Scales. Love them or hate them, they’re probably hanging out in your bathroom waiting to tell you how your relationship with gravity is going.
Quick spoiler: if the scales mess with your head, and you hang your success or failure on the number flashing on that screen, please throw them out and skip ahead to the last section instead.
If you want to find out why you sometimes put on/lose 1kg of body fat (hint: it’s not body fat) in less than 24 hrs, read on to find out all the ways in which the scales don’t tell the full story.
More often than not, big fluctuations in body weight are due to water retention. Basically, this means your body is holding on to water instead of letting you flush it all away (get it). You’re stressed, so you have increased cortisol, which can lead to water retention. You had a big training session, so you’re dealing with localised inflammation and muscle damage, which leads to water retention. You had a particularly salty meal yesterday, which can lead to water retention. It’s that time of the month, which can lead to water retention. You’re not drinking enough water, which can lead to water retention.
I think you can see where this is going. Your body is not capable of building 1-2kg of fat tissue overnight. It IS very capable of holding on to an extra litre or two of water though.
This is the fuel your body uses during intense exercise, so we want these stores to be pretty full if we want to perform well! The thing is, 1g of glycogen is stored with 3g of water. So if your fuel stocks are topped up and ready to go (a good thing), your body weight is going to go up.
If you’ve been training really hard, eating adequate protein and recovering properly, guess what? You’ve probably built some muscle! Muscle is particularly important for health (and looking good naked) so this is a very good thing, but it will make our body weight go up. This can either mask fat loss (ie. you lose 500g of fat but gain 500g of muscle, so the scales show zero change) or can cause us to think we’ve actually gained fat. Just another reason why the scales aren’t always to be trusted.
Ok so I can’t trust the scales, what now?
Firstly, if you’re weighing yourself regularly (3-4x per week) and keeping an eye on the trend, accepting that any massive overnight jumps in weight are more than likely due to the things I’ve discussed above and are NOT rapid fat gain, scales can be useful. But if you’re finding this stressful or time consuming, my other two favourite markers for change are the way your clothes fit and your physical appearance.
If the waist band on your pants is feeling loser, or that t shirt isn’t hugging your stomach quite as much, we can be pretty confident that we’ve dropped some fat, regardless of what the scales are telling us. Similarly, if you’ve noticed some areas shrinking in the mirror, that’s progress! Scales be damned.