Should We Even Use Our Weighing Scales

Problem With Scales

This piece was inspired by a conversation with a client that had recently started training with me. She’d been working tirelessly in the gym for two weeks, yet was seeing no apparent change in the scale.

It must be said that a fortnight is not a long time, but the client had expected at least a little shift in scale weight. I’ve run into this problem on many occasions so I feel it needs to be discussed at length.

After two weeks I generally do some body measurements; chest, waist, hips, arms and legs. I knew for certain this lady had lost inches, it was plain to see. Her waist looked slimmer and face appeared lean (if that makes sense).

Of course when the time came she has lost inches on her chest, WAIST and hips. Notice I emphasised the waist.

A Strange Phenomenon

Why is this so common? How can we lose measurements but no weight? Well the answer lies in muscle. This client was a relative newbie in terms of lifting weights. She’d dabbled in the past but not stuck to a proper training program before.

Her muscles weren’t used to this new stimulus. They hadn’t experienced it before. Most jump to the conclusion that they have gained muscle and lost fat, which may be true. However, during the initial week or so weight gains can be made from muscle drawing in water and glycogen (storage form of carbs) into the muscle.

When you initially start working these muscles they soak up this fluid and carbs which add weight to the individual. This means that even though there may have been a reduction in fat loss, it may not lead to a scale drop, or even a scale increase.

It’s a bit of a paradox that even though you may be leaner, you actually have the potential of GAINING weight. Remember though, this usually only occurs with newbies or people that have taken a break from training.

The Problem With The Scale

This can be frustrating for clients. I get it. We’ve been conditioned over the years to see the scale as the be all and end all. I myself struggled similarly when competing as a boxer.

But the scale does not tell the entire picture. Yes it is a decent indicator of our ‘fatness’ levels but it can have a huge amount of variation and variability. It can be influenced by time of day, time of the month (only the ladies can use this excuse of course), stress, hydration status and body composition.

For example, when I was a competitive boxer, in my teenage years, I would regularly drop 6-8 pounds in 5 days trying to make weight. Was I any leaner? Probably not. It’s not a long enough time frame to shed considerable amounts of body fat. The day after said fight I’d be back up to the starting weight. It was simply just a case of manipulating my hydration status.

The opposite occurs when we first begin strength training. We tend to retain some of that fluid. A compounding effect then is that the carbohydrates that are drawn into the muscle (for energy) also bind to water molecules, further leading to scale gain.

So What?

So where will we see changes if body fat levels have decreased? Most likely on measurements and/or clothes. The amount of times I’ve had clients maintain their clothes feel considerably looser yet the scale hasn’t moved much.

Yes they love the fact that clothes are looser but annoyed that the scale hasn’t changed. Even if measurements are down. I usually say ‘so what?’ The weight measurements don’t make you look leaner. Fitting into your clothes and having lower levels of body fat makes you look leaner.

One of my proudest moments was last week when a client, who might I add has lost only a small amount of weight, was able to fit into a jump suit she hadn’t fit into in 15 years! I was so happy for her. It was an expensive one and she had kept it so long just because of that and now she could finally wear it!

My go to measurement for testing whether or not body fat has been lost is the waist measurement. It’s reliable and has little variability. 9 times out of ten if the waist is down you’ve lost fat. If the waist measurement is down then clothes will also fit better. Everyone wants a slimmer waist, so it’s a good place to judge off.

The Bottom Line

All that said should we just forget about the weighing scales? Just not bother and stick to waist measurements? The answer is no. It still has its use.

For the individual that has a significant amount of weight to lose the scales will have to go down eventually. For example, a lady that is 5’4” and weighs 80kg is not going to get extremely lean and stay at 80kg. Weight loss definitely has to occur.

For leaner individuals moderate amounts of weight loss are common. For example, I have clients that are between 57-67kg and have lost 2-3kg in a few months (which isn’t huge), but measurements and body shape have vastly improved. Again this is definitely down to the newbie affect.

I still weigh these clients however. The scale still has its place, especially for the overweight client. I believe the waist measurement is a more reliable indicator of body fatness, when used in conjunction with the scales.

It just has to be considered that the scale isn’t fool proof, especially in the initial stages of training. It may take 3-6 weeks to see worthwhile changes in scale weight. Yes I believe you should weigh yourself once a week, but never let the scales damper your thoughts on your progress. If you’ve lost waist measurements that’s a good thing. The scale will go down, just keep doing the right things consistently.

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If you’re interested in taking part in a program with me why not send me an email to jamesmcdowellhealth@gmail.com

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