncomfortable about this.

  5. I actually weigh myself morning and night most days. However, I am a healthy weight (5’6″, 130 lbs) and have been consistently for quite a few years. I weigh myself so regularly to monitor my hydration level. I know that on a normal day, I will weigh 3 to 5 pounds more before bed than I do upon waking, so it’s a good cue for me to notice if I haven’t had enough water that day. If I am on vacation and have no access to a scale, I don’t worry about my weight while I’m away. I also belong to a gym that offers monthly body fat measurement and this is the more important number to me as my weight doesn’t fluctuate more than a few pounds. The body fat number helps me to monitor weather I am gaining or losing muscle mass.

  6. Weighing daily while I try to lose 10-15 pounds has been really helpful to me. I consistently lose 0.2-0.25 lbs. per day, except when I slipped and ate gluten–then I saw my weight go up 1.5 pounds in a day and weight loss stalled for 4 or 5 days afterwards before finally resuming again at the old rate. On the day I ate gluten, I didn’t eat more than usual and no other variables were different that day. That tells me gluten is instantly inflammatory to my body. It’s good to get that instant feedback (since I don’t have any obvious reactions to gluten) and if I see a weight increase like that in the future it will cue me to look more closely at what I’ve eaten to see if I can find any hidden sources of gluten.

  7. Wow. I really appreciate this validation. At the beginning of my journey this year I weighed myself once a week in a company weight loss challenge – really just me vs the boss. My scale at home died and I didn’t feel comfortable weighing myself at work more frequently than that.

    After winning the challenge and dropping 20 pounds [49 year old male. Started at 247 and dropped to 227.] I felt like I hit a plateau. My wife replaced the battery on the home scale, I started moving more for fun and switched to a low carb – high fat diet. I have since dropped another 11 pounds and LOVE what I am eating. Now I need an article on how not to be judgmental of vegetarians and the like. I think I have become a fat snob.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your article, I am enjoying my clarity, my progress and I enjoy weighing myself every few days and reminding myself that the fluctuation is muscle growth.

    Looking forward to shorter articles. =)

  8. I tend to be underweight. I don’t own a scale. I jump on the scale at my local Publix, then try to subtract my shoes, purse etc.
    It gives me a gauge. I always think I’m heavier when I’m not.

  9. I just haven’t found my gravitational exertion upon the planet to tell me anything useful, at least nothing my tape measure can’t tell me better. But I’m a girl, and we’re trained to have those numbers haunt you, regardless of more sensible things like body-fat percentage or muscle mass or hip/waist ratio, or how frigging tall you are or… It’s just not worth it. I like to think I have a pretty good body image for a girl, and I *still* end up fixating on that number when I have it. Long live the tape measure, I say!

    • I agree with JMH. I think women in particular focus way too much on the scale and more would benefit from not having one than keeping one around. I have a history of an eating disorder and even though I consider myself recovered, I don’t keep a scale in the house and I’m aware that it can trigger obsessive weighing or negative thoughts. I also think that as you embrace an approach to food that’s focused on nutrient density and HEALTH, paying attention to how your body feels is more important than a number.

  10. Thank you Kelsey! I appreciate the reinforcement. I went primal about three months ago as part of a new health regime. I appreciate your rationale – so often the recommendation is presented and people don’t understand why. We’re all different but this is a piece of advice that seems very broadly applicable.

    BTW – Tuesday is my weigh-in morning. My weight is public within my family so they’re all engaged in my quest. Today I’m 226 down from 250 back in June. Same as last week but I’m used to the fluctuations and plateaux now so i won’t either binge or give up!

  11. I step on the scale every morning – but only to see what is happening with my weight. So far it is on a steady downward trend, which is good. If my weight goes up, It’s usually because I ate too many carbs the day before so I am expecting it. I just make sure to not eat any carbs today. My weight also goes through small plateaus on a regular basis – where I stay the same weight for several consecutive days. And then one day I suddenly find the weight has gone down again by 2-3 pounds.. Those are the days when I feel great, knowing that my low carb diet is working. So far I have lost 18 pounds in 6 weeks – an average of 3 pounds per week.

  12. Hi there everyone. I think when it comes to teenage girls, and some boys who are weight obsessed, removal of scale from family bathroom is best —- and I think in general obsessing about the ‘number’ can be negative. I at one time (when I was thin) believed in NEVER weighing. Kind of like the secret, you don’t worry about your weight and it’s not a problem. As we get older, we (can) get weighed down by the pressures of life, and for various reasons gain weight. Sometimes it’s a combination of things… and for myself JUST THIS WEEK, I started weighing myself in the morning… and I am doing a mostly fat lipid diet with a bit of protein and carbs, pretty much extreme keto — Monday I weighted 146.4 and did well during the day and then ate a bag of chips and a rice flat pizza (thin rice tortilla)… next day though I weighted 144.6 — my calories were low and my exercise was high but I went to bed very full! The next day I decided to go to bed when I begin to crave carbs late at night instead of eating lots of carbs. I had 5 boiled egg yolks with sea salt and avocado oil — and olives, and 2 frozen figs in raw pasture fed milk — this was protein and carbs, and the yolks were amazing. I woke up and weighted…. (even though I had to go to bed before chips appeared on the menu again) and woke up and weighed 142.6 — the strange thing is I wasn’t really hungry — but when it gets late, our body needs rest and if we persist in staying up, common sense can decrease in terms of healthy choices, and we need to refuel for energy for the demand of staying up past a reasonable time for our personal body and personal daily schedule and required demands. I am going to stick to this —- and weighing daily can show me what is and isn’t causing inflammation and how to make good choices, since I will be accountable the next morning…. as long as eating when truly hungry, and not just when sleepy — and healthy choices (for the most part) — it doesn’t turn into an unhealthy obsession and a guide to get back on track and avoid long term chronic disease that would otherwise destroy the quality of life (or to reverse present chronic disease) 🙂 Just my 2 cents.

  13. Great article.. thank you!

    I’ve been all over the place on this, from weighing myself daily to never weighing myself. I’ve finally come to a happy medium.

    I’ve learned that I can easily slip into denial about what I’m eating, so weighing myself helps keep me conscious. I recently stopped weighing myself over the summer in an attempt to stop obsessing over the scale and gained 10 lbs! I was one of those people who weighed myself daily and was becoming obsessed with the scale.

    So I now I weigh myself once a week in the morning along with logging my food and tracking my blood sugar (I’m not diabetic but significantly overweight so assuming I’m insulin resistant) as part of a +1 experiment mindset. I’m using the data to determine my ideal calorie and carbohydrate intake to achieve a moderate weight loss. Once I have some good data points, I’ll consider stopping logging my food.

    Is a difficult balance: When you have a good amount of weight to lose there is some data that is needed, I think but doing this in a way that also balances listening to your body and keeping a healthy relationship with food. I’m also staying very focused on only eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m satisfied, for example.

  14. I am a neuropsychologist and need a question answered so I don’t give people wrong information.

    My understanding is that Vitamin D hormone is used by the body to make all our other hormones such as seritonin, epinephrine, nonephinephrine, dopamine, testosterone, etc. We know that hormone deficiencies cause severe emotional problems such as depression and anxiety disorders. Vitamin D hormone is made by the body when sunlight hits cholesterol molecules in the skin. A major cause of emotional problems in not getting enough sunlight on the skin.

    Is that correct?

    • That’s not quite accurate, Joe. Vitamin D is not a precursor to all other hormones. Pregnenolone is the precursor of the progestogens, mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, androgens, and estrogens, as well as the neuroactive steroids.

      Wikipedia has a good entry on vitamin D that describes its production, metabolism, and mechanisms of action. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_D

  15. Thanks for the post Kelsey!

    I would like to think that I have a healthy relationship with my scale. I weight myself from time to time, not too often, maybe not frequent enough. But then, I’m on the thin side and on the way of becoming too thin. Because of my health issues, I can’t seem to gain any weight. I know that I’m in the process of getting better, so I don’t bother with my weight. If I ever feel my pants are getting looser, I could just take my scale out again 🙂

  16. Some great points in this article. One way to overcome the fluctuations in measurements is through technology. I have a digital scale that’s linked to my smartphone. I weigh myself daily, and the app draws a nice average line through the fluctuating results. This gives me the benefit of detailed data without the psychological distraction of normal fluctuations. It’s much easier to interpret than a set of logged numbers. I can see trends over different time periods. I find the most useful window to be 3 months.

  17. If I’m making an effort to lose weight, I weigh myself daily. Seeing the number drop a bit most days, provides me with a bit more motivation to be stricter with diet and exercise. If I’m within a couple of kilos of my ideal weight where I feel best, I weigh myself every few days. The scale does help me to notice changes in weight so I can adjust my diet accordingly. If I’m not weighing myself, my weight does tend to creep up slowly over time.

  18. Hey Kelsey. Great post. You mentioned that self weighing results in better weight controll referencing 2 studies (2 and 3) but then go on to say that the more “scale neurotic” (my term not yours :)) should probably throw out there scales. Surely it is likely that the neurotic types drove the results for your referenced studies? Neither controlled for neurotic affiliated tendency (high anxiety). Then you’ve got the bigger question of BMI and the actually relevance of weight to health…so many questions :).

    • Hi Dan, thanks for reading. No research is perfect, unfortunately! You’re absolutely right than having some neurotic types in the group may skew results slightly. But it’s very unlikely that they were all neurotic, so I still think there’s a lesson to be learned from these studies.

  19. Great post Kelsey!

    I remember hearing a few years ago on the radio that Mitt Romney weighs himself every morning, and if he is below his target weight, he will gorge himself on whatever he wants to eat that day, but if he is over, he will eat very little food that day. I remember shaking my head over this and thinking he should be monitoring his long term trends like you describe here.

      • I do not see what you are trying to avoid, there was no mention of what he is eating….His behavior is going to keep his weight where it is which is good from what I see on TV….the question should be about his food consumption, not his weighing and adjusting how much he eats that day.
        What one eats is much more important than how much is eaten…That is why it is not necessary to count calories.

    • Instead of shaking your head at Romney you should get yourself to a healthy target weight and than copy what he is doing IF he is eating healthy. His long term trend is to stay at the same weight given what you said he does so he is watching his long term trend!!!!
      However, rather than focus on weight the focus should be on eating healthy so that the long term trend is staying healthy. There are many thin people that are not healthy and many that do not eat healthy. One can be thin on chocolate bars but you must agree that is not healthy.
      I am healthy and slim but I do not count calories. I do weigh myself each day but what I focus on daily is what I am consuming. I aim for more than 80% of my daily calories coming from whole plant-based products. I consume no processed foods, I do not add salt, sugar or oil to my food. I limit animal products to less than 15% of my calories.
      Good luck with your Paleo diet, I personally do not believe it is a good diet. Time and more research will tell.