Key Reasons to Ditch the Scale

Weight Loss Numbers Don't Always Reflect Real Progress

Woman on a scale

AJ_Watt/Getty Images

The scale is an important and useful tool for reaching or maintaining weight loss for many people, but for others, it can stand in the way of success. Even if you are just trying to maintain your physique, studies have shown that weighing yourself regularly can help you maintain a healthy weight.

But sometimes, stepping on the scale can be a negative experience. There may be a slight increase in your number, even though you've been sticking to your program. Or maybe the scale shows no progress at all when you've been doubling-down on your workouts.

The moment you step on a scale you decide things about yourself—no matter what the scale shows, whether you’ve succeeded or failed, perhaps even how you feel about yourself as a person. The number on the scale is often tied to our body image, something that many of us struggle with on a regular basis.

So is it smart to weigh yourself? Consider a few factors and ask yourself key questions to decide if the scale is right for you.

Am I Losing or Maintaining Weight? 

A scale is a great tool for people who are maintaining weight loss. Seeing their weight each day is one way to make sure they're staying on track with their diet and exercise program.

However, if you’re just starting a weight loss program, the number on the scale can be deceptive, making you feel that you’re not making progress even when you are.

For example, when you start exercising, the progress you make is happening inside your body. Your heart is learning how to pump blood more efficiently, your body is creating more mitochondria in response to this new demand, and your muscles are getting stronger to adapt to your workouts. These are things that simply won't show up on a scale.

Unfortunately, the hard work of diet and exercise isn’t always reflected on the scale for new exercisers, especially during the first few weeks.

A few things that may happen when you start a weight loss program. These factors can make using the scale more frustrating.

Delayed Results 

How long does it take weight changes to show on the scale? Most of us need several weeks of diet and exercise before seeing significant changes in the scale, and even then we may get different readings based on day-to-day weight fluctuations.

Unrealistic Expectations

When you work hard at your workouts and diet, you may expect more than your body can deliver, which leads to disappointment.

Tunnel Vision

We get so focused on the scale that it blocks out other things we’re getting out of our workouts. The long-term rewards of exercise aren’t always obvious when you’re a beginner and you forget there are other reasons to exercise and eat healthfully.

Can I Use the Scale Less Often?

If you're discouraged by what you're seeing on the scale, consider weighing yourself once a month rather than daily or weekly to give your body time to adapt to what you’re doing.

Just take the scale-out of the mix for a while to see if anything changes for you mentally. You may find that you're more motivated when you take out that discouragement.

Can I Shift My Focus?

Another option is to shift your focus from the minutiae of weight loss and concentrate on what you actually need to do get there, such as:

  • Showing up for your workouts. Set goals based on how many workouts you’ll do each week rather than how much weight you’ll lose. Now you have something tangible you can track on a regular basis. Seeing a calendar of your completed workouts will give you a sense of success that the scale may not.
  • Getting to know your body. You can’t lose weight until you exercise consistently and you can’t do that until you build endurance and strength. Take the first few weeks to experiment, condition your body and figure out what you’re capable of.
  • Learning how to exercise. If you’re a beginner, there’s a learning curve that may take you a while to overcome. Give yourself space to learn good form, solid technique, and effective methods of training before you put too much pressure on yourself to lose weight.

Am I Discouraged? 

Many of us have a visceral response to any scale—a shiver when we pass by the scale at the gym or instant dry mouth when instructed to stand on the scale at the doctor’s office.

Changing your lifestyle and habits is difficult enough without adding the pressure of losing a certain number of pounds each week. Your body won't always cooperate and you'll rarely get everything perfect from day to day. Starting off on the right foot means having:

  • A supportive environment of family and friends who encourage you to reach your goals.
  • Realistic goals that motivate you day after day.
  • balanced exercise plan that fits your schedule and what you enjoy doing.
  • A way to handle obstacles to exercise before they happen.
  • If the scale doesn't fit into that encouraging environment, it may be time for a change.

Do you dread getting on the scale every morning? If the answer is yes, consider:

  • Setting aside weight loss goals: Focusing on being healthy, fit, and active can take the pressure off, allowing you to enjoy your active lifestyle. 
  • Find meaningful goals: Meaningful goals are the ones we stick with when times get tough. Consider joining a charity run or working out with a friend who needs support. You’ll remember the deeper reasons that exercise is an important part of your life.
  • Talk to friends or family members who exercise and ask them how they manage it. You may be inspired to learn how real people fit exercise into their lives.
  • Instead of watching the scale, focus on creating a healthy lifestyle. Living well almost always leads to weight loss. 

Is the Scale Accurate?

While the scale can tell you how much you weigh, there's something more important you need to know: your body composition. While many of us focus on how many pounds we're losing, what's more important is how much fat we're losing, something the scale can't discern.

Losing weight may make you happy but, what if you found out you were losing muscle, not fat? Losing muscle lowers metabolism and, eventually, contributes to a loss of mobility and power. This is one instance where the scale can lie, especially for new exercisers beginning a strength training program. It's possible to lose inches without losing weight, which means you're getting results even if they aren't showing up the way you're used to seeing them.

This is something you may experience when you step on a scale and see that there's no change. Maybe your clothes are fitting differently so you know something is happening, but the scale just isn't showing those changes.

You may wonder, "Why haven't I seen any results?" If you're experiencing this, one question to ask yourself is: Why do you believe the scale over your own experience? If you’re buying smaller clothes, you’re losing fat no matter what the scale says.

Too often, we believe what the scale is telling us rather than what’s in front of our own eyes, leaving us discouraged and frustrated rather than celebrating success.

Are you losing inches, fitting into smaller sizes and slimming down? If the answer is yes, that’s a good sign that you’re gaining muscle and losing fat, which is exactly what you want.

Instead of the scale, try other ways to track your progress:

A Word From Verywell

The most important thing is to find a way to keep going even if the scale isn't saying what you want it to say. Remember, the scale is very simple. It measures everything: your bones, muscles, organs as well as what you had to eat or drink before you stepped on the scale.

A more sophisticated tool? Your clothes and a measuring tape. That will tell you the real story about whether you're getting weight loss results.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Steinberg DM, Bennett GG, Askew S, Tate DF. Weighing every day matters: daily weighing improves weight loss and adoption of weight control behaviors. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015;(115)4:511-8.  doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.12.011

  2. Harvard Medical School. Should you weigh yourself every day?.

  3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Setting goals for weight loss.

  4. American Council on Exercise. How to start an exercise program.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Losing weight: getting started.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity for a healthy week.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Losing weight.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."