Being a ‘weight’ (not to be mistaken for fitness) obsessed society, the moment we embark on a healthy regime, or weight management routine, or join a gym, or adopt clean eating habits, the first thing that crosses our mind is to take record our pre-effort weight, and then what follows is pretty common – measure weight frequently. Some record their weight changes weekly, while some do it daily, and still, some others check their weight multiple times a day.
For those who are obsessed with checking their weight at different points in time through the day, or at times too many times within a week, are often disheartened to record significant variance in the numbers, sometimes going up to as high as 10 lbs or 4.5 kg in a single day. Generally speaking, weight fluctuation from 2 to 4 lbs is considered normal and should not be a reason for concern.
It is common knowledge that you will most likely weigh less in the morning compared to what you will weigh in the evening. The variation, however, depends on a number of factors. Knowing what causes fluctuations in your weight will enable you to look at weight as not the most accurate indicator of health, and also devise a sustainable plan to lose weight and be fit.
- Sleep: When sleeping, though we think we are at rest, our body is going about doing its function relentlessly – processing and breaking down food and eliminating toxins and waste, and in the process burning some serious calories. So when you wake up, you will be at your lightest weight.
- Exercise: You could see a higher number on the scale if you weigh yourself post a rigorous strength training or cardio session which may tear your muscle fibre causing fluid retention.
- Hormones: Women tend to retain water (that explains the bloaty feeling we all are used to by now) during their menstrual cycle due to hormonal fluctuations.
- Water retention: Water retention could be a mild temporary condition or a symptom of serious underlying medical problems related to heart or kidneys. Generally, high-sodium foods and drinks result in increased water retention and weight gain.
- Other reasons for fluctuations in weight through the day could be fasting for long hours, increase in glycogen levels due to over-consumption of carbs (remember, for every gram of carb your body stores three grams of water!), dehydration due to excessive sweating, constipation or infection.
So, what’s the best way to take accurate readings?
If you are trying to lose weight, weigh yourself up to a maximum of twice a week, instead of every day at the same time of the day (preferably the first thing in the morning) with the same scale and if possible, wearing the same outfit. And still, if the scale shows minor fluctuation compared to the previous day, don’t panic. The trend overall must be moving downwards over a month.
The scale by itself, by no means, is a measure to assess how healthy you are. At times though the scale might not show significant change, you could still be building muscle that replaces fat, giving you a leaner look. Always remember, your clothes are better indicators of weight/fat loss than the scale. Hence. a saner and more motivating way to track your progress would be to take measurements using a measuring tape once a fortnight, instead of fretting over a few decimal points on the scale.
The number on the scale when couple with some critical factors such as waist measurement, increase in strength and water retention/ bloat, gives a more robust picture of your health.
I came across an interesting table on Greatist that describes the dynamics between weight, waist and strength and how to interpret it. I found this extremely useful to understand the relationship between the metrics and corrective action needed to meet your goal.
So, the next time you hop on the scale in the evening (if you really cannot resist) and see a higher number flashing, you know exactly what to do – Relax!