Timing is Everything: How to Weigh Yourself Accurately

Dr. Christopher McGowan
May 17, 2021

You probably wouldn’t trust the number on the scale if you hopped on while holding a giant sandwich in your hand. The same goes if you step on the scale holding it in your stomach. Weighing yourself right after you eat is a sure way to get inaccurate numbers from your scale. The sandwich aside, though, how do you make sure your scale is telling you the truth about your weight?

What Factors Change Day-to-Day Weight?

Many different factors can affect your body weight. Your overall muscle mass or body fat percentage will be large contributors to your body mass index, or BMI, but getting an accurate weight measurement from day to day depends on more than just your body composition. The time of day, amount of recent physical activity, how recently you ate, when you last emptied your bladder or had a bowel movement, and even your menstrual cycle can all have an effect on the weight your bathroom scale reports. 

Though recent diet and exercise can affect the number on the scale, it is still important to weigh yourself regularly if you are trying to lose weight. To do this well, you need to pick a consistent time, place, and set of clothes to weigh yourself in—even if that means no clothes at all. 

Many people find that weighing in the morning right after urination is the most consistent time to weigh yourself. Ideally, if you have the privacy to step on the scale naked, that will help improve how accurate your reported weight is. If that isn’t convenient for you, try to make sure you step on the scale with the same clothes and shoes to make sure the only thing that changes from day to day is your own weight. 

How Much Can Your Weight Fluctuate in a Day?

When you are losing weight at a healthy pace, you may be looking at single-digit losses over a week’s time. That might make it frustrating to know that your body weight could vary by as much as five pounds during a given day. A host of things can make your weight change, including:

  • constipation
  • alcohol consumption
  • food intake
  • menstrual cycles for women
  • physical activity

Since many of these factors are either out of your control or, like exercising, part of living a healthy life, your best bet is to find a consistent time to weigh yourself when these other components of your overall weight can be controlled. This is why many nutritionists and dietitians recommend weighing yourself in the morning after you have urinated and before you have eaten breakfast. 

It is also worth noting that the equipment you use, and how you use it, is very important to get a consistent picture of your weight. Making sure your scale is properly calibrated and sitting on a hard, level floor rather than on carpet or rugs can help you guarantee a more accurate measurement. 

In addition to this, it is important to always weigh yourself on the same scales. Though most scales are accurate to within a certain level of precision, the scales in your home, your gym, and even your doctor’s office may not be calibrated equally. If this is the case, weighing yourself on different scales could be giving you an inaccurate picture of your real weight. 

Do You Weigh More in the Morning or at Night?

Since many factors affect how much your weight can fluctuate during a day, the question arises of whether you weigh more in the morning or at night. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer here. Exercise, eating habits, and even whether you drank any alcohol the night before can all affect the number on the scale. Generally speaking, though, you are going to weigh in with the greatest consistency in the morning when you have not eaten or participated in strenuous physical activity in several hours.

Naturally, weighing yourself after drinking a large volume of liquid or eating a large meal will make it appear that you weigh more since you are also weighing the food or drink you have just consumed. How much salt and alcohol you put in your diet also influences how much fluid your body retains, which can also affect the number on the scale. Drinking alcohol can lead to weight gain over the long term, but consumption of too much alcohol at once can skew short-term weight readings as well. 

The Dangers and Limitations of Weigh-ins

Keeping track of general trends in your health is an important part of a weight loss program. After all, you need to know whether you are staying on track to meet long-term goals. Daily weigh-ins, especially if they are not done consistently, can sometimes have disastrous effects on your mental health. 

Some eating disorders hinge around monitoring your own weight too closely, and becoming too focused on weight control without factoring in things like water retention and diet. Additionally, changing the time of the day you are weighing yourself can lead to inaccurate weighing. Many people who suffer from disordered eating related to weight control are reacting to individual measurements rather than looking at long-term trends, which are more accurate predictors of your overall health. 

In addition to being consistent in choosing when you weigh yourself, and paying attention to trends rather than looking at one specific reading from the scale, you can get a clearer picture of your progress by adding in other measurements. This could include objective measurements such as waist circumference as well as subjective ones like how well you feel a favorite pair of pants fits.

Losing weight will involve staying in caloric deficit where you are burning more calories than you need. Since this nearly always involves exercise, it is likely you will be building muscle mass. Since lean muscle weighs more than fat, you may find that a stubborn number on the scale is telling you one thing, but your closet is telling you something else. If you are keeping on track with your planned diet and the general fit of your clothes tells you things are heading in the right direction with your weight loss program, be sure to take the number on the scale with a grain of salt.  

Getting a Handle on Healthy Weight Loss

If you have been struggling with obesity, getting your weight down should definitely be a goal. After all, your health is on the line. To get healthy, you will likely want to lower your overall body weight, sometimes by a large amount, but getting hung up on the number on the bathroom scale is not always useful. Since your body fat percentage changes throughout your weight loss journey, and even varies depending on the time of day, your weight on any given day should not be the only metric you use to determine success in your weight loss plan.

Weigh-ins are a part of tracking your overall weight loss goals, but there is more to the picture of wellness. For some people, sorting through the noise of daily fluctuations in weight is not a problem. Others might need a little help along the way to set realistic goals and understand how to look at the big picture. Keeping track of your progress over time and seeing how your weight is trending is a better measurement of your progress toward a healthy weight than making sure your scale shows you a lower number every single day. 

 At True You, we know that a healthy weight loss journey is often a long one, and there can be confusing or disappointing moments along the way. That is why we work to provide a range of solutions and support for people wherever they are in their progress toward a healthy weight. For some people, this could mean little more than the helping hand of our medical nutrition therapy program to establish reasonable goals and a plan to reach them. For others, more structure, or more substantial changes might need to be made. 

For individuals who find that they simply cannot lose weight by any other means, bariatric surgery was once considered the only option. The drastic change this makes in your body can result in significant short term weight loss, but many patients who undergo gastric bypass will find that weight gain becomes a part of their life again down the road. In these cases, bariatric revisions can once again reduce the size of your stomach to help you get back on the path to maintaining a healthy weight.

If it is time for you to start the next chapter in your journey to freedom from excess body weight, request a consultation with True You today. We can help you understand and explore the options available to you as you take the next steps toward a healthy weight.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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