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Christopher M. Young, CPT, FNC
Online Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach

Understanding Scale Weight Fluctuations

You work your ass off in the gym, eat right, and you step on the scale to see no progress. That sinking feeling and doubt creeps in and you ask yourself,

“What in the Sam Hell am I doing wrong?”.

Ok, you might not say Sam hell, because, I don’t know, you were not born in the 1800’s, but regardless, the doubt is there and you cannot help but wonder why you didn’t lose, despite your awesome trainer and coach (those were subtle hints that I am awesome by the way) tell you not to focus so much on the scale. Despite my pleas, you still cannot help yourself. That is why I am going to break down scale weight and why weight fluctuations are completely normal (and expected).

Understanding ‘Weight’ In Reference To Your Body

Your body weight is split into two parts. Lean mass and fat mass. Fat mass is the total of fat that is accumulated in your body. Some fat in the body is absolutely healthy, and a healthy body fat percentage for a male is between 10-14%, for women it is between 15-20%. Women typically carry more body fat than men, and it is perfectly acceptable and healthy. The rest of your body comprises of lean mass. This comprises of muscle, bone, water, and organs. Basically everything else.

When losing weight, we are often referring to the fat mass that has accumulated in our body. It is the fat mass that you are trying to lose, not everything else.

So scale weight is really just your lean mass +fat mass.

“But then why does the scale fluctuate?”

Ahh, yes scale fluctuations. You see, your body fluctuates in weight for a variety of reasons. While muscle, bone, and organs are not going to size (at least not quickly), water and food, however, do vary, and the types of food, hormones, etc can have their own adverse effects on how it impacts your body. Let’s discuss them further.

Menstrual Cycle –  Yes ladies, sorry to say, but your monthly visitor can and does cause water retention, which can lead to an increase in scale weight. It has no effect on your fat loss.

Carbohydrate intake – Eating carbs can lead to water retention as well, which means, yep…you guessed it. An increase in scale weight. FYI, 1g of carbs adds 3g of water.

Stress – Your stress levels could be playing havoc with your hormones. An increase in Cortisol (stress hormone) can also lead to water retention in the body.

Nutritional Timing – Even food can impact the scale weight. For example, if you eat at one time on day 1, and a different time on day 2, the scale may reflect an increase in weight due to the time difference.

Nutritional Quantity –  Just as timing has an impact on scale weight itself, so does quantity. If one day you eat 3lbs of food, and the next day you eat 4lbs of food, there is going to be a difference in scale weight.

Sleep –  A lack of sleep causes stress on the body, which also leads to water retention, which leads to an increase in scale weight.

Ah ah ah ah ah alcohol – Drinking actually dehydrates the body, but lowers self control and increases hunger, which can lead to higher consumption of food.  You may notice after a night of just drinking, with no food, that your body weight decreases substantially, but will increase again as the body normalizes. Getting wasted every night is not the way to weight loss. 

Weigh In Times – If you weigh in at 8am one day and 11am the next, there can be a drastic difference in scale weight.

Sodium –  Depending on the amount of sodium you ingest, the body will retain water, especially if you are consuming less one day, and more the next. The more sodium your consume, the more water retention you may experience if you are not consistent with the amount of sodium intake.

These are just the most common reasons why the scale fluctuates and none of them have any impact on your fat mass decrease. Water retention and food weight are not concerns in which you should be upset or angry over when the scale does not budge. Take a look at the most common contributors and see which ones may be impacting the scale weight.

The scale is merely a tool to measure the weight of your fat mass and lean mass combined. It is not an accurate indicator of fat loss. That is why it is important to take measurements and check your body fat as well.



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