Normally, I hit the scale each morning as part of my daily routine. I'm not desperately trying to lose a few pounds, but rather maintain my weight and identify trends between what I eat, how I feel, and how well I ride.
Regularly tracking your weight has its benefits. You can learn whether you’ve fuelled yourself properly during or after a big ride (if you lost weight, you didn’t take in enough kilojoules). Similarly, by weighing in before and after a ride, you can learn how much water you've lost through sweat. Both pros and enthusiasts alike can use this information to figure out how much to hydrate during a workout. (If you are trying to lose weight, the training tips in Bike Your Butt Off!, published by Rodale, will help you meet your goals fast.)
But I wondered—are there any downsides to my habit?
San Francisco-based clinical nutritionist Stacy Roy doesn’t recommend her clients weigh themselves. “I encourage a healthy relationship with food and one's body, and I believe the scale can often interfere with that,” she says.
Food is so much more than calories and numbers, Roy stresses: It provides energy and develops muscle, and if you’re focused on the scale, you’re no longer eating intuitively.
Robin Farina, former pro-cyclist and co-owner of Revolution Coaching, also advises against daily weigh-ins. “Weighing yourself each day is not necessary,” Farina says. “For those of my clients who are specifically in weight-loss mode, I recommend weighing once a week at the same exact time of day and using the same scale.”
So I decided to quit weighing myself for a month, and see what happened. Here’s what I learned.
I realised knowing my weight had become addictive...
The first week was unexpectedly hard. Those first few days, I constantly wondered, “How much do I weigh?”
I had trouble resisting the urge, and ended up having my boyfriend secretly note the numbers on the scale while I closed my eyes, so I could see the numbers after my month was done.
Even after I'd quit fully committed to the experiment, I still sometimes accidentally weighed myself purely out of habit.
... Then I quit caring about it.
After about two weeks, I finally felt okay with not weighing myself. I realised that seeing (or not seeing) the number on the scale bore zero impact on the rest of my day.
If there were a weight fluctuation worth worrying about, I realised, I’d certainly know by the way my kit fit, or if my climbing times suddenly slowed.
I started listening to my body more.
And that meant eating more—but not a lot more. I grazed on carbs more frequently throughout the day, but I also did a better job of downing drinks with electrolytes. I may have also given in to a third slice of deep-dish pizza at dinner when I normally would have shut down those “I’m still hungry” vibes.
I had some great workouts.
While it’s hard to say whether weighing myself ever improved my cycling performance, it certainly didn’t hurt it. I had some fantastic workouts over this month, nailing some intervals I’d struggled with in the past.
In the end, I gained some weight.
I weighed myself at the end of the month and found... that I had gained a few pounds. There are a few explanations for that, according to cycling coach and exercise physiologist Jason Boynton. One possible culprit: since carbohydrate molecules are hydrophilic, and I’d upped my carb intake, it’s possible that I increased my body’s carb stores and gained some water weight.
If you’re going to obsess over a daily stat, you may be better off tracking sleep quality, hydration, or resting heart rate, rather than what the scale says each day.
Going forward, I’ll likely weigh myself less often—once a week at the most. Like Roy suggests, when I weigh myself daily, I think about what my eating means for the number I’ll see in the morning. I felt happier (and more importantly, rode better) by eating intuitively. To do that, I have to focus on what’s on my plate—not what’s on the scale.
The article originally appeared on Bicycling.