Pitchrate | To Weigh or Not to Weigh?

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Cheryl Winter

Cheryl Winter is a board-certified family nurse practitioner and registered dietitian with advanced training in diabetes and weight management. She is President of DiabeteSteps Rx®, a full-service onsite and virtual integrative diabetes and weight management clinic. By "integrating" both a function...

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Health & Fitness


DiabeteSteps RX

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02/02/2013 12:06am
To Weigh or Not to Weigh?

If you are trying to lose weight like most people these days, you might find yourself becoming fairly attached to your bathroom scale. However, there is a better "weigh," pardon the pun, to monitor your weight loss progress than to rely on this "irrelevant" and out-dated method.

Is this you? When the number on the scale goes down, you scream with joy and accomplishment, but when that number goes up, you have feelings of defeat and wonder what's the use? If so, this is too bad because "weight" is not what you should be measuring to assess your results, and the feelings of defeat only serve to discourage you from continuing your weight loss efforts.

"Weighing" is actually the least effective way to measure your health and your progress. What the scale measures is the volume of blood in your body, the undigested food in your gastrointestinal system, the fluid in your lymph system, the glycogen in your liver and muscles, and other body components that can fluctuate throughout the day and from day to day.

It is quite normal for the amount of fluid in the body to fluctuate. Water actually makes up over 60% of the total body mass (weight). Extra weight reflected on the scale in the form of water retention, however, is often what is responsible for the feelings of failure felt by those trying to lose weight. Although, some water retention is normal, a great deal of water retention can be prevented. Ironically, it is actually a lack of water and fluid intake that is contributing to the water retention. Dieters often restrict not just calories but also their fluid intake. This may be due to them omitting calorie-dense drinks, without replacing them with water. When the body is deprived of water it perceives it as a threat to survival, and therefore compensates by conserving water. In addition, if the diet is too high in sodium (like so many American diets), this causes the body to hang on to even more water. Drinking adequate water will help you maintain proper fluid balance and help flush out excess sodium. An adequate amount of water will vary from person to person, but a general guideline is to drink ½ ounce per pound of body weight.

A very common cause of water retention in women occurs just prior to menstruation, and most always disappears as quickly as it appears. Again, this water weight gain can be reduced by drinking plenty of water, avoiding highly processed and high sodium foods, as well as maintaining an exercise program.

Another body component that can tip the scale is the amount of glycogen or carbohydrate that the body stores. The body stores carbohydrate in the liver and in muscles, in the form of glycogen. This storage is important for when one is unable to eat, such as when sleeping, or when exerting a lot of energy quickly and unexpectedly. This reserve of energy (glycogen or carbohydrate stores) weighs about one pound, and has attached with it, 3 to 4 pounds of water, hence the word "carbo-hydrate." If you fail to consume adequate carbohydrate (as many do when they begin an unhealthy fad diet), your glycogen stores will deplete, and consequently, so will the water that is with it. The body, however, cannot go for very long without adequate carbohydrate so when the body restores its reserve of carbohydrates, its associated water is also restored. Don't be alarmed by weight shifts of up to 2 pounds per day, even with no changes in your calorie intake or energy expenditure. This is quite normal and has nothing to do with fat loss. Unfortunately, the worse thing it does is create anxiety when the scale doesn't move in the desired direction.

Don't forget about the actual weight of the food you eat. If you just ate dinner and your food is undigested, you may as well just be carrying around a bunch of marbles, because the food and drink you just consumed might weigh 4 pounds. This is not fat gain. The message here is not to weigh yourself right after you have eaten because the extra weight is the weight of the food. Instead, weigh yourself first thing in the morning before you have consumed any fo


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