Maybe you step on it first thing every morning, or maybe you tuck it away deep in your closet — either way, you probably have a love/hate relationship with your scale. Like so many others, you probably find weighing yourself on a semi-regular basis helps you keep your fitness goals in mind. Whatever your specific reasoning, you most likely feel a little depressed when the number is higher than you expected. While none of us should be slaves to the numbers, you should take note of the situations that can cause you to gain a few pounds. Do yourself (and your sanity) a favor and hide the scale in these instances.
1. Right after a workout
If you’re the type to jump on the scale directly following your workout, you’ve probably left your bathroom pretty disappointed. There are some instances when that number will actually be lower because of the fluids lost during sweating. But if the scale shows a higher number after a tough hour at the gym, don’t be too surprised. Shape says inflammation from your muscles trying to repair themselves can cause temporary weight gain, as can water retention that sometimes happens post-workout. Either weigh yourself before the gym or wait until the next day.
Next: Where you put your scale can make all the difference.
2. When your scale’s on a carpet
Surprise — this one has nothing to do with your physique or habits, but where you choose to place your scale. New Scientist says you actually weigh more when your scale is on carpet. Basically, your scale’s manufacturer calibrated the piece of equipment on a hard surface, and the mechanism inside that makes it accurate can’t work properly otherwise. If you have a digital scale, the discrepancies won’t be as severe as they are with analog. But even so, try bringing your scale into a carpeted room to see how much of a difference it makes.
Next: The time of the month really matters.
3. During your menstrual cycle
Men, feel free to skip over this one. But ladies, you know the struggle of period weight gain is real. And during this time of the month, you’re well advised to take a break from the scale. Natasha Johnson, a Boston-based gynecologist, even told Women’s Health you can gain up to five pounds of water weight during the week of your period.
There is some good news, though — potassium-rich foods, like bananas and cantaloupe, and healthy fats, like salmon and nuts, can help you beat the bloat. Foods that can cause gas, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and beans will make matters worse, though.
Next: Are you aware of your clothing choices when weighing yourself?
4. When your shoes and coat are still on
Do you visit the doctor wearing the lightest clothing you can find? It’s actually not a bad idea if you want an accurate reading from the scale. In 2013, researchers for the International Journal of Obesity weighed 35 women and 15 men both with and without their clothes on four times over a year. They found men’s clothing typically added about 2.5 pounds onto the scale, and women’s clothing added almost 2 pounds. This is a small sample size, but you might want to keep this in mind if you’re prone to weighing yourself fully clothed.
Next: Skip the scale during this time of day.
5. After a huge dinner
This might seem obvious, but there’s a reason you weigh more at night — your dinner has yet to digest. Self reminds us 20% of our meals are actually water, and it only takes about a cup of water to add half a pound to your weight. In the morning, your body already had a few hours to remove extra fluids (this is why you have to go to the bathroom so badly when you first wake up). If you’re interested to see how much your weight fluctuates throughout the day, try weighing yourself first thing in the morning and then right before you go to bed.
Next: Quality really does matter when it comes to your scale.
6. When the scale was in the clearance bin
You found a scale at Walmart for $10 bucks — awesome! Unfortunately, what you’ve saved in dollars you’ve sacrificed in accuracy. There’s a good possibility that bargain scale is going to be incredibly wrong when you step on it, and even the expensive ones aren’t necessarily calibrated right. For an accurate reading, Livestrong.com says your best bet is to purchase a physician’s scale, though these do tend to take up more space. So here’s a helpful alternative — visit your doctor’s office and ask to be weighed. Write down this number, then, wearing the same clothes, visit a store to try out the scales. The one that’s closest to your doctor’s reading is the one you should purchase.
Next: You’re usually heaviest on this day of the week.
7. When it’s Monday
Nobody likes Mondays to begin with, so don’t ruin the start of the week by stepping on the scale first thing in the morning. Smithsonian.com says it’s normal to weigh more on this day than any other because we’re more likely to indulge in heavier meals and be less active over the weekend. Don’t worry, though — this generally evens out over the week. By Wednesday, you should be totally back to normal.
Next: Going on a trip? Your weight may fluctuate.
8. After you’ve been traveling
Let’s face it — you’re going to give into those delicious foreign treats, the unhealthy on-the-go options, and maybe even a beer or two while on vacation. This can lead to some shock when you step on the scale the day after you’re luxury vacation.
There are a few things you can do to avoid weight gain when traveling, though. Pamela Peeke, M.D., tells Men’s Health you should pack your own travel-friendly, healthy snacks to have on your trip. And drink plenty of fluids — airplanes are super dry, and dehydration can lead you to eat more.
Next: The weather can impact the numbers on the scale.
9. It’s a hot summer day
It’s reasonable to think all of those exercises you’ve been doing to get bikini-ready have resulted in a slimmer physique, but your scale may think otherwise once summer hits. Don’t worry, though — summer weight gain is quite common, and it’s mainly due to your kidneys trying to reserve more fluids in your body, says Scientific American. You’re likely to gain some water weight if you spend a lot of time outside, even if you sweat quite a bit. Good news for people who love the air conditioning, though — you’re less likely to see the scale go up.
Next: Make sure you eat enough fiber to avoid this issue.
10. If you’re constipated
Not only is constipation uncomfortable, but it can cause temporary weight gain. In severe cases, you may even notice an increase of two to three pounds very quickly on the scale from — you guessed it — feces retention. Don’t panic, though — Step to Health explains you’ll see the scale go back down to normal once things become more regular. Make sure you’re getting plenty of fiber and water in your diet, and aim for lighter dinners so your intestines don’t have to work so hard before bed.
Next: This time of year is when you’re most likely to gain weight.
11. If it’s just after the holidays
Even the most dedicated health nut has trouble saying no to mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving and cookies on Christmas, so don’t beat yourself up if you see the numbers on the scale rise right after the holidays. According to a graph from The New England Journal of Medicine shared by Live Science, Americans tend to weigh the most directly after Christmas. After that, though, you’re likely to lose those holiday pounds and not have many other significant changes throughout the year. Our advice? Go for a few treats during that special time of year, don’t abandon your workout plan, and don’t fuss too much over the scale from November through January.
Next: You might want to skip the bread basket.
12. You’ve been chowing down on carbs
You’re probably aware excess sodium can cause water retention, but eating too many carbs can also cause some temporary weight gain. Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian, tells Shape your body stores excess carbs in your liver and muscles until you need to use them. This carb storage can cause weight gain itself, but you’ll also put away some water with it, too, which can cause an even greater increase. If you notice the scale numbers rising the morning after a meal of bread and pasta, try cutting out refined carbohydrates. Instead, opt for a small serving of whole grains along with more veggies.
Next: Take your self-esteem into account before weighing yourself.
13. You’re already picking apart your appearance
Don’t forget the importance of your mental health. If you’re actively trying to lose weight and you want to continuously weigh yourself without the stress, try switching your scale to metric and keeping track of it that way. It’s basically the same thing, but you’ll be surprised how seeing a different unit of measurement doesn’t give you the same anxiety.
Here’s another tip — if jumping on the scale at the doctor’s office is keeping you from getting your annual check-ups, then let your doc know. Michael Lief, M.D., tells Refinery29 that it’s fine to skip the scale says in most cases. Your blood pressure, lab work, and what you tell them about your lifestyle should paint enough of a picture about your health.
Next: Here’s how to weigh yourself accurately.
How to weigh yourself for more consistent results
So, if you’ve heeded our advice thus far, you’re probably ready to get some more consistent results from your scale. Kathryn Ross, a post-doctoral research fellow, tells U.S. News & World Report the best time to weigh yourself is in the morning after you’ve gone to the bathroom and before you’ve eaten or had anything to drink. Also, wear something similar (or nothing at all) each time you weigh yourself, and use the same scale.
If you want a way to easily track your progress, you might want to look into getting a fitness tracker. Many models allow you to record your daily weight so you can see trends over time.
Next: The scale isn’t the only indicator of health.
Alternatives to a standard scale
Maybe you’ve decided you’re done with the scale, but you still want to be able to track your weight. Surprisingly, there are a lot of alternatives to try. If you’re just starting a new workout routine and eating plan, Life by Daily Burn suggests taking a before photo and then progress photos every few weeks. Other alternatives include accessing how your clothes fit or measuring different areas of your body with good old-fashioned measuring tape.
You can also go for ways to measure your general fitness level. Give yourself a challenge — say, 20 push-ups — and see how you do at first. Record your results, and revisit the task a few weeks later. Have you improved? If so, give yourself a pat on the back. You might not know whether your efforts have impacted the numbers on the scale, but feeling fitter and stronger is just as beneficial.