Walking Guide

7 Times the Scale is Lying to You

The scale can be a valuable tool in any weight-loss journey. It can tell you where you started and help you track your progress. It's the tool people use most as a measure of success--or failure.

As useful as the scale can be, don't forget that it's just one tool you can use, not the only tool. It's entirely possible for those numbers not to budge, but you find yourself having to tighten your belt because you've lost inches. Used regularly, the scale can help you check in with yourself and help you catch upward swings in pounds before they become double-digit problems. But used too frequently, the scale can drive you crazy.

If you find yourself weighing in often (multiple times per day or every day of the week) you're not doing yourself any favors. There are certain times when weight fluctuates, and seeing every fluctuation can be disheartening and really mess with your head and your motivation.

Many people find it difficult to give up the scale entirely, which is fine--but there are a few times when the scale isn't doing you any favors. Take the results with a grain of salt in these situations.

7 Times to Ignore the Scale

1.  Right after you've eaten.
You ate a meal and now the scale is up five pounds? What gives? No, you didn't actually gain that body fat from eating a heavy meal. It's more likely that your blood volume has increased due to the quantity of food you've eaten, and the weight of all that food is still sitting in your stomach and digestive system. Likewise, high sodium content can cause you to retain fluid. Chances are you're not going to like what your scale is telling you for a few hours or days, but that doesn't mean the meal you ate caused real, permanent weight gain.

2. During your first few weeks of a new diet or exercise program.
When you first start exercising or eating healthier, it's tempting to start jumping on the scale constantly to see progress. If you do, you may see some pretty significant losses, which can be really motivating! But don't get discouraged when those numbers slow down a few weeks into the new plan.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a rapid weight-loss is normal in the first few weeks of almost any weight-loss program. When calories from food are reduced, the body gets needed energy by releasing its stores of glycogen, a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver. Glycogen holds onto water, so when glycogen is burned for energy, it also releases water, resulting in substantial weight loss that's mostly water (not body fat).

Try to avoid jumping on the scale too much during those first few weeks of a new diet or fitness program. It can be discouraging when your weight doesn't change as quickly as you'd like, and it can be equally discouraging when it stops budging after initial success. A moderate friendship with the scale--not an obsession--will help you gauge your progress but won't drive you crazy.

3.  Immediately after a workout. You just ran for an hour on the treadmill so you strip down and hop on the scale in the locker room to see how much fat you burned off. Sorry, but fat loss doesn't happen immediately. Any weight change you really see is lost water weight through sweating that will come right back as soon as you rehydrate. This is another reason why it's best to weigh-in consistently at the same time of day (just not every day!) for the most reliable measure.

4. You just chugged a bunch of water.
Just as you notice the loss from sweat, you can also notice the gain of water from drinking a lot of fluids. A large 16-ounce glass of water will translate into roughly a pound on the scale; your body will get rid of it, but immediately after you drink it, it's going to show.  

5.  Just before bedtime.  
You weighed in first thing when you got out of bed this morning, but before you hit the hay you find yourself wanting to check in again just in case you lost anything today. But try to hold back: If you find yourself a few pounds over or under your morning weight, you haven't suddenly lost or gained. Instead, it's just the timing of your last meal, your last workout, your last drink of water, and how much your PJs weigh. For this reason, experts recommend weighing the same day each week, at the same time of day, wearing the same clothing, using the same scale to get as accurate of a picture of your true weight as possible.

6.  You just had a baby.
You just gave birth to a beautiful 8-pound baby! So you hop on the scale thinking you'll see a dramatic loss. And you're disappointed that the scale has barely budged. While you might lose up to 15 or so pounds in a week when you account for the baby, placenta, extra blood volume and amniotic fluid, don't be discouraged if you don't see immediate changes. While that water and true baby weight may budge quickly, remember that you gained the rest of it over the entire pregnancy. Focus on eating right, getting plenty of rest and enjoying your new baby, rather than losing the pounds.

7. Practically any time during your menstrual cycle.
For women, it's a crapshoot. The changes that happen in your body throughout your menstrual cycle make your weight fluctuate constantly by up to two pounds during menstruation, your follicular phase, ovulation and PMS. Even more reason not to stress about a couple of pounds here or there, as this type of weight gain tends to come and go.

So don't let those daily fluctuations discourage you--or get you too excited--when it comes to weight loss. Use your scale as a guide, not the definitive standard of success. The best way to use the scale is to weigh in at the same time of day every couple of weeks. Even then, your body could be maintaining or losing body fat even if the scale never budges. Be sure to find other ways to measure your progress and success outside of the scale—and you'll stay more motivated for the long haul!

BabyCenter, "Body Changes After Childbirth," www.babycenter.com, accessed on September 23, 2013.

Mayo Clinic, "Getting past a weight-loss plateau," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on September 23, 2013.

Self, "Weight Gain and Your Period: Is Aunt Flo to Blame?" www.self.com, accessed on September 23, 2013.

U.S. News & World Report, "Beware the Scale: Learn the Right Way to Weigh," health.usnews.com, accessed on September 23, 2013.  
WebMD, "Weighing in on Scales: Find Your True Weight," www.webmd.com, accessed on September 23, 2013.
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Member Comments

I've done many diets until I have learned that it isn't so bad when you look at it as healthy lifestyle, so it doesn't intimidate me to weigh once a week!
I weigh at the same time/same situation every day. It keeps me on track. Report
Weighing daily works for me and I've learned to accept weight fluctuations as normal. Ignoring the scale has gotten me into trouble before so the scale & I keep a 'close' relationship Lol...but I put more stock in the TREND instead of one particular weigh in. Report
The scale is not lying to you: you are lying to yourself if you choose to believe one reading on the scale means something.

A couple things to consider: Scales can be off by as much as two pounds. Most "Bathroom" scales are not accurate to the ounce. Moving the scale can change the reading; if the scale is moved, it should be reset by stepping on it, then off to get the "zero reading." Soft flooring or uneven flooring can cause inaccurate reading.

Weighing every morning can help one to discover weight trends. I have done this for years and discovered my weight bounces as far as 2.5 pounds in either direction. Report
interesting. you still have to find what works for you. Report
Thank you! Report
I have two better ideas. 1) Get weighed often but learn and accept your patterns. For example, I gain four to five pounds of water each time I have sushi with lots of soy sauce. It comes off in three days. i don't get depressed if I'm up three pounds after a sushi meal compared to the week before because I know that it will come off and that being up ONLY three pounds means I'll be lighter once the water weight comes off than I was before the sushi. I also know that I will lose a few pounds during a workout on a hot day, so I know better than to get excited about a low weight after a workout, but if I'm lighter after this workout than the last similar workout in similar weather, that's weight loss. 2) Get weighed daily, at the same point in your day, but average the weights over the week. That way if your weight drifts up and down by a few pounds, as we all experience, you have a real measure of your weight for the week, rather than a single data point that might be your heavy day or your light day and give you a false sense of your progress or lack thereof. (I've been doing this for years and my current body fat is less than 10%, so I know it works, at least for me.) Report
I weight the same time, always in the morning and just before I shower. That way I don't have to worry about wearing the same clothes. I do make a point of wearing the same outfit when I take my measurements though. I finally broke down and bought scales that show more than weight. If the weight isn't moving down it's nice to see the muscle mass increase/body fat decrease, etc. Report
Ignoring the scale and what it told me was one of the factors that got ignoring my health in the first place. I get the message here, but also, that method (step on the scale every couple of weeks) doesn't work for me. Report
The scale is only one of many indicators. The mirror and the fit of my clothes are useful too. Report
I ignore the scale every day. No two scales give you the same weight, even if you step on the one right after the other. Report
My new scales are proof that my old ones were defective in my weight-range, now I have a good point of reference Report
I weight once a week at the same time of morning and wearing the same clothes. It works for me. Prior to that I didn't have a scale, weighed only at the doctor's office and that was also just fine. Report
Good to know! Thanks for posting this! Report
Walking Guide

About The Author

Erin Whitehead
Erin Whitehead
is a health and fitness enthusiast who co-founded the popular website FitBottomedGirls.com and co-wrote The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (available May 2014). Now busier than ever with two kids, she writes about healthy pregnancy and parenting at FitBottomedMamas.com.
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