That pesky piece of equipment that sits on the cold, hard floor of most peoples bathroom, the scale, is not the be all and end all when it comes to gauging your health. Think about it. That scale is taking a measurement of EVERY component that makes you up. Muscle, bone, water, tendons, ligaments, organs. EVERYTHING!
A lot of people place a huge emphasis on seeing that number come down. And while it can be useful at times, more often than not, people allow that number to really mess with their mindset. So I ask you, is it worth it? Is it worth the stressful, almost depressing state it can induce if the scale is not co-operating on any particular day? Of course it isn’t! Good health is so much more than that! If you’re feeling better, more energised, stronger, clothes are feeling a little looser, sleeping better, eating better, are these all not amazing positives? Absolutely! Too often we dismiss the ‘wins’ when really they can be what push us further and harder than before. Instead we focus on the negative. “Oh I was 200g up on the scale this morning.” Or, “I’ve put on a kilogram since yesterday.” These are all too common phrases I hear. I can almost guarantee that you haven’t put on a kilogram of fat overnight.
So what can it be?
Well, i’d like to highlight some possible ‘sneaky’ offenders (that have nothing to do with gaining fat), but may lead to fluctuations on the scale.
- You drank a ton of water – It’s true that staying well-hydrated is a good move if you’re trying to lose weight, but the first few days of upping your water intake could actually cause the number on the scale to creep up, too. Why? Let’s break down what weight really is. It is not just the measurement of fat in the body. As I mentioned above, it is the weight of your bones, organs, muscles, fluid and waste. When you’re dehydrated, you actually weigh less, but that doesn’t mean you are healthier. Let’s say you don’t drink much fluid one day, and the next morning you wake up and your weight is down. Then you drink a ton of water and the next day it looks like you gained a kilogram. That does not mean you gained a kilogram of fat; it just means that your body was depleted of water the day before.
- You strength trained yesterday – Lifting weights can speed your progress in the long run, but it can also temporarily cause your weight to appear higher. I’ve had so many clients tell me they had a ‘perfect’ day: They ate healthy, nutritious foods all day, packed their lunch, made dinner at home and had an awesome training session. They get up in the morning expecting the scale to tell them what a good day they had yesterday, to give them their ‘reward’ for a day well done. When they see the scale go up instead of down, they can get a little bummed out. But here’s the thing: Intense exercise causes inflammation. In this case, inflammation is actually a good thing. When you are in the gym lifting weights, you are creating tiny little tears in your muscle fibres. When those fibres build back up (with proper nutrition), that’s what causes a change in body shape, tone and additional muscle. Your body takes on more water to help with muscle repair, which can translate to a higher number on the scale.
- You ate more sodium than usual – It’s no secret that certain types of foods can affect your weight, and sodium is one that can have an immediate (although temporary) impact. Packaged foods often have high amounts of sodium or salt, which causes you to retain water in your gut. This results in a bloated belly and a higher number on the scale. The good news is that it usually goes away within a day or two. To avoid this, try focusing on whole foods and using herbs and spices to season your meals instead of salt.
- You ate more carbs than usual – Though carbohydrates are not the enemy of weight loss, eating an unusual amount of them over the course of one day or even a few days can make it seem like you’ve gained weight. Carbohydrates are another type of food that can result in water weight showing up on the scale. This is why people lose weight faster initially on a lower-carbohydrate diet. The body doesn’t hold onto the extra water. It’s also why people gain weight quickly when they eventually go off that lower-carbohydrate diet; that water weight comes back and the scale bounces up.
- You haven’t gone to the bathroom in a while – No need to get into the nitty gritty here, but if you’re constipated, you’ll see that reflected on the scale. If you aren’t going to the bathroom regularly and getting rid of waste, (fecal weight) that is going to cause your weight to fluctuate.
- You’re about to start your period – Most women know their weight can be affected by their menstrual cycle, but some are surprised just how much weight they can temporarily gain because of their hormones. About five days prior to your period, you may experience weight gain due to water retention. The average woman may gain about 1-2kg in water weight during this time. No need to panic though; you’ll drop down to your normal weight when you start your period.
- Your weight was down yesterday – Sometimes yesterday’s weight can affect today’s weight for reasons that are all in your head. Some people cannot get on the scale without judging themselves for the number they see. If the number is up, they decide they have failed, feel bad and resolve to eat less and work out more. If the number is down, they decide they are a success, feel great, and decide they can eat more and work out less. Ideally, you’d behave the same each day when dieting and over time, your weight would start to trend downward, despite the normal fluctuations, but for many people, this is easier said than done. If the scale makes you think this way, consider weighing yourself less often so you don’t see the natural ups and downs. It may also be worth considering adding some alternative methods of tracking to your routine, like weekly measurements and progress photos. That way, your weight is just one of the many ways you keep track of how you’re doing, and suddenly, the inevitable peaks and valleys don’t seem like such a big deal.
So before you let the number on the scale dictate how you feel, how you react and how you approach the coming days, keep these factors in mind. Remind yourself that it more than likely isn’t fat you’ve gained. Stay the course and remain consistent with good habits, both nutritionally and physically, and the results will come!