Feet on a scale

Be consistent, but don't jump on the scale after a big night out. (iStockphoto)

When trying to follow a weight-loss plan, the scale can be your worst enemy. It's a tricky device in tracking weight loss. Some dieters go so far as to step on the scale after every meal. This poses a problem, because weight tends to fluctuate, on average, between 2 to 4 pounds throughout the day. The number that you see first thing in the morning may be far from the number you see midday or before your head hits the pillow. However, this doesn't mean that you've actually gained body fat. These numbers don't reflect your accurate weight or your last meal.

Throughout my years of counseling clients, I've seen people who struggle to lose weight all of a sudden lose five pounds in a matter of days. On the other hand, some experience the opposite; starting off strong and then weight loss tapers off. Constantly stepping on the scale and seeing varied outcomes can result in feelings of discouragement, disappointment, and resentment. This trio of negative emotions can lead to binge eating. After all, you've been working hard all day to eat well, and all of a sudden your number skyrockets by 2 pounds in less than three hours with no explanation. It's understandable that the average person would feel frustrated and turn to a bag of chips or box of cookies for solace. Therefore, it's important to understand the many factors that play into weight fluctuation.

Below are some do's and don'ts when it comes to the scale:

Do keep in mind the importance of consistency. To accurately track the amount of weight that you are losing, it's best to weigh yourself at the same time (preferably in the morning) every week, on the exact same day of the week. Write down the number, and at the end of four weeks, calculate the average of these numbers. Subtract that from your starting weight, and you'll get a very precise measure of how much progress you've made.

Don't jump on the scale after a big night out. You're just torturing yourself. Rich, decadent restaurant cuisine is full of salt, fat, and sugar—things that make the meal taste so good! Keep in mind that it's virtually impossible to gain weight after one large meal. If you get on the scale and see your number go up, it's simply because your blood volume level has increased due to the large quantity of food that you've eaten. The high sodium content in certain prepared foods also causes the body to retain fluid, thus causing a higher number on the scale.

Do take fluids into account. It's tough to measure fluids accurately, but two 8-ounce glasses of water can translate to about one pound of weight. This means that if you've just finished a giant bottle of H20 and decide to hop on the scale, the chances are you're not going to like the outcome. Don't fret. It's only water. Our bodies are highly equipped to efficiently use fluids as needed and excrete what we don't need. In fact, if you decide to avoid fluids in an attempt to lower that value on the scale, you're in for a big surprise. Your body will actually do the opposite and retain fluid, causing you to show a "gain." Drinking alcohol is also a key culprit in skewing the numbers. No matter the libation, all alcohol causes frequent urination and may increase perspiration. This leads to even more dehydration, which will cause the body to retain more fluid. It may seem contradictory, but be sure to add in plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages (such as water) to counteract the fluid imbalance.

Don't avoid the scale all together. It's important to note that weighing yourself on a regular basis doesn't necessarily have to be a negative thing. Stepping on a scale gives you a sense of accountability towards your actions and forces you to keep yourself in check. According to the National Weight Control Registry, 75 percent of individuals who have managed to successfully lose weight and keep it off consistently weigh themselves. In addition, a 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics concludes that people who lose weight are less likely to regain it if they weigh themselves on a regular basis.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, is a nationally-recognized nutrition expert, author, and entrepreneur. She is the author of two top selling books, The Wall Street Diet and Bread is the Devil. She is the founder of Nu-Train, a nutrition consulting company, and Bestowed, a subscription service that offers consumers a personalized way to discover, sample, shop, and learn about the best nutrition and lifestyle products on the market.

Tags: diet and nutrition, exercise and fitness, health, weight loss, Heart Health

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