By Ben Singh |
UK Personal Trainer
The simple answer here is no, they’re not lying to you. That is how much you weigh at this exact moment of time. But there’s much more to it than that, so allow me to explain to you in a bit more detail.
It’s really tough to feel discouraged when you jump on the scales and the needle (or number if you’re all new age and digital) doesn’t go down as much as you feel it should have done, based on how hard you worked last week. Don’t worry, all is not lost!
There’s so many reasons why that could happen, which we’ll go through in this article, as well as other, better methods of tracking your progress.
Lose weight or tone up?
First of all, when you say you want to lose weight, what you probably mean is that you want to look better, less ‘flabby’ and more toned. Which more specifically means that you want to lose fat. There’s a massive difference between weight loss and fat loss. And to explain that, let’s define what weight in this context actually is.
Weight is the total mass of your bones, organs, muscle, fat, and even water and undigested food… amongst other things.
Literally speaking, you could lose a very sizeable amount of weight by chopping off your arm, or going to the toilet. Would that mean you have a lower level of body fat? Absolutely not.
Guess what…Muscle DOESN’T weigh more than fat
This is something we need to get out of the way early on – a pound of feathers and a pound of bricks still weigh the same, but they’ll take up different amounts of space. It’s the same case with muscle and fat; muscle is more dense which means it takes up less space (in your body).
Which looks better when it comes to looking more ‘toned’.
Muscle is very useful for helping us lose fat – think about your muscles as a car engine; they burn fuel. The bigger your engine, the more fuel you’ll burn. In this case, your body’s fuel is calories, and to burn body fat we need to burn more calories than we consume (eat/drink). The more muscle you have (and I’m not talking about extremes here, just more than you’ve currently got), the more calories your body needs to function. That’s essentially your metabolism!
When you first start weight training, you’re very likely to build some muscle (only a little – not enough to look like a bodybuilder!) So if you lose some fat, and build some muscle, it’s very possible that you might weigh the same, but actually look more toned!
Why does my weight fluctuate so much?
You’ll know that by weighing yourself at different times of the day, week or month, the number on the scales can be vastly different.
And again, there’s a number of reasons for that, of which fat gain/loss isn’t the most probable factor.
Let’s explore some of the higher likelihoods:
✓ Food weighs something…
Food has weight, and when you eat it that weight doesn’t magically go away – it’s stored in your digestive system. Jump on the scales before and after a big meal and you’ll notice that you’ll weigh more. Conversely, go to the toilet and you’ll weigh less. Nothing more needs to be said there right?
✓ Water retention
On the topic of food, both carbs (carbohydrates) and sodium (AKA salt) will hold onto water. For every 1 gram of carbs, your body can retain 3 grams of water. So if you eat some carb-rich foods, you’ll be heavier on the scales but won’t have any more body fat.
✓ Time of the month
For ladies – the menstrual cycle has an affect on your weight too, through changes in water retention. For this reason it’s best that women weigh themselves monthly (at the same time every month), or compare each week of their cycle (e.g. Week 1 vs. Week 5, Week 2 vs. Week 6, etc.)
Booze doesn’t help you lose fat. I’ve seen people posting statuses of joy on Facebook the morning after the night before, immediately concluding that they should just start drinking more often. As incredible as that would be, unfortunately the explanation is again down to water, this time due to alcohol dehydrating us, therefore we’d weigh less.
…What are the best ways measure your fat loss?
There are alternative methods for measuring your progress, with varying degrees of accuracy.
Here are the ones I recommend that my clients use, under consistent conditions which is explained below:
#1: Tape measurements
Because you can’t choose where you lose fat from (a myth known as spot reduction), I recommend taking measurements around the waist (belly button), hips (widest point), thigh and upper arm.
✓ It’s really important here to make sure it’s always from exactly the same point. To ensure this, I measure 5 inches up from the elbow and 5-10 inches up from the knee (depending on the client).
#2: How your clothes fit
This is slightly less accurate, but there’s no denying when you need to go shopping because every pair of jeans is falling off you is there? Some of my clients actually prefer this method as it takes less effort.
✓ Just be sure to always compare the same garment (until it’s too big and you need to buy something smaller!)
#3: Progress pictures
I could write another whole article on before and after pictures, but that’s beyond the scope of this post so I’ll be as concise as possible. You see them plastered everywhere when it comes to the fitness industry. However, unfortunately they can be deceiving due to lighting or water retention (or dare I say Photoshop!)
✓ Again, in the interest of consistency, be sure to take these in the same place, same time, under the same lighting, wearing the same clothes.
The one absolute necessity with all of these is consistency. Whichever method you use, measurements need to be taken in exactly the same situation.
A better way to use the scales
Despite what we’ve said so far, the scales can still be a useful, convenient way of tracking for many people.
However, I’d like to suggest a better way of using them – by taking average weight.
✓ Take 3-7 weight measurements over a certain period of time, add them all together and divide them by the number of measurements to find your average weight.
✓ As long as there is a gradual downward trend you’re heading in the right direction.
For example, you weigh yourself on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at 48kg, 52kg, and 50kg.
48kg + 52kg + 50kg = 150kg / 3 (measurements) = 50kg
For most people, taking your weight once a week will be more than adequate to keep you accountable to your goals.
Take Home Message
As with most things, there’s no black and white here, no right or wrong answer. Different people will prefer different methods of tracking.
Hopefully this article has explained enough for you to make an informed decision about how to track your own progress!