Do not fear the scale. The truth is, many people use the scale to measure their progress and are successful with using it as a fat loss tool.
A good scale does not lie — it tells you exactly how much you weigh. (For a different view on this, read Why the Scale Lies).
The danger comes from interpreting that number the wrong way, or placing too much emphasis on it. Understand that fluctuations in the scale do not represent pure fat or muscle — it is a combination of both. The scale reflects the amount of water you are retaining along with any food that has not yet been processed by your system.
The key to using the scale is to understand this:
If you have a large amount of fat to lose, the scale will go down. If you are 300 pounds and unless you have access to some cache of steroids like none other on the planet, you will be hard-pressed to drop 100 pounds of fat and gain 100 pounds of muscle at the same time.
Your scale weight will fluctuate from day to day based on many factors, including the amount of carbohydrate you ingest and the ratio of sodium to potassium in your food (both which pull water into your system – carbohydrate through glycogen in your muscles and sodium through water retention via the ion pump).
You might gain 7 to 10 pounds after a cheat day and even 4 to 7 pounds after a cheat meal. It really depends on your nutrition plan and how drastic the cheat meal is. This rapid gain is not all fat. To gain 10 pounds of fat would require overeating 35,000 calories, a tremendous feat to achieve and one that would be worthy of the record books. Instead, it is more than likely some fat and a lot of water weight.
Don’t weigh every day unless you are mentally ready to handle the fluctuations. I weigh each day but I know my body fluctuates, so I do not freak out when I register a 3-pound rise from the day before. I enjoy watching the trend, but it is the average weight change over several weeks that I am more concerned with than day to day.
In short, do not use the scale as your only guide. You might gain 2 pounds of muscle and drop 2 pounds of fat in a given week, and the scale will not move. But taken as an average over time, those with a lot of fat to lose should expect the scale to go down.
Very few people actually reduce body fat while the scale remains the same or moves up, and those people are usually lean to begin with. Used in conjunction with tape measurements, skin-fold measurements (body fat), strength, and other parameters, the scale is a great tool for those with a lot of weight to lose.
Finally, there is one last reason why the scale could be an ally for someone standing to lose a tremendous amount of fat.
Research shows that when you are extremely overweight, you are more likely to drop fat than muscle when reducing your size.
The converse is also true: a lean person is more likely to lose muscle when they are cutting than fat, which is why preparing for a bodybuilding competition is infinitely more difficult than dropping the first 100 pounds of weight; because more care must be taken to preserve or even increase lean muscle mass.
See also: Measure Your Success
If you are over 30% body fat, focusing on the scale is probably your most accurate way to measure success. Tape measurements will help, but skin-folds and other body fat assessments are probably not going to be accurate. You can be assured, however, that even an aggressive 1% drop in body weight per week (for a 300-pound person, this is 3 pounds per week) is more than likely going to be fat loss and water weight if you are engaged in resistance training and obtaining proper amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats from your nutrition plan.