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Weighing In on Scales: Find Your True Weight

Learn how, when, and where to use the scale to your advantage.

WebMD Feature

To weigh or not to weigh? That's the question.

For people trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or just maintain a healthy weight, the scale can be both friend and foe. But experts say there's a right way and a wrong way to use the scale.

"We do know that people who weigh themselves regularly do better," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. "It's a way to measure progress and success. But the definition of regular is very broad."

"Some people love to weigh themselves daily, whereas I would recommend once a week for most people," Blatner tells WebMD.

The problem is that some people who weigh themselves daily can become obsessed with the number on the scale, and it takes over.

"You have to ask yourself, 'Is this something that is setting my mood for the day?" And if it is, then you're probably not a good candidate for daily weigh-ins, and you should weigh yourself once a week," says Blatner.

The 4 S's of Weighing Yourself

When you do weigh yourself on a scale, Blatner says you strive for sameness. Weigh yourself at the:

  • Same time of day, on the
  • Same day each week, wearing the
  • Same clothing, and using the
  • Same scale

If you're using a scale at home, be sure to place it on an absolutely flat surface. Wobbly bathroom tiles or plush carpeting can lead to an inaccurate reading.

Even if you do follow these steps, it's natural for your weight to fluctuate a few pounds day to day or week to week. Normal weight fluctuations may be due to:

  • Eating starchy or salty foods
  • The weather
  • Water retention due to hormonal changes

That's why Blatner says it's important to look at the overall trend of the weight shown on the scale rather than at the daily fluctuations.

Contrary to popular belief, she says weight is the result of what's happening in your body over a long period of time, and one day of virtuous eating isn't going to provide an immediate payoff on the scale.

Scale Alternatives

If you don't have access to a scale or want another way to track your progress, there are other alternatives to measure your health and weight, including:

  • Body fat assessment. Blatner says a method called bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), which is available at many gyms and on some home scales, is more accurate than the traditional caliper body fat measurement technique.
  • Paying attention to how your clothes fit over time.
  • Using a tape measure to track changes in your shape.

"Some people are very motivated by not only the scale but by seeing inches," says Blatner. "If you are someone who is motivated by looking at numbers, measuring yourself is a good idea. Or if you don't want to go that step, just using your clothes in your closet and knowing if something was tight on you three months ago and now it's loose, that's a pretty exciting, telltale sign that you're doing something right."

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