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Fat loss 101: The scale is not nearly as important as you may think.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Daily Blog


For the second night in a row, last night I woke up five times to urinate. I almost always wake up once every night to use the bathroom, but five times is a little annoying. I’ll sure be glad when the excess water weight from my splurge week (er… weeks) is finally gone! Actually I think that may be the last of it, perhaps one more day at most.

Of course the initial water weight loss is showing up on the scale: I’m down 3.4 pounds since Monday morning.

Fat loss 101: Scale weight is the least important measurement for evaluating your progress!

Fat loss 101: Scale weight is the least important measurement for evaluating your progress!

Something I hear quite a lot from people who don’t know a great deal about fat loss is, “My diet started off great – I lost 5 pounds the first week, but now the scale is barely moving! It’s so frustrating.”

What I’m about to write is fat loss 101, but considering some of the emails I’ve been getting over the past week I need to get it out there. 🙂

First of all, when you switch from a poor diet to a “clean”, healthy diet, your body will almost always release water. As I touched on in yesterday’s blog, the reason for the initial water loss when starting a fat loss program is because your body has a preferred electrolyte (mainly sodium and potassium) to water balance. When you consume a lot of salt (which pretty much goes hand in hand with a poor diet), your body retains more water to maintain that electrolyte/water balance; when there is less sodium in your system your body reduces the amount of water it’s storing.

Water is very heavy (8.35 pounds per gallon), so it’s very normal to see an unusually large scale weight loss over the first few days of a fat loss program. After this initial water loss, a scale weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week is about what you should expect if your diet and training are solid.

All this talk about scale weight brings me to my main point: scale weight is not that important. Another mistake most beginners make is they live and die by the number shown on the scale. The truth is scale weight is just one small part of the data you should be looking at as you evaluate your progress:

  • Take a weekly body fat reading using an inexpensive hand-held caliper. I’ve found that bio-electrical impedance (BEI) body fat scales to be wildly inaccurate, so I strongly suggest that you use a caliper. 3-point body fat pinch tests are OK, but 7-point readings are much more accurate. Performing accurate body fat readings using a caliper takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it you’ll find this to be about the most accurate method of measuring your body fat at home. The 7-point digital caliper I use is no longer sold, but this manual caliper will do the trick.

  • Take weekly measurements with a soft tape. I measure my calves, upper thighs, hips, waist, chest, forearms and upper arms. These tape measurements are an excellent way to track fat loss/gain and muscle loss/gain. Trust me, if you see that your scale weight has not changed in 7 days yet your thighs and waist have each lost a quarter inch, you’ll know you’re making progress (and be happy!) There is no better soft tape than the inexpensive MyoTape–everyone should have one or two of these in their house!

  • Visual changes. Look at yourself in the the mirror, and also take pictures and compare them to your earlier pictures.

  • How do your clothes fit? The first time you put on that pair of jeans that you haven’t been able to squeeze into since 2005 you’re going to be walking on clouds.

  • Finally, scale weight. Unless you can truly handle that the scale is not a good indication of fat loss, resist the urge to weigh yourself every day. The scale is useful because you can use your scale weight along with your body fat reading to determine how much of your weight loss is fat, and how much is lean mass. I’ve used quite a few scales over the years, and the absolute best scale I’ve ever owned is the EatSmart Precision Digital Bathroom Scale. It’s an amazingly accurate scale and it looks great. Highly recommend.

As regular readers of my blog know, I perform all of these tests first thing every Sunday morning. These measurements only take about 5-10 minutes to perform, and the information provided by these simple tests is vital to evaluating your progress and making adjustments, if needed.

For an example of one of my typical Sunday stats reports, check out my December 18, 2011 blog (or any other Sunday blog).

John Stone Fitness Comments

2 Responses to “Fat loss 101: The scale is not nearly as important as you may think.”
  1. I completely agree of how annoying it can be when losing water weight. That said, I’ve seen many newbies as of late deprive themselves of water as a means of trying to make the scale move in a direction they prefer and it always backfires. They seem not to understand that when they do that their bodies simply hold on to th water that it has.

    You mention the importance of drinking water all the time. You’re also one of the few that mentions that drinking water helps to reduce bloat. It’s excellent advice and IMO, more people should put it too good use.

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    • The advice to drink water to lose water seems, on the surface, to contradict logic, and so I think that’s why so many people cling to the false notion that less water consumed will translate to less water retained.

      I consumed a little over 3 gallons of water (that’s about 17 pounds!) on Monday and Tuesday, and yet I lost 3.4 pounds during those two days.

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