The Scale: Weight Loss Friend or Foe?

Like many women, I’ve spent most of my life gaining weight, trying to lose weight, or bemoaning the fact that my weight isn’t what I think it ought to be.

A nearly constant companion on my quest for the ideal body weight has been my scale. There have been times when I haven’t weighed myself in months or even years, but sooner or later I find myself stepping onto a scale just to “check in.”

It’s as if the scale has the ability to determine the type of day I’ll have—if it’s a “good” number, I’ll be happy and confident. If it’s a “bad” number…well, I might just crawl back into bed and try again tomorrow.

I’ve read that it’s better not to become fixated on a number and to go by how you feel and whether your clothes fit. I understand that in theory, but I know if I get to that magic number, my clothes WILL fit, and that will certainly make me happier.

You’d think after decades of trial and error that I’d finally figure out how to maintain a healthy weight…that perfect (little) number in my mind.

But no. It’s still a daily struggle.

I’m not entirely helpless. I know how many calories I should be eating. I know that Twizzlers are not a food group. I know my way around a gym. I know a clean-and-press has nothing to do with laundry. And I know that lack of exercise or a proper diet can seriously affect your stress levels.

But I slack off just as soon as I start seeing results (sometimes earlier). Eventually, I drag myself onto the scale and the whole process starts over again.

Do you use a scale?

If you choose to use a scale, here are some tips to keep it all in perspective.

Buy a quality scale.

No one likes to spend a ton of money (especially on something that tells us how chunky we’re getting), but a quality scale will save you loads of aggravation in the long run. Digital scales are more accurate than analog ones. Test it out in the store if you can. Put a 5-pound dumbbell on it and see what it says (hint: it should be 5 pounds). Weigh yourself, then wait a few minutes and weigh yourself again; the reading should be the same both times.

Choose a realistic weight goal.

Ideally, your goal weight should be a number you once weighed at some point in your adult life. If you have never been at a healthy weight as an adult, then this might be tricky (talk with your doctor, yo). Don’t choose a number that’s perfect for a 14-year-old but completely unrealistic for an adult. Also, choose a number that you can maintain on top of everything else you have going on in your life, even if that means it’s slightly higher.

Weigh in more than once a week.

I used to work for a well-known diet support group, and we were instructed to tell our clients that they should only weigh themselves once a week. What did I discover? The people who weighed themselves 2-3 times a week lost much more weight. They were able to see when the numbers on the scale were creeping up, catch themselves, and adjust their calories/exercise before the weight gain got out of control.

I’ve seen countless people get on the scale who haven’t weighed themselves in a week and are shocked at how much weight they’ve gained (sometimes 3-5 pounds or more). I wish they could have noticed the weight gains sooner. Of course, hopping on the scale 10 times a day will make you obsessive, but checking in every couple of days will keep you on track.

Weigh in at the same time of day.

You’ve probably noticed that your weight changes throughout the day. There are a lot of factors involved such as how much you’ve eaten, how much water you’ve had, what clothes you’re wearing, or whether you’ve gone to the bathroom.

I prefer to step on the scale in the morning after my first trip to the bathroom. I’m usually naked or just wearing my jammies, my bladder is empty, and I haven’t eaten breakfast. Seeing a low number puts me in a positive mood, and I’m more likely to eat something healthy so as not to blow my success.

Don’t tell anyone your number.

This is a biggie. Please, please, please, don’t go blabbing about your weight to your friends and family. Imagine whining to your mom, “I can’t believe I weigh XYZ! I’m such a cow!” but your mom is 50 pounds heavier than that. How is she supposed to feel? According to my doctor (who has told me to lose weight…sooo embarrassing), I’m about 25 pounds overweight. I have to lose 15 pounds just to get into a healthy BMI range.

Even though my current number sucks (to me), I need to remember that I’m only 5 feet tall. When I was at my heaviest about 7 years ago, my weight was actually a healthy goal weight for an average-height woman (about 5 feet 5 inches). If a friend’s goal weight is my “obese” weight, sharing that number isn’t going to make her feel good about herself.

We’re all different, so keep your weight to yourself!

The one exception: if you have a gym buddy or support group friend who has agreed to encourage you with your weight loss, then you can share your numbers with each other. It’s OK as long as you’re both on the same page and you’re working together in the spirit of love and friendship, not competition.

Focus on how your clothes fit.

Even if you’re trying to get to a specific number, try on the same item of clothing every week to gage your progress (a pair of jeans works great). This should be something that used to fit you. Don’t buy something 3 sizes smaller than you’ve ever been and drive yourself crazy trying to fit into it.

People notice how your clothes fit: are they clinging in all the wrong spots or do they create a nice silhouette? You can still look lovely even if you’re not at your goal weight.

Are you trying to lose weight? Check out these articles:

Do You Make These 10 Common Mistakes Before Weighing Yourself?

Good Housekeeping Bathroom Scale Reviews

The Great Diet Comparison (Infographic)

4 Reasons to Stop Weighing Yourself Every Day

The Real Way to Lose Weight Fast – With Pen and Paper

45 Simple Actions to Start Losing Weight

Four Words That Changed My Life

Do you weigh yourself? Do you have a magic number?

14 Comments

  1. Lauren Schugar on April 23, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    scales are not fun, although I do like counting my calories using weight tracker app.



  2. Anna on April 18, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Hell, I don’t even own a scale. My “number” is irrelevant as long as I feel good and my clothes fit well. When I gain weight I feel like a fish out of water; I don’t need to step on the good-day-wiper-outer to know when I need to drop a couple of pounds.



  3. Cara on April 18, 2012 at 9:48 am

    I do weigh myself but haven’t recently because I know my weight is not where I want it to be. These are some really good tips for using the scale as part of your weight management plan. I always weigh in first thing in the morning while I wait for the shower to warm up, it helps me make the right eating choices for the day. Now that my marathon is behind me its time to lose these extra carb pounds I’ve put on during post-run binges.



  4. Tinfoil Tiaras on April 18, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I gained a couple of pounds on vacation and wasn’t thrilled to see the number but remembered I’d just spent a week at an all inclusive resort, eating lots and exercising little. For the most part I stay at a consistent weight and weigh myself every couple of weeks (or when I think of it). Love the photo of you doing your yoga stance on the scale and I always thought it was a Cleveland press- that’s what I always say- ha!



    • Sage on April 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      I always gain weight on vacation–too many desserts and not enough exercise. I try to eat a little healthier a week or 2 before my trip to counteract any upcoming weight gain.

      I get words and phrases mixed up all the time–and I’m an editor! The worst part is when I’ve seen a word in print, but when I speak it out loud I pronounce it wrong.

      I went to college for kinesiology (I’m in health care publishing), so I can assure you that it’s a clean-and-press. I understand the “press” part, but what are we “cleaning”?



  5. Cara on April 16, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Weight is such an awkward subject for public discussion – so I applaud you for reminding everyone that the number should be private. I have found being on the thinner side of the population, people automatically assume a- I’m happy with my weight (not always true) and b- I should be willing to volunteer my weight for public discussion (again, not always true).
    Personally, I step on the scale once a month – but I’m aiming more for maintenance than loss. As a result, I don’t to be discouraged by fluctuations which I know are bound to happen over the course of the week. I am more likely to step on the scale when I notice a larger than normal gain or loss. I’ve also found I’m more likely to stick to a more steady weight when I leave the scale in the kitchen, and NOT step on it. By having it in view, I’m not likely to grab that second cookie. By not stepping on it, I’m not tempted to reward myself for being a couple pounds lighter.



    • Sage on April 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      What a great idea to put the scale in the kitchen! Having that constant reminder might be the push I need to stop poking around the fridge. Thanks for the tip! 🙂

      Good for you for not sharing your weight. People can be so rude! There some questions that should never be asked: how much do you weigh? how much $$ do you make? are you pregnant?



  6. Jennifer Delle Fave on April 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Ah, yes. Yes, you are my twin sister! I just started to see the scale move within the last week. I’ve really upped the ante on my workouts and started eating like a fitness guru haha. With the exception of gram’s pasta! I cannot believe how much harder it is as we age! I used to drop 10 no prob, now, I am WORKING for it!! I want to look and feel good in a bikini but I really want to be healthy and not flubby or flabby. 🙂



    • Sage on April 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      Eating like a fitness guru–I like it! I should ask myself, “What would a fitness guru (or Jillian Michaels) eat?” before I put anything in my mouth. It’s impossible for me to say no to yummy pasta. 🙂

      You’re right, it’s SO much harder as we get older. I miss my weight from when I was a 20-year-old, but that was 11 years ago! I need to accept that I can’t eat that way anymore unless I want to face the consequences. 🙁



  7. xvavaveganx on April 16, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Haha I love the yoga on the scale photo! Awesome.

    This topic is so important because I think that most of us worry about weight every single day (especially now that summer is rapidly approaching!). I know I do. I agree that weighing yourself is important and helps you to catch small gains rather than letting it get out of control. I find that I correct fluctuations more easily when I get on the scale more often and am often horrified when I stay off a scale for a while. It’s a crazy struggle that is unfortunate that we have to deal with. I used to say I don’t want to weigh myself because I don’t want to be obsessed with a number but not weighing yourself isn’t a good plan either.

    I tend to focus on the fit of clothes anyway rather than a specific number. I actually don’t have a goal weight, I have more of a goal size and I’ll take it from there. Oh and I would never tell anyone my weight anyway 😉

    Great post Sage! I bet if people were as concerned with their HEALTH as they were with their weight things would be way different because the two are very different.



    • Sage on April 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      I wish it were easier for me to focus on my health instead of the number on the scale. I’d probably be a lot more mellow. And I’m sure all the sugar I eat is just making me more cranky.

      I always get freaked out around this time of year because I know my summer clothes show a lot more skin and I don’t want to appear flabby. That’s really vain, but it’s true.



      • xvavaveganx on April 18, 2012 at 7:05 pm

        Haha don’t get me wrong I’m ALWAYS concerned about my weight. It’s nowhere where I want it to be but I’m also a major hypochondriac and I’m always convinced I’m dying which is why I focus on health so much 😉 Trust me, I freak out about the way I look all the time. Especially because I have some idiot telling me everything I need to change about myself to look better!



  8. Shybiker on April 16, 2012 at 6:39 am

    Interesting post. Your last picture is a classic.

    We’re psychologically inclined to quantify our progress/status and scales make that easy. And frustrating. My sympathies for all those concerned with their weight.

    I no longer sweat the daily ups and downs but, instead, focus on this issue only in the big sense, where I plot a direction but don’t obsess over normal fluctuations. Your advice is sound.



    • Sage on April 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm

      I try not to fret over normal fluctuations too, but I still get hung up on reaching a specific number in my mind. I think I get the most frustrated about my weight when I want to fit into an item of clothing (like my jeans) and I can’t.