Your Bathroom Scale Lies to You

by Matt Weik

A scale. Most of us have them in our homes—whether we decide to use them or not, they sit there on the bathroom floor. What exactly we expect it to tell us is beyond me. Do we actually think that the numbers it shows means anything to us? The true answer is no, they shouldn’t—it’s just a number. So why do you have one when all it does is tell you lies?

Talk to any overweight or self-conscious individual and they will tell you they can feel their heart rate and blood pressure increase when they see a scale. The thought of having to stand on something that reads a number is frightening. But why? After all, it’s just a number that is shared between you, probably a doctor, and the scale itself. You look at the scale for some sort of guidance to tell you if you’re on the right track or not. But more times than not, the number on the scale is the only thing you pay attention to which could be your downfall.

If you weigh yourself every day, you’ll book a one-way ticket to the loony bin. You will honestly drive yourself crazy tracking the numbers and trying to understand the readings. You could step on the scale today and get one number, then step on the scale tomorrow and get an even higher number. Not good, right? Not so fast. Most of you already know this but for those who don’t, we retain water. Ah ha! In fact, we retain water in many different ways. So those few pounds that you gained overnight, isn’t something to worry about—yet. You could be slightly dehydrated so you’re holding onto water, you could have eaten too much food with sodium the previous day, there’s a whole slew of reasons you could be retaining water. Now if that number continues to climb after several days or even stays the same, then maybe it’s time to face the fact that you put on some weight. Again, don’t necessarily look at this as a negative. Here’s why.

As we train with weights, we naturally build lean muscle mass. This could be part of the reason why the scale is going up, so that is good in the grand scheme of things. That means you are building muscle rather than storing fat. Congrats. As we tear down the muscle fibers, we feed them through our diet to give them the nutrients they need to rebuild and grow stronger. This happens every time you do any type of resistance training and is a main reason why it is recommended that everyone do resistance training throughout their weekly regimen. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism is going to be since muscle burns calories even while we are at rest.

But the terror of the scale doesn’t stop there. Now we also use our “weight” on the scale to show how “healthy” (and I’ll use that term lightly) we are by using the body mass index (BMI). Some of you might be familiar with BMI as it’s something doctors look at as well as insurance companies if you ever got yourself some life insurance. This is another area where a scale can royally screw us. The BMI solely looks at your height and weight. When compared by following your height and your weight on paper it gives you a score on a chart. That chart tells you if you’re within a normal healthy range all the way up to obese. I’ll use myself as an example for how terrible the BMI is in terms of gauging if someone is “healthy” or not. I’m 5’8” and weigh 200 pounds. So I grab the chart, use two fingers as if I’m in elementary school and follow the lines until my fingers meet on a number. Well, according to the BMI chart, I’m obese. Hmm. Take one look at me and you’ll see an athletic built male with considerable muscle mass and minimal body fat. So what gives? Again, the BMI doesn’t take into account lean muscle mass, it takes a generalized number for your weight and compares it to your height and boom, you’re instantly categorized whether you agree with where you are slotted or not. This can cost you more money if you are looking at life insurance as a BMI score in the healthy range will give you the best rates but because the BMI classifies you are overweight or obese due to it not factoring in muscle mass, congratulations, you get to open up your wallet a little bit wider to grab more cash. Another fail for the scale.

There are also many scales out there that will give you your body fat percentage, BMI, bone mass, water density, etc. In general, those things are WAY off as there are several factors that also go into play with those tests when done correctly to ensure accuracy. Grabbing the old calipers is still the way to go if you have them laying around your house. Otherwise, I’m sure a trainer at your gym would be willing to check your body fat percentage if you asked them—it would only take a few minutes to complete. However, if you DO have a scale at home already that checks body fat, if you wanted to at least see if you were going up or down with your body fat percentage, you can still use it as a gauge, just know that the measurement is still not going to be an accurate value when compared to calipers.

In general, your weight can fluctuate so much that if you try and track it consistently you’re going to lose your mind. Food, hormones, alcohol, fluid levels, salt, medication, travel, and more all affect your weight at any given moment. Now stop beating yourself up over what the scale says. In fact, don’t even use a scale if you don’t have to. The only positive I would see from a scale is if you use it once a week and use that number to help track your body fat to give you a clear indication where your weight loss/gain is coming from. If you want to use something to measure your “weight” then use the mirror and your clothing. How do you look in the mirror? Do you look thinner? How are your clothes fitting? Do you look more muscular? Are your clothes looking more snug in the right places? The mirror can help guide you. Not only that, but friends and family will take notice of changes to your physique. We don’t always get a clear picture when it comes to comparing changes over time because we see ourselves every day so minor changes don’t stand out. But when you only see someone every once in a while, rather than regularly, those minor changes add up to something big in even a short amount of time. You can also use a tape measure to jot down your measurements to see exactly where the weight loss/gain is coming from. There’s nothing better than seeing the tape come in an inch smaller when you’re trying to lose weight or an inch bigger when you’re measuring your arm circumference.

So stop beating yourself up over what the scale tells you and rather, go tell your scale to take a hike. Your life doesn’t revolve around the number on a scale and you shouldn’t be judge solely on what that number is either.