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Originally published Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 5:05 AM

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Why you shouldn’t be a slave to your scale

Weighing yourself is a good way to make sure you are hitting your weight-loss goals, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Most people have a love/hate relationship with the scale. If you are a chronic weigher and let the number on the scale dictate whether or not you are going to have good day or a bad day, you are going to drive yourself insane.

Your weight is an ever-changing number, not just from week to week or even day to day, but hour to hour, and it will fluctuate anywhere from 3 to 7 pounds. This happens to everyone, regardless of how well you’ve been eating or how often you’re working out.

In your rational mind, you know it’s impossible to gain 5 pounds of fat in a single day. That equates to consuming 17,500 extra calories in one day, on top of the calories you need to function.

So, next time you step on the scale and suffer a mini heart attack by the number you see, keep these variables in mind:

Salt, salt, salt: We all know junk food is full of sodium, but many processed “healthy” diet foods are also pumped full of sodium to make up for the missing flavor from fat and sugar.

Canned soup, frozen meals, deli meats and other salty-scale saboteurs will puff you up, causing you to retain water that will inflate your weight. Sodium does the same thing to your arteries, so it’s always best to avoid sodium all together and never, ever add extra salt to your food. It has enough in it already.

The last time you ate: Whatever your last meal was can wildly affect your scale’s readout. If you ate a big meal within the past four hours, that food is sitting in your belly. It’s like you’re holding that meal in your hands while standing on the scale. Once it digests, it’ll be gone.

A healthy diet: The healthiest food choices are often most physically heavy. Fruits, veggies and other foods packed with insoluble fiber are always the best choice, but because they are so bulky, fibrous and water-dense, they take longer to digest than the average meal. These foods are usually the lowest in calories, and that bulky fiber will keep you full longer, so fill up.

Dehydration: Usually it’s a higher than accurate reading on the scale that people focus on, but you can get a lower than accurate reading if you are dehydrated. Not drinking enough water and consuming alcoholic beverages and coffee are culprits of dehydration. They will have you weighing in a few pounds lighter than your healthy, hydrated weight.

The second you rehydrate, that scale reading is going to shoot back up. Drinking water is one of the best things you can do for your health and is vital for weight loss, so don’t skip it to see a lower number on the scale, or your true results will suffer.

Weighing in is a good way to make sure you are hitting your weight-loss goals, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. For the most accurate weigh in, jump on the scale once a week first thing in the morning, preferably on an empty stomach right after you have gone to the restroom. Or, for a truly accurate depiction of your progress, track your body-fat percentage instead.

Kelly Turner is a fitness expert and freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter: @KellyTurnerFit and Instagram: @KellyTurner26

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The Seattle Times wins top award for multimedia storytelling

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