The scale can either be our best friend or our worst enemy, depending on the number that flashes up on the screen. Fortunately, there are alternative ways to get an accurate reading of progress. Read on to learn why you shouldn’t focus so much on the scale, and other ways to track your progress.

Here’s why you shouldn’t rely on the scale.

Sure, the scale displays your overall weight, but there are so many things that contribute to that number. Muscle mass and body fat both play a big role in your weight. Aaptiv trainer Rochelle Moncourtois says, “The scale only weighs your overall body weight. It can’t detect the percentage of fat vs. muscle—that’s what’s really important.”

While a pound of muscle and a pound of fat weigh the same, fat takes up more space than muscle because it has a lot more volume. Muscle, in comparison, is denser. This is why you can have two people who weigh exactly the same but have different body compositions. The scale doesn’t reflect this.

“As the body begins to lose fat, you’re going to see a number decrease on the scale, but as you build up muscle, you’re going to see that number increase on the scale,” explains Moncourtois. “This is when people start to get discouraged and they think [that] they’re gaining weight, when, in reality, they’re gaining only muscle, and that’s healthy.”

Not only that, but there are many other factors that contribute to your weight. Water weight, your digestive health, and sleep all make a difference in the number on the scale. Hence why you may wake up feeling light as air, but a bit heavier by the end of the day.

So, should I throw away my scale?

While you shouldn’t solely rely on the scale, it doesn’t mean that you have to boycott it completely. Moncourtois says, “My best advice is to only use the scale as an indication that you’re going in the right direction if your goal is weight loss.”

It’s best to avoid weighing yourself every day, as your weight can fluctuate daily. “If you’re trying to lose a significant amount of weight, I would say to weigh yourself only once a week,” she recommends. “The scale can be very mentally challenging for some people.”

Measure Progress Without The Scale

There are alternative ways to measure progress beyond the scale that give you a more accurate view of how well you’re doing. As Moncourtois points out, “It doesn’t show how strong you’ve become or how much fat loss you'[ve] had, [so] it’s a lot better to get your body fat tested or go by how your clothes fit.”

Test your body fat.

There are ways to have your body fat tested, such as a body scan, so that you can get your body fat percentage. You can even do this manually, by using fat calipers. Collect your measurements using the “pinch and pull” method. This will give you at least a close estimate of where your body is at currently.

Use a tape measure.

If you want to track your numbers, do it the old-fashioned way and get out a tape measure. A tape measure is a more accurate way to see which individual parts of your body have slimmed down or bulked up, depending on your goal. Measure the places that you want to see change. Some common areas are the biceps, chest, thighs, and waist.

Take progress photos.

While taking progress photos won’t give you exact measurements, sometimes it’s easier to visually observe changes. Photos also help keep us motivated when the number on the scale isn’t budging. To get the best progress photos, make sure that your photos are as consistent as possible. Take each progressive photo at the same time and day of the week, in similar lighting conditions and clothes.

Evaluate how your clothes feel.

Your clothes can tell you a lot about how your body is changing. Focus on how they feel on your body, depending on your fitness goals. Your pants may feel looser in the waist and tighter in the thighs as you lose fat and build muscle, for example. Pay attention to how your old favorite pieces fit and fall around your body. Feeling confident in your body and your wardrobe are important pieces in the progress puzzle.

Test your fitness levels.

Improving your fitness and health isn’t just about the number on the scale. “Measure your progress by the amount of weight you can lift [and] how much faster you can run,” explains Moncourtois. “Can you do more push-ups”?

By evaluating your workouts, you can see how your fitness is improving. When you’re becoming faster and stronger, or are able to do exercises that you couldn’t before, who really cares what the number on the scale says?

“This is a much better indication of how you’re improving,” says Moncourtois. “Don’t stress about the scale; it doesn’t define you.”

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