For many of us, checking our weight on the bathroom scale can be anxiety-producing. While knowing your weight is important, Leslie Heinberg, PhD, Director of Enterprise Weight Management, says it’s also important to realize that sometimes the scale isn’t always telling the whole story.
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“The scale is a horrible barometer of behavior change,” says Dr. Heinberg. “You can do everything right today — you can exercise, you can have great intake that really would make any dietitian thrilled — but then you get on the scale, and you’re up 2 pounds.”
When it comes to weighing in, even for people within a normal weight range, the average fluctuation is about 5 pounds, Dr. Heinberg notes. And for those who aren’t accustomed to the normal ups and downs of their weight, the numbers can be discouraging.
Why the scale fluctuates
Weight fluctuation can be a result of factors such as hormones, fluid retention or even constipation, Dr. Heinberg says.
Writing weight down can help people follow trends over time, she says. If someone notices that their weight is consistently up after days or weeks, then it probably really is up.
But obsessively weighing, or checking body fat, every day will likely make someone miserable.
Don’t abandon your scale altogether
However, Dr. Heinberg says folks shouldn’t bypass the scale entirely. That’s because when upward trends are caught early, it’s easier to make a course-correction.
“You have to get over a little bit of that anxiety — your weight is what it is, whether you’re measuring it or not — but, having that information is going to allow you to make the small tweaks to your lifestyle to continue toward what your goals are.”
So how often should you weigh yourself? Dr. Heinberg recommends picking two days a week to weigh in — and be consistent. Try to step on the scale at the same time of day, wearing the same amount of clothing each time.