How to Use the Scale to Your Advantage

I know that some of you avoid regularly stepping on the scale because the fluctuations bother you or you use other ways to measure your success such as how you clothes fit or how you look.

I firmly believe that each of us has to do what works for us in this weight loss journey because if you try to live outside your comfort zone you may find yourself getting frustrated or even worse – quitting completely.

The scale can be and almost must be a tool that you use in some way during your journey, rather you weigh daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly.

When examining how to use the scale to your advantage, I wanted to share some statistics with you. According to the National Weight Control Registry, long-term maintainers tend to weigh on a regular basis, with 75 percent of them weighing in at least weekly. Some research studies such as the literature review published in the The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity shows that regular weighing likely helps with weight management.

Although I weigh daily, there are some things that I am aware of that help me avoid frustration with the scale and keep me from allowing the scale to hold sway over me. Here are several things to think about when you stand on the scale and do not see the number you want and/or expect.

Reasons for Scale Fluctuations

1. For women, your monthly cycle can have an impact on the scale. Both ovulation and menstruation can cause the scale to move up even when you know you haven’t eaten out of the ordinary.

2. Bowel irregularities can also cause unexpected gains or losses.

3. Calorie intake. (I had to say this one because if you eat more calories than you need you may see the scale tick up.)

4. Muscle weight. As you build muscle you may see the scale stop moving or inch upward.

5. Not enough calories. If you starve yourself the scale can stop moving because you are putting your body into “starvation” mode.

Now there are other reasons, but these are some of the most common ones that I found when doing some research and from real life experiences of people I know.

In order to use the scale to your advantage during this weight loss process you have to be aware of how your body reacts to excess calories, normal monthly cycles, too much sodium, extra exercise, or other events in your life that impact the scale. Once you know how your body reacts, you can view the scale as a tool to use (with whatever frequency you choose) and not as a sworn enemy.

Ways to Measure Progress When The Scale Doesn’t Cooperate

Even if you weigh every day or every other day, it is important to have other ways to measure your weight loss or weight maintenance progress. Personally, I use the scale as one tool and some of these other techniques as additional tools.

1. How your clothes fit. If your pants that usually fit perfectly suddenly feel tight, it may be an indication that you have put on some weight. Conversely, if they are getting looser than things are likely moving in the right direction.

2. Take pictures of yourself along the way. This is pretty self-explanatory but such a great measurement!

3. Notice how you fit in chairs, through doorways, etc. This was one of my favorite ways as I loved being able to see the edges of chairs or not have to slide into narrow doorways sideways.

4. Take your measurements regularly.

How are you on this subject? Do you use the scale as one of your tools and how else do you measure your progress? Diane

P.S. Jessica G. from the Ricki Lake show asked me to pass on this information to you. If you or someone you know has lost a substantial amount of weight on your own, kept it off for a decent period of time, but still feel fat, she would be interested in hearing your story. Her email is:

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About Diane Carbonell

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  1. The one about starvation I learnt too. I could not understand why the scale stopped moving, until I looked at my calorie intake and saw that I was starving myself. So then I up it and the weight started to drop again. Also the thing about muscle weight I learnt.
    blackhuff recently posted…Where’s the contact info?My Profile

  2. I do weigh. But I have talked a lot on my blog about how fickle the scale is. And I LOVE the idea of “dieters” setting goals and evaluating success based on things other than the scale. What I learned from another (very wise) blogger is that we can never control the scale, only our own behavior. So even if we stay 100 percent on plan and do everything right towards losing weight (or maintaining) the scale may “not cooperate.” I get a bit sad and frustrated when I see bloggers set goals about losing a set number of pounds in a set time period. If only it was that simple and easy.
    Karen@WaistingTime recently posted…That’s the Sound of My Worlds CollidingMy Profile

    • caryesings says:

      Yes, I sometimes have a hard time explaining to people what I mean by not being able to control the scale after losing 100 lbs. They point out I obviously do control the scale but I mean not on a specific weigh in. The reason I was successful in taking off this weight after 20 years was because I tracked my behaviour (food logs and exercise) rather than the results.

  3. I weigh myself every single day. I have found that has really helped me get to know my own body’s patterns and responses. Yes, it was a little frustrating at first, but when I stepped on without allowing high expectations, I had no problem. I swear by it!
    Jamie recently posted…HonestyMy Profile

  4. Thanks for the tips! I am a serial weigher so it is nice to see in print the reasons why the scale sometimes moves a tick in an un-favorable direction!
    Christie @ Pathtothehalf recently posted…Killin’ It!My Profile

  5. I know the scale pisses people off but like you Diane, I weigh each day & use it as one of the ways to measure – clothes fitting be another – those are the 2 I use the most. With aging & hormones – really important to keep a hold on it in a few ways including the scale. Great post!
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Wonderful Wednesday; Happy Bday Time Again!My Profile

  6. Mairi Brown says:

    I have stepped back on to the scale after years of avoiding it thanks to your blog. My scale is now in a prominent place in my bedroom and I must pass it in order to leave. I haven’t quite gotten in to the weighing myself every day but I am stepping on every couple of days. The fact that I’m actually facing the scale instead of avoiding it is making me feel empowered and more in control. Thank you.

    • Thank you Mairi for sharing that. I know that this is a hot topic in the blog world. I can only say that it works for me as well. I believe that feeling empowered is a great thing!

  7. I weigh pretty regularly. At first it was just to keep an eye on the number and make sure it didn’t rise, but then I started wanting to lose so it helped me track my loss. It came off slowly, but it was encouraging to see a couple of pounds gone every couple of weeks. It was hard when the scale went back up a little or didn’t drop at all, but I never let it get to me. I honestly never planned to lose as much as I did, so when I saw my current number pop up after not weighing for a couple of months, I almost fell out!
    Kristi McMurry recently posted…Jonathan & Danielle Crown Winery WeddingMy Profile

  8. This is great information, Diane! Even knowing that the scale is just another tool, I have occasionally experienced scale stress :-)

    I have to question one thing. I do not put that much belief in “starvation” mode. All the studies I know of say that weight loss may slow, but does not stop with under-eating. It always turns out that the person was eating more than they thought. The cause is a slowing metabolism. The best way to prevent this is with being active. Losing weight takes effort. It is not going to be easy.
    Dr. J recently posted…Lab Notes: 2009 Swine Flu Deaths Revised UpwardsMy Profile

    • While I might admit the existence of something like “starvation” mode, I don’t see how your typical American is ever going to get near it. Starvation mode is what happens when your hair goes coppery and you’ve been without adequate food for months or even longer. It bugs me that real, serious starvation is occurring worldwide, and meanwhile typical Americans think that they will enter “starvation” mode if their stomachs are empty for two seconds. >_<

  9. I weigh a few times a week, I find it keeps me out of denial, which is something to which I am extremely prone. I realize that if I eat a lot of salt, or have pms, etc., it jumps, or if I was too full or tired for dinner, it drops, so I give it a 3 pound range or so, and don’t take readings too seriously until they become consistent. At this point, I consider myself mostly in maintenance, though if I lost another 10 pounds, I wouldn’t complain, but I find the scale necessary, and I don’t take it personally. If it seems as if it’s really going up, I need to know so that I can reverse it before my clothes no longer fit.
    julie recently posted…Low-Carb Gurus and skinny people eating sweetsMy Profile

  10. I weigh myself almost daily. I aim for daily, but often forget on the weekends when my schedule changes.

    I’m figuring out the scale fluxuations for myself. I know that bowel irregularities is one reason for me. Another that goes with that is my level of hydration. My husband thinks it’s weird/backward, but it seems that when I am dehydrated, the scale seems to go up a tad. Those are also the days that my ring fits tighter and I can feel that my fingers feel bloated, so I think I’m retaining water.

    I do also know that I have days where I eat more, and I see that difference in the scale. Unfortunately there have been too many of those days recently, so the scale isn’t heading down. I’m stuck at the moment.
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  11. I haven’t weighed myself in over three years. The numbers I use to determine my health include my cholesterol, blood pressure, overall cardio risk assessment, inflammation, fasting glucose, resting heart rate, and others (and I take no prescription medications to control or improve those numbers). I have also used my waist measurement and/or how my clothes fit. Over the past few months I know I’ve put some weight on. I had to figure out what was going on with me emotionally, and I did, and now I am breathing a little easier. But even with the gain, I was also keeping track of those all important health numbers and they remained excellent (and my doctor agrees). I am not sure if I’ll ever weigh weigh again…but for now, it doesn’t serve me.
    KCLAnderson (Karen) recently posted…Powerful As HellMy Profile

    • I admire you Karen because I just am not that in touch with myself. I love reading your blog because you have so much wisdom in this area and help so many people who struggle with the emotional side of weight loss

  12. I use the scales – I weigh daily. But to stop myself freaking out over fluctuations I take an average of the last 7 days weight as my actual weight using a spreadsheet.

    I hate weighing the day after I eat Chinese takeaway – something in it makes me retain water and I gain 2-5 pounds overnight. Its off as quick as it came though!
    Sarah recently posted…Spotlight on BlackberriesMy Profile

  13. I do, but I admit I don’t have weight issues or scale fear. I just had always heard that middle age makes people spread, and I was not going to spread, so for the first time in my life, I bought a bathroom scale. I just want to keep wearing the sort of clothes I’ve worn my whole life, getting up off the floor without contortions, and being able to walk a lot. So I bought a scale, and I do get on it every morning. If I see a number above a certain point, I cut back for a few days. Like I said though, I have a fairly uncomplicated relationship to the scale, so my approach may seem too minimalist.

  14. Jim Wilhelm says:

    What I had to learn early on about using scales in weight loss is that when it all comes down to it…..we are more than a number. We know that there are tons of variables that can change the number on the scale, and it can be depressing when we don’t see the numbers we would like to. You just have to find what works best for you and what keeps you from thinking negative thoughts. Remember, first and foremost, we are working towards getting healthy. The numbers on a scale just represent your weight…not your overall health. I’d rather see a higher number on the scale and know it was from building muscle that worry about hurting myself metabolically to make the number go down faster.

  15. Thank you Diane! I for one am a weekly weigher (most of the time). I allow myself a break if I really screwed up my eating, so I have time to get it back off.
    Sheri – Motivation for Health & Fitness recently posted…Non-Diabetic’s Guide to Helping Loved Ones with DiabetesMy Profile

  16. Marcelle says:

    I stopped weighing myself 8 months ago as I wanted to stop that number defining me. My eating after 3 years was now a lifestyle. I do my centimetres now and again, but not that often either, if I gain it’s one or two but never more and that’s cause I’m on holiday.
    I do believe when losing one should weigh often as it motivates you.

  17. “to prove to my blog readers that their freak-outs over a 0.4 lb gain were unwarranted”

    Corroborating example: Today, I wanted to weigh my cat. She’s hyperthyroid, and so I like to make sure she’s not too low. (She’s gets medication for it.)

    I picked her up and weighed myself with her, then put her down. She was apparently nine pounds after I subtracted.

    I got ready to get a shower, and as I always do, got on the scale again out of habit.

    Somehow, between putting down my cat down three minutes before and right then, I managed to lose an entire pound.

    Consumer bathroom scales are just not that accurate. As someone with no weight issues, I should record my daily weights and post the fluctuations, just to underline the point you made with your own multiple weigh-ins that fluctuations like this are part of life even for someone who’s never been overweight.

  18. I do weigh myself, but I’ve found that when I stay away from the scale, the emotions related to weight are much less. Unless I’m actively trying to lose weight and see progress downward, I’m always disappointed at what the scale says, even if it might be 10 pounds less than I was 2 years ago, or something like that. It always feels like I should weigh less! :-|
    I ❤ 2 Eat recently posted…Constant Among VariablesMy Profile

  19. 158 lbs in 14 yrs. Wow! that is really admiring. I adore your determination and patience in this. Thank you also for giving this insights, now I know why even if I’m exercising my weight doesn’t go down, it’s because I’m building muscles and also why sometimes I the scale doesn’t move when I starve myself. Thanks for this info Diane and kudos to your success. You are an inspiration.