Don’t Bail on Your Scale

Your daily weight tells a health story you can't afford to miss

Your bathroom scale does not have it in for you.

You might be avoiding it because tracking your weight gives you anxiety. “I hate weighing myself,” a 42-year-old mother of three from Sioux City, Iowa, told LifeZette. “I just don’t want to know, especially as I’ve gotten older and it’s gotten tougher to keep the weight off.”

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But in this case, what you don’t know can hurt you.

Weighing yourself daily should be as routine and important as brushing your teeth. Not only can it help you regulate your weight, it can also let you know when you might be at risk for serious illnesses.

Those with heart failure often show first symptoms by retaining fluid.

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“Make a habit of weighing yourself every morning,” said Dr. Marjan Karimabadi, family medicine physician at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and Rancho Santa Margarita, California. By doing so, you “eliminate the variation in fluid and food intake.” The morning weigh-in also provides “a sense of accountability,” she told LifeZette. It keeps you on track for your goals. “Some studies have shown that when people who were trying to lose weight weighed themselves more often, they lost more weight and prevented more weight gain.”

Her patients often avoid the scale because they’re afraid of failure, or don’t want to get too obsessed about number, she said. There’s some element of truth to that.

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Contact Your Doctor in These Cases
The daily weigh-in, however, can alert you to serious problems. It’s highly unusual for you to actually gain more than one or two pounds a week, for example — you would have to be consuming an alarming amount of calories to achieve three pounds in a single week. So if you notice an unusual amount of weight gain, it could mean there’s something serious afoot.

People with heart failure also often show first symptoms by retaining fluid instead of disposing of it through the urinary tract. If you’re retaining fluid, it could be a sign of the start of heart failure. Other diseases that include rapid weight gain include kidney failure, low thyroid hormone levels, polycystic ovarian syndrome in women, and elevated cortisol levels in Cushing’s syndrome. Depression and antidepressant medication can also cause weight gain, noted Dr. Karimabadi.

Moving Beyond the Numbers
If you’re losing too much weight at once (more than one or two pounds a week), it could mean you’re at risk for advanced cancers, Addison’s disease, chronic diseases — such as AIDS and Parkinson’s — or gastrointestinal problems. So the stability of your weight gain or weight loss is an important indicator of overall health.

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If you’re worried about becoming obsessed with the scale, focus on other indicators of health as well as the number on the scale, said Karimabadi. “It is beneficial to give attention to other improvements in addition to monitoring weight. For example, as people pay more attention to diet and exercise, [their] blood pressure improves, people feel more energetic, clothing sizes start to change — and many times these changes are noticeable before any significant changes in weight. It is also helpful for people to attend support groups at their local health care facilities.”

The traditional body mass index has proven a useful tool, but it also has limitations.

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“[The BMI scale] may overestimate or underestimate body fat,” said Karimabadi.  “Overestimation can be seen in athletes with a muscular build; underestimation can be experienced in older people and those who have lost muscle.” For these people, it can be helpful to measure the waist in addition to tracking weight. “The risks of diabetes and heart disease increase with waist size of greater than 35 inches for women and greater than 40 for men,” she explained.

If you have the courage to do it, weighing yourself daily will help you keep on top of essential health goals and keep tabs on the important ways your body is changing. The scale is one of your most fundamental tools. Use it.

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