Dear Bathroom Scale… Why are you such a pretty little liar?
Does your scale whisper sweet nothings into your freshly painted toes one day, then turn around and bite them the very next day?
Does this same toe-biting scale like to play double-dutch with its numbers from week-to-week? Five pounds up, four pounds down, five more up, three down. Aaaaahhhh!
If you're experiencing this kind of pathological lying behavior from your bathroom scale - what’s the deal? How do we make sense of these seemingly nonsensical numbers?
As a Nutritionist and former Personal Fitness Trainer, this issue comes up continuously with clients. It’s always a challenge to enlighten them with the reality that surrounds their scale-weighing woes.
10 Truths About Daily Weight Fluctuations
Here are 10 uplifting truths for you to share with clients (and yourself!) about those annoyingly normal daily weight fluctuations:
1) It is NOT a true measurement of your health. The scale number is simply one of many parameters you should be taking into account to determine if you are maintaining or approaching your optimal body weight.
Girth measurements & body composition/body fat testing are often better evaluations of health. Heck, even how your clothes fit can be a better indicator!
2) When we wake up after fasting for at least 8 hours, we're completely dehydrated and at our lowest weight of the day.
This is why it is recommended to weigh yourself first thing in the morning, before you eat or drink anything, and after you have voided - that’s fancy-talk for "going potty".
3) Speaking of voiding… you can experience daily weight fluctuations of 1-3+ lbs of waste that's been hanging out in your large colon. Who knew poop could be so heavy!
Be sure to keep the bowels moving with plenty of fluids, plant-based fiber and targeted supplementation, if necessary.
4) Your scale doesn't just weigh fat. It weighs muscle, bone, water, internal organs and as you just learned - fecal matter! When you lose "weight" - that doesn't necessarily mean that you've lost fat. In fact, the average run-of-the-mill bathroom scale has no way of telling you what bodily tissues or substances you've lost.
As most of us know and have experienced first-hand, losing muscle is nothing to get excited about, because muscle is a metabolically active tissue. The more muscle you have the more energy or calories your body burns, even when you're just sitting around.
That's one reason why a fit, active person (presumably with more muscle mass) is able to eat more food than the chronic dieter who is unknowingly breaking down and losing muscle. Weighing “skinny” on the scale does not always translate into healthy off the scale. This is what it means to be "skinny fat".
Generally speaking, it's only possible to lose 1-2 pounds of pure fat per week as a pound of fat = 3500 calories. So when you severely restrict your calories, causing your weight to drop say 10 pounds in 7 days - it's nearly physically impossible for all of that to be fat. What you're really losing is water, muscle, and glycogen (or muscle sugar - see more about that in #6).
5) Another highlight of the scale's indiscriminate nature: it can't tell if you've gained muscle.
A pound of muscle is like a small, compact brick, whereas a pound of fat is like a bulky, lumpy pillow. So that's why when you gain muscle and lose fat, your silhouette is slimmer and your body is more firm. Hence, building muscle makes it possible to drop clothing sizes (and lose inches) without a significant change in scale weight.
Consider the example that after 3 months of doing that new "bikini-body boot-camp" program, the scale says you've lost 5 pounds. This may not sound like much (heck, I'd take it!), but what if you had actually lost 8 pounds of pure fat and gained 3 pounds of muscle? That would be a pretty nice improvement in your body composition. But you would be misled, not to mention disappointed, if you only used a bathroom scale to track your progress. Refer back to better evaluations of health in #1.
6) What you eat during the days leading up to a weigh-in can dramatically influence the numbers.
- Booze. Enough said.
- Sodium. Excess salt (sodium) can also play a big role in water retention.
Health Canada indicates that the recommended upper limit for daily salt intake is 2,300 mg sodium, which is easy to take in considering there's over 2,000 mg of sodium in a single teaspoon of table salt and upwards of 1,000 mg in the average can of soup!
Sodium is such a sneaky substance and the more highly processed a food is, the more likely it is to have a high sodium content. Be a savvy label reader.
When preparing food, always use natural, unrefined salt like Himalayan Pink Salt.
- Excessive carbohydrates (carbs) – affect our glycogen or muscle sugar stores.
As HealthDiscovery.net puts it:
"Think of glycogen as a fuel tank full of stored carbohydrate. Some glycogen is stored in the liver and some is stored in the muscles themselves. This energy reserve weighs more than a pound and it's packaged with 3-4 pounds of water when it's stored.
Your glycogen supply will shrink during the day if you fail to take in enough carbohydrates. As the glycogen supply shrinks you will experience a small increase in appetite and your body will restore this fuel reserve along with its associated water.
It's normal to experience glycogen and water weight shifts of up to 2 pounds per day even in the absence of changes in your calorie intake or activity level. These fluctuations have nothing to do with fat loss..."
This is why physique competitors get rather obsessive not only about the scale leading up to their events, but especially with alcohol, salt and carb intake.
7) For all the ladies out there...it's not you, it's your HORMONES! Yep, certain times of the month can be marked by less-than-pleasing numbers on the scale.
Dr. Raquel Dardik, MD advises that some women can gain up to 10 lbs right before or during their period.
This is because the natural drop in the hormone PROGESTERONE just before your period often causes digestive complaints like water retention and constipation. And remember how heavy poop can be?
Our bodies also tend to lose Magnesium in the days before menstruation, which drives our INSULIN levels up leading to an increase in food cravings - especially for sugar.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that keeps blood sugar levels in check but is also considered a fat storage hormone.
* It's a good idea to supplement daily with Magnesium as most of us are already deficient in this multi-tasking mineral. I generally recommend taking 200-400 mg of Magnesium Bisglycinate before bed as it can have a calming effect. Even better…soak in a hot Epsom salt bath before bed.
These hormonal drivers, along with overeating to feed the cravings, can contribute to weight gain.
8) Birth control pills (that also mess up your hormones), and many medications like antidepressants (ex. Lyrica), beta-blockers, steroids and a host of others too numerous to list - can cause bloating, water retention, inflammation and hence, unintentional weight gain.
Discuss all of your medications with your Health Practitioner. Ask: are they absolutely necessary? And, am I on the correct medications/at the correct dosage?
9) Long distance travel, especially air travel can cause dehydration & water retention, which may be reflected on the scale.
Drink up and don't forget to replenish your electrolytes!
10) Digital scales need to be re-calibrated every time they're moved. Learn How to Calibrate your Digital Scale.
Who knew? Maybe I shouldn’t have thrown my scales out – I should have just re-calibrated them!
So how do we deal with this pathological liar most of us consciously choose to live with?
The key is to know, understand and believe the following...
Simply do your best to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle using the good ‘ol “80/20 approach”, which is basically eighty percent healthy choices mixed in with twenty percent of the fun stuff.
✓ Drink plenty of water
✓ Reduce consumption of salty, processed, packaged and junk foods (including diet sodas)
✓ Improve your sleep habits
✓ Manage stress
If you’re already rocking your own version of an 80/20, or plan to be implementing a routine for a more balanced lifestyle, you must understand that these short-term ebb & flow patterns have nothing to do with your long-term progress and they are just part of the overall health journey.
Again, daily weight fluctuations are completely normal!
Best Practices Routine
However, when you do weigh yourself – consider this “best practices” routine:
No more than once or twice weekly is recommended. (FYI - one study found that girls in particular experienced negative effects to their self-esteem levels by routinely tracking their scale numbers).
Weigh yourself at a consistent time. It is often recommended to weigh yourself in the mornings, after voiding.
Wear the same thing each time you weigh, or nothing at all.
Place the scale on the same surface and make sure it is calibrated properly.
This will all help to reduce some degree of fluctuation. Of course, be mindful of all the other possible reasons for daily weight fluctuations that were listed.
Stop being a slave to the scale. It does not define you. You are worth so much more than THAT number!
FOUND THIS INTERESTING?
A former marine biologist, Krista is now a Certified Holistic Nutritionist (CHN) and Registered Nutritional Counselor (RNC) – a qualified practitioner who provides guidance for building and maintaining nutritional well-being.
Krista likes to say that she's having a culinary love affair with food and is captivated by how it fuels, nourishes and energizes us. She believes your food should work for you, not against you.
The mantra of “what you put in, is what you'll get out” supports her belief that real food, along with some high-quality supplements, can help heal us from many health conditions, or even prevent us from having certain ones in the first place - like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
With over 20 years of diverse professional teaching experience and a deep passion for promoting balanced, healthy living, she feels her contribution to the rapidly expanding and ever-evolving field of "functional health" is not only important, but incredibly rewarding.
Krista is also a women's health writer and you'll find her blogging regularly on MakingLemonade.ca ~ Empow(her)ed Health & Nutrition!