In short, your scale is a liar. In fact, if you’re a woman, then it’s misleading you even more so. That solitary number does not define you. In fact, that number doesn’t even describe you. Other than to say that the sum of your muscle, fat and hormone and diet-related water weight adds up to that number below you.
Now, I’m not a woman (let’s get straight right off the bat), but I know enough that most women experience hormone shifts and fluctuations that lead to changes in more than just a craving for chocolate. Your hormone profile can alter your “bloating” or body-water percentage, which can change significantly depending on what time of the month you are testing yourself for weight loss or body fat (or any weight-related reading, for that matter).
For some women of a certain stage in life, the concept of hormone fluctuation might be less of a concern; however, for those taking it, hormone replacement therapy can come with its own adjustment period, and in some cases, permanent water retention. So if you’re already taking a replacement, the time between weigh-ins might not matter as much — but if you have recently started, then certainly give your body six to eight weeks to adjust to your new “non-cycling.”
Muscle + Fat
Imagine a bag of unpopped popcorn. Now imagine the size of that same bag popped. Weighs the same, right? You’d be amazed the number of clients I’ve worked with who (when working out and eating optimally) have lost 2-3 dress sizes and dropped not a single pound. It causes a perplexing amount of glee mixed with frustration, I can tell you.
On one hand, we’ve been trained to think that dropping weight means a leaner person. Back to the popcorn analogy. Imagine the popcorn is your muscle, and the popped popcorn is fat. The density of one is much higher (and takes up less space) than the other. Which is why you want to know both numbers, and not just the sum of both. If you know your body-fat percentage and your “lean mass,” then you can know how much muscle and fat you have on you, and work to change one or the other — depending on where you want to be.
You don’t need a super-fancy scale (although one of those can help, depending on what your goals are). Chances are your doctor, friend or gym has one that will tell you the wicked truth. For optimal accuracy, measure yourself in the morning right after you get out of bed and have visited the bathroom. Then try to measure yourself once a week. Again, for the ladies, mark an ‘X’ on your calendar to give the greatest validity to the result that comes a month after your initial weigh-in (to account for that hormone/water weight variation we talked about earlier).
As you see numbers change in your body fat (and hopefully very little change in loss of muscle, which can happen with body-fat loss), then you’ll likely see a change in the way your clothes fit, and probably the way your husband/wife/co-workers flirt with you.
Above all, be kind to yourself. If you’re on a weight-loss journey, remember that you aren’t a “Biggest Loser” contestant stuck on a ranch somewhere — you’re a real person. Measure results, be diligent, and be patient.
Jamie Atlas is a personal trainer and owns Bonza Bodies Fitness. He’s also an ambassador for Lululemon and RallyMan for the nonprofit LiveWell Colorado.