After the best workout of your life, you towel off your naked body and weigh yourself on the scale just next to the gym lockers. It provides you with a reading of 185 pounds, a tally that you’re deeply satisfied with.
Early the next morning, you arrive at the doctor’s office and stride onto the scale with confidence, knowing that your weight will reflect the two months’ worth of hard work you’ve been putting in at the gym. “You weigh 197 pounds,” the nurse’s assistant blurts out, totally unaware that she’s simultaneously bruising your ego and crushing your soul.
“Are you sure about that?” you ask, as you try not to sound too alarmed.
The nurse’s assistant glances at the readout again. “Let me see…” he says. “Nope, I was wrong.”
“Yeah, I figured,” you smile, smugly. “It sounded off.”
“Only by a little bit,” the nurse’s assistant states. It’s closer to 198.”
I don’t get it! Why would the weight reading at the doctor’s office be so different from the weight reading at the gym?
It’s because you cherry-picked your weight without even realizing it, and a confluence of factors conspired to provide you with a weight on that doctor’s office scale that was well above what you envisioned it could possibly have been.
Don’t believe me? Let’s walk through everything you did in the 12 hours between your arrival at the gym, and your early-morning visit to the doctor’s office.
Okay… Let’s do it!
The first thing you did when you arrived at the gym was you hit the bathroom and evacuated your bowels. You’re a relatively big guy, and that fecal remnant weighed a solid one-and-a-half pounds. From there, you changed out of your work clothes and into your barely-there running attire. You went to the water fountain and drank an ounce or two of water before climbing aboard the treadmill and running briskly for one hour.
You were beamingly proud of your workout already, but you still had some time to kill so you hit the elliptical for a casual one-hour session of bonus cardio. It was at this point — after you’d lost about one-and-a-half pounds of fecal matter and four pounds of water weight (approximately 32 ounces or two pounds for every hour of exercise), that you decided to weigh yourself. The 185-pound figure shocked you, and rightly so: You’ve never simultaneously been this dehydrated or hungry — with your intestines this empty — in your entire life.
But immediately after your impromptu weigh-in, you drank a ton of water and then took a shower, which allowed your skin to reabsorb a considerable amount of water, and further elevated your weight by a few pounds. Next, you put your clothes back on, which collectively weighed 2.5 pounds. From the time you weighed yourself to the moment you walked back through the doors of the gym and into the parking lot, you’d added eight pounds of fluid and clothing back onto your body.
It was at this moment that you downed a Muscle Milk protein shake and drove to meet your friends at Buffalo Wild Wings, where you downed three 16-ounce beers, two orders of naked chicken tenders, a plate full of fries and who knows how many glasses of water.
You woke up before your doctor’s appointment with just enough time to down a 16-ounce Monster Energy Drink and a jumbo omelette with cheese and four eggs. From there, you walked into the doctor’s office and received the unfortunate news from the nurse’s assistant about your fluctuation in weight, and in your distress, it hadn’t even occurred to you that he had weighed you while you were fully clothed.
Wow! So how can I tell what my real weight is?
That’s the real question isn’t it? Well, we can immediately remove your clothing from the equation, because your clothes aren’t part of your body no matter how skin-tight they might be. Second, we should presume that your urine isn’t part of your standard, fully-hydrated weight. The average person expels two to four pounds of urine daily, although your bladder isn’t holding all of it at the same time. Let’s say then that this accounts for one to two pounds of your body weight at a given time. The same holds true of whatever solid food waste is clogging up your intestines, which is usually one pound, but may swell to a significantly higher weight if you’re constipated, yet continue to eat.
So, all things considered, if you weigh yourself at a time of the day when you aren’t overly hydrated, and haven’t just feasted at the endless buffet of Golden Corral, you can reasonably subtract somewhere between three and seven pounds to arrive at a sensible estimate of your waste-free, clothing-free weight.
How much does the scale matter?
Probably not as much as you think, but it’s pretty easy to figure out if your scale is accurate or not. If you think the reading of the scale is fishy, you can always test its ability to reliably measure the weight of an object with a known, stable mass. Generally speaking, digital scales are more reliable than mechanical scales, but you should always personally test the scales to be sure.
Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, I’m going to beg you not to worry about the scale so much. Unless you’re a professional fighter and you’ve got to stand there awkwardly hiding your shame in your hands because you need to divest yourself of every last ounce of clothing in order to make weight for your fight, you probably don’t need to be preoccupied with your weight. Besides, after a certain point, the mirror is a far more reliable arbiter of whether or not you’re making progress through your workouts and nutrition plan. Thus, to invoke a famous cliche: Just take a good look at yourself in the mirror instead.