How to weigh yourself

One of the biggest health problems that people face in this country is weight loss.  To be able to control your weight, the first thing you must be able to do is measure it correctly, and the vast majority of people don’t.  This leaves them unable to tell what effect their lifestyle changes are having on their weight, and leaves them often mystified as to what is going on with their weight.  From the point of view of a former engineer, I would say there are two major problems with the way that people tend to weigh themselves.  First, they don’t do it often enough.  Second, they don’t consider how variable a person’s weight is during the course of the day.

One of the main things that prevents people from weighing themselves is that they don’t want to see the number on the scale.  Of course, it is frustrating to see the numbers on the scale stubbornly refuse to budge, or worse, go the wrong way, despite all of the hard work you are putting in to diet and exercise.  However, the more you can weigh yourself, the better you will be able to understand what’s going on.

Let’s consider the speedometer of your car.  Imagine if your speedometer had to calculate speed the old fashioned way by timing out a minute and seeing how far you got in that time.  If your car only told you the speed every 60 seconds, you would get pulled over for speeding all of the time.  Accelerating from a stop sign to the speed limit takes less than 60 seconds.  If you hold down the accelerator too long or too hard, you could be easily 10 mph over the speed limit and not realize it.  That’s why our speedometers are designed to give us continuous feedback about the speed of the car, so you can keep an eye on the needle and not wind up going 35 mph in a 20 mph school zone.

Suppose you only weigh yourself once per week.  In the same way that a car could go from zero to 60 mph or 70, or 80 mph in a minute without you realizing it, you can gain or lose several pounds during a week.  That means you could get in trouble while you are between weight measurements, and as we all know, it’s way easier to put weight on than it is to take it off.  Similar to a speeding ticket, it’s a costly mistake to make.  This is why it’s important to measure more often than your weight tends to change.  I would say for most people, they should consider weighing themselves once or twice a day, if their weight has a tendency to go out of control.  That way if you see that you’re suddenly eating way too much during the course of a day, you can consider whether you really need to have that bedtime snack.

The second problem is the variability of a typical person’s body weight.  I’ve seen people celebrate or mourn a change one pound on the scale reading, but consider how fast my weight changed yesterday at different times, and under different conditions.

Weight (lbs) Change (lbs)
Before breakfast

146.6

After breakfast

148.0

+1.4

With clothes

148.8

+0.8

After workout

148.6

-0.2

Walk and lunch

148.8

+0.2

Bathroom and shower

147.0

-1.8

Before dinner

146.8

+0.2

After dinner

148.4

+1.6

After workout

146.8

-1.6

Bedtime snack

148.2

+1.4

Next morning

146.8

-1.4

 

As you can see, a meal can be as much as 1.6 pounds (cereal and milk with fruit for breakfast, or a noodle or rice soup for dinner or bedtime snack), but it can also be as little as 0.2 pounds (a spinach salad and some bread for lunch).  Similarly, a mild workout during which I was able to properly hydrate results in a drop of 0.2 pounds, but a more intense workout during which I didn’t drink enough water causes me to drop 1.6 pounds.  (That’s why I had a noodle soup before bed – partially to rehydrate.)

The presence or absence of clothing can result in significant changes to your weight measurement.  If I’m wearing sweat pants and a T-shirt, it causes my weight to change by 0.8 pounds, and it’s possible for heavier clothing to affect the reading even more.  Blue jeans, for example are very heavy.  One pair of my blue jeans weighs 1.8 pounds.

So how do you tell if you’re gaining or losing weight?

I would recommend that the typical person watching their weight should weigh themselves twice each day.

First, every morning on rising, most people go to the bathroom.  I would suggest immediately after doing so, but before eating breakfast, you should measure your weight with no (or almost no) clothing on.  This measurement tells you if you are gaining or losing weight, because it will be the most stable measurement from day to day.  You should watch for trends in this measurement.  I.e., is this week’s average morning weight different from last week’s?

Second, I would suggest weighing yourself prior to the last meal of every day.  If you find that you weight has skyrocketed over the course of the day, it’s a sign that you may have eaten too much that day, and you should seriously consider how much to eat for the rest of the day.