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4 Ways the Scale Deceives You

When used properly, the scale can be your friend, not your enemy, if you know how to use the results as feedback.

The Scale is a Liar! We have almost become accustomed to hearing this because so many people struggle to lose weight or adjust to wild fluctuations in their weight each day.

But what do you do about it? Many people think the answer is throwing away the scale. It is understandable to feel frustrated, but don't give up on your scale just yet. There are some things to consider instead.

Focus on Body Composition . . .

Your ratio of fat to muscle is known as body composition and it’s one of the ideal ways to judge your progress. Instead of obsessing over the reading on the scale, shift your focus to body composition.

When people say they want to lose 10 pounds, they don't want to lose just any 10 pounds. Who wants to lose 10 pounds of muscle? The 10 pounds you lose makes a difference in how you look, your metabolic rate and how your clothes fit. "I want to lose 10 pounds of fat" is a more accurate statement.

The scale is not your enemy — it can be your friend if you know how to use the results as feedback data, not something to get emotional about. If you focus only on weight without considering body composition, you are setting yourself up for trouble, since body weight alone can deceive you.

Weight and fat are not the same

Scales can only provide you with information about how much total weight you have. That includes everything: fat, muscle, bone, organs, blood, water, gut contents and muscle glycogen. Your scale doesn’t tell you how much of that weight is fat and how much is muscle. Even scales that claim they do are typically incorrect.

Most scale-focused dieters assume that weight loss is good and weight gain is bad. But what if the weight gain is 100% pure muscle?

Or, suppose most of the weight you lost was muscle?

Muscle is the weight you want to keep. Fat is the weight you want to shed. The type of weight you lose matters.


Your body weight can fluctuate 2-4 pounds a day or more from shifts in water alone. That shift could be even greater over the course of the first week on a diet, especially a reduced-carb diet. The heavier you are to start, the bigger the first week’s weight loss (including water) is likely to be.

Losing water weight is easy. Wrestlers are notorious for dropping up to 15 pounds overnight to make a weight class, using natural diuretics, saunas, sweat suits and other dehydration tricks.

If you’re not a weight class athlete, what good is it to lose water weight only to gain it back as quickly as you lost it? That’s how diets fool you. Water weight loss does not equal fat weight loss.

Did you go out and enjoy an evening that included restaurant food? More than likely, your weight will be up the next day. Not because you overate or chose the wrong foods. Simply because those foods tend to be higher in salt, which contributes to retaining water. You cannot gain 3 pounds of fat overnight. That would require you to consume your maintenance calories PLUS 10,500 excess calories. (For reference, an entire family size package of Oreo cookies contains 2,560 calories.)


Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle as glycogen and water is stored along with them. That’s why your weight can tick up a few pounds when you eat more carbs. See the graphic to the left? Water (H20) is all over the place in that glucose molecule! No wonder eating or avoiding carbs creates weight loss.

For those wanting fat loss, the sudden increase on the scale without knowing about body composition could be cause for freaking out.

For those wanting to gain muscle, the increase on the scale without knowing about body composition could be cause for celebration.

In either case, the celebration or the panic would be premature. The scale lied again — in both directions. The burner didn’t gain fat weight and the builder didn’t gain muscle weight — it was just glycogen and the water that came along with it.

What’s in your gut

A large meal in your gastrointestinal tract will make you weigh more than a small meal, so if you've eaten a lot recently (ie a Thanksgiving meal), you will weigh more.

If you don’t eat anything for a day, you could lose a lot of weight, literally overnight. But rest assured, the weight you lose is not just body fat. You can’t lose that much fat in only one day.

This also explains weight loss seen with colon cleansing. A colon cleanse is one of the oldest weight loss scams in the book. The weight lost is not fat. Ever had a round of the flu and lost weight only to gain it back when you are able to keep food down again? It's not fat loss, sorry!

So, should I toss the scale?

Here’s the thing about the scale: the number it gives you is simply data. If you can observe that data without having an emotional response to the data, it can be quite helpful in learning how your body responds to food, exercise, lifestyle choices, etc.

However, if that data dictates how you feel about yourself over the course of a day, a week or a month, it’s probably not the best tool for you to use to measure progress.

Are your clothes fitting better? Do you have more energy? Are you stronger? These are all non-scale wins!

If you would like to measure the amount of fat you lose—not weight you lose—book a BodPod and find out what your real numbers are! Track how much muscle you can build instead of focusing on constantly losing fat. Track your real progress through accurate data that includes more than simply a number on the scale.

All content of this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this blog.

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!


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