FITNESS CHECK: A few things to know before you step on the scale

Q: I’m trying to lose weight, and bought a scale to keep track of my progress. How often should I weigh myself?

A: There are pros and cons to using a scale to gauge weight loss success. For some, checking weight on a daily basis helps keep them mindful and motivated to stay on track. For others, seeing the number on the scale is a stressful event, especially when pounds are not lost. I would give it a few weeks, and then decide whether or not focusing on pounds is more helpful than detrimental.

Weighing yourself every day can lead to some confusion as you will see readings fluctuate due to factors such as fluids and food consumed, medications and medical conditions, and levels of physical activity.

Those who weigh in the morning before eating or drinking and without clothes, will find this reading no doubt lower than at other times of the day. End-of-day readings may show an increase by as much as 3 to 5 pounds. For this reason, it might be best to weigh less frequently — for example, once weekly. After a month, you can average the weekly readings, to see how much actual weight has been lost.

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Also, the scale cannot tell you if weight lost is muscle or fat. Muscle weight is a big part of the number you see when you step on a scale, and losing it is nothing to be happy about. Because it is metabolically active, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn around the clock. Bones and internal organs account on average for just under 20 pounds of total body weight. The greater the bone density, the higher the weight.

So how can you best achieve fat loss without sacrificing muscle? One way is avoid crash dieting, or drastic calorie reduction. Give your body time to adapt to a new way of eating, by gradually cutting portion sizes and/or choosing foods lower in calories. Stay hydrated, eat several smaller meals throughout the day and maintain a regular exercise program to maintain muscle. Following these guidelines allows you to lose body fat in a more manageable way, without having to worry about counting every calorie.

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If you do decide to weigh yourself, use it as only one indicator of how well you are doing with a health program. Consider taking regular waistline measurements along with your weekly weigh-ins, and do a comparison over time. Again, if you find it stressful to focus on pounds or inches, judge your progress by simply making note of how you look and feel. Do you have plenty of energy? Do your clothes fit better? Do your muscles feel firmer? Are you stronger, have more endurance? Are you able to do things you couldn’t do before?

Last but certainly not least, focus on your overall health habits, not just what you weigh. Blood pressure, cholesterol, percentage of body fat around the midsection, quality of sleep, stress management, and the amount of exercise you get are all much more important to quality and quantity of life than scale weight.

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