Is The Bathroom Scale Ruining Your Life? By Baraa El Sabbagh, Personal Trainer & Registered Dietician
The Bathroom Scale: Foe or Friend?
This is one of those topics that I’ve been wanting to dive into for a long time. Because it concerns *every* single one of us that exercises regularly and eats healthy: How do you TRACK progress? How do you know if what you’re doing is actually working?
I recorded a podcast episode on B for Better Health if you’d rather hear about my favorite ways to track progress.
The one tool that is frequently and religiously used is the bathroom scale. But are they the most accurate? Not quite. If you weigh yourself, and the number is higher than the week before, it doesn't mean that you gained fat. And if the number is lower than the week before, it doesn’t mean that you lost fat, either.
A scale can’t tell the difference between muscle, water, or fat!
What The Scale Is Affected By
The bathroom scale is affected by every little thing:
- How much water you drank so far,
- Did you poop yet?
- What you ate that day,
- What time you’re weighing yourself,
- Your clothing,
- For women, then you best believe your weight before, during and after your period changes considerably from day to day.
That number on the scale doesn’t tell you how much lean tissue you have OR what your body fat percentage is.
Losing Weight Doesn’t Always Mean Losing Fat
Did you know that when lean people lose 1 kg of weight, 40% of it is actually muscle? When you lose weight, it's not PURE fat, so don’t attach yourself to the weight on the scale. When an obese person loses 1 kg of fat, they only lose 5% muscle.
So, there’s a chance that you’re putting on a little sexy muscle, which is the reason why the body weight on the scale stays the same. BUT, you’re seeing some toning up in your arms, obliques, shoulders, which is a sign of progress all on its own.
Muscle mass carries some water with it too, so that’s another reason for increased weight on the scale.
How Can You Measure Weight Loss
If you’re in a calorie deficit and you’re exercising, it only makes sense that you’re losing fat, but the scale might not show it. Other tools can! The reason you might NOT be losing fat is if you’re NOT actually in a calorie deficit or not exercising consistently. (Check out this other blog post all about calorie deficits.)
When You Just Want To Lose Weight
Some of you may be thinking, “Hey I'm not in this for the muscles, B. I just want to lose X amount of kilos”. And to that I say, exercising to gain muscles is the BEST thing you could be doing to lose fat for good. You guys are always asking me how to increase your metabolism. THIS is exactly how, by exercising and gaining that sexy muscle we talked about. Have an open mind to muscles! The type of bulk you’re afraid to get, only happens to people on a major calorie SURPLUS,
You’ve got to be purposely training for an olympic level event to see your body transform and for your muscles to grow to the size of a bodybuilder’s.
What To Use Instead Of Bathroom Scale
Since your average scale does not give you the split of how much fat versus muscle you have, yet you’re someone who is persistent on checking body fat to see how things are really going, then I recommend going on a body composition analysis machine. BUT NOT JUST ANY MACHINE you find! Those machines you see at the pharmacies, dietetic clinics, and those portable ones, have lots of room for error.
So, if you’re looking for the best machine, I truly recommend using the gold standard of body fat measurements which would be a Bod Pod. Check if that’s available in your area, I know it’s available in Dubai in Studio Republik. But if you do choose to go for the machines in the pharmacies, then just take the measurements knowing that it’s not super accurate and that’s okay.
How To Accurately Weigh Yourself
If you don't want to throw the whole scale concept out of the window, noticing some trends in your weight can actually be helpful. So, if you *DO* want to weigh yourself: my tip is, don’t do it directly after a weekend! That’s a recipe for disappointment because you’ll have had a few more treats than usual, and you’re not necessarily in routine. So I recommend weighing yourself before your weekend, on an empty stomach and after you go to the bathroom!
How To Track Progress
So if I don’t recommend the bathroom scale as your main source of tracking progress, what indicator of progress *would* I recommend? The answer is… photos! They’re my FAVORITE method to show progress for many reasons.
Photos can help you visualise your progress way better than a scale can. And if you’re like me, you need to know you’re progressing in order to continue and thrive. So let’s say you want to go from Point A to B: Point A is you weigh 65 kilos, and Point B is 60 kilos. If 3 months pass and you don’t see the number 60 on the scale, you think you failed and you're tempted to quit and stop the entire journey. RIGHT?
NOT SO FAST! What if Point B looks different than what you thought? What if you HAD reached Point B but you’re using the wrong tool to see it? At the end of the day, you care about what you look like in your clothes, your bikini, naked or whatever it is. You’re not going out and flaunting that you weigh 60 kg like it’s your report card. That number does nothing for you.
Why You Should Take Before/After Photos
I want you guys to try taking before and after photos. They’re essential to this journey you’re on.
I know we can be very harsh on ourselves especially when we look in the mirror and think we’re seeing NO difference but photos don’t lie! The important thing is taking them the right way, because selfies and mirror pictures in dim lighting won’t do you any favors.
How To Take Before/After Photos
- Pick a corner of your house that you’ll use *every time* to take photos.
- Take a picture in your bikini, sports bra and shorts, whatever you like that shows off your full figure.
- Set a timer on your phone or have your spouse or roommate or sibling take it for you.
- Make sure you get pictures of your front, side, and back.
- Also try to wear the same outfit, use the same camera, and take the photo at the same time and day of the week.
- Set a reminder every 2 weeks to take photos.
These little things all add up.
Should You Use A Tape Measure To Track Progress?
Using a tape measure is a good indicator to measure your overall losses and gains. This is something you can do on a monthly basis, at the end of a full week of training. Keep in mind, there’s room for error, because you have to measure yourself at the SAME midpoint everytime because just a CM above or below on your thigh, gives you a completely different result. I don’t love this method, but if it works for you then great.
How Clothes Can Help See Progress
Clothes are such a fun way to track progress! One of the most rewarding feelings you could get is fitting back into a pair of jeans you thought were goners. Similarly, whenever you feel an item of clothing is getting a little snug or tight, it shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of *reverse* progress!
- Are you eating more salt than usual? So it could be water retention.
- Are you getting your period soon?
- Did you have a big dinner the night before?
So take ALL these indicators with a grain of salt, cause nothing is 100% accurate ALL the time.
The Importance Of Progressive Workout Programs
This part’s for the ones thinking, “I’m not in this to lose body fat or weight, I want to amp up my performance!” For this, think back to a month ago:
- What weights were you lifting?
- How long could you hold a plank?
- How many pushups could you do?
Just keep tracking your performance on a monthly basis! If things are not moving fast enough, you might want to rethink the workout program you’re on. When was the last time you altered it? Or had a professional weigh in?
Getting on a progressive workout is the key! You don’t want to see change in your performance for 3 months then call it a day. You want the plan to keep growing, increasing, and adapting to YOU. That’s where personal trainers and personalised programs come in. If you find the right trainer or program, you’ll notice it’ll continuously challenge you and you won’t experience a plateau or standstill in your progress.
What Are Some Things You Can Do At Home?
Get rid of that scale if you feel like your life and mood are being controlled by it. It’s not a good idea to weigh yourself every morning because then you’ll start relating stress to this journey. I want this to be a happy and healthy experience for you, so ditch the scale and focus on some other indicators of progress that don’t hold as much power as a little number.
Grab that tape measure and note down your measurements. Compare again in a couple of weeks to see where you’re at.
Take before and after pictures! Create a folder in your phone for all those progress photos, it’s an awesome way to physically SEE the change in your body.
Set REALISTIC goals. Instead of saying “I want to look like Gigi Hadid by the end of August” try setting this goal instead: “My goal is to commit to 4 workouts a week till the end of August.”
Next, find a trainer that can provide you with a program that’s PROGRESSIVE. There’s nothing like getting a plan specifically designed for you and seeing major developments in a few short weeks. If you are going at it alone, remember to take it slow and be careful!
- One LAST tip you can do AT home for progress is joining an online workout program if you’re not ready to invest in a PT just yet. I’ve done 2 programs before, one in Ramadan and we just wrapped up the June workouts, and both have been awesome. My Fit & Fab July Workouts will keep you moving and toning all month long.
You Deserve To Know You’re Progressing
I hope you guys found value in this, if you did, I would love to hear about it in stories, DM’s, or comments! Let me know the method that worked best for you.