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Scale weight Vs. Body weight

(That image is what my face looks like when I step on the scale some mornings.)

I’ve been dieting down for a while now. I am tracking my calories, getting sufficient rest, exercising enough, and basically am doing everything right.

Why then is it that when I step on the scale on Monday, it says 174.2lb, and on Tuesday it says 176.8lb? Did I really gain almost three pounds of fat (or muscle, but lets not kid ourselves here)? Nope.

So what happened? Well, there are a whole bunch of things that affect scale weight. Water balance is one of the biggest ones. If you have been eating low-carb for a while, and eat a big pasta dinner on the weekend, your scale weight is probably going to go up by a couple of pounds the next morning. This is primarily due to your body refilling glycogen stores in your muscles – for every gram of glycogen stored in your muscles, there are also about three grams of water. So if over the course of a week, you have depleted your overall glycogen stores by 250g, and eat a whole bunch of carbohydrates at one go, your scale weight will probably go up by about 1kg/2.2lb just from that.

That big pasta dinner was probably at a restaurant, which means it was most likely a lot higher in salt than if you had made it at home. There was probably a whole lot more butter and garlic too, but that’s because butter and garlic are delicious and restaurant chefs don’t care how fat you get, but only how much you love the food and want to come back. But I digress. Sodium (salt) can really affect water balance as well. Generally, the more sodium in your diet, the more water you are going to store, increasing that damn scale weight.

Also – and this is something that a lot of people don’t really consider – food has mass. Shocking, right? But if you are used to eating relatively small and calorically dense foods, and go out and eat three pounds of pasta and bread and cake, you have just added three pounds of mass into your body. That doesn’t mean that you have gained three pounds, but that will stick around and increase your scale weight until your body does its thing and processes the food, then gets rid of whatever it doesn’t need to keep around.

There are a number of other factors that can affect scale weight, but most of them revolve around water balance. Stressed? Congratulations, you now have higher cortisol levels, which affects water balance. Didn’t get enough sleep last night? Same thing.

For no apparent or good reason at all, your scale weight will fluctuate. A lot more than it seems like it should. I personally eat the same set of meals every day, 6 days per week. I drink about the same amount of water, have the same schedule, get the same amount of sleep, pretty much the same exercise, and basically everything I can control is as close to identical as possible from day to day. This means that my scale fluctuations are only on the order of about 3lb. I still can’t figure out why I always seem to have a ~1lb increase on Fridays that is always gone the next day. Maybe it’s because the stress of the week has piled up enough to spike my cortisol, and the relief of Friday makes it go away. Who knows.

I personally recommend using a weight tracking app like Libra for Android, or Happy Scale for iThings. These don’t just track your day to day weigh-ins, but they also give you a trendline that smooths out the daily fluctuations in your weight. So long as the trendline keeps going in the direction you want, you know you are on the right track.

I spent way too much time building a spreadsheet that did the same thing before I discovered Libra. I’m a bit of a numbers geek, so let’s just say that if I was getting paid my usual hourly rate from work, that spreadsheet would be worth well over a thousand dollars. But Libra is free. And frankly, more convenient, because it’s on your phone. Apparently the iThing one is good too, but I wouldn’t know because fuck Apple.

So, water balance issues suck, and there really isn’t anything you can do about them except be aware that the scale weight can hide the progress that you’re making. Just keep at it, and don’t stress too much about what that lying hunk of junk tells you on any given day, so long as it is trending in the direction you want.

Take care of the days, and the weeks and months will take care of themselves.

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