The scale should be a weight loss companion that helps you gauge your health based on an easy to understand number. When the number on the scale goes down, you’re doing something right. When the number goes up, you might be concerned. At least, that’s what the scale wants you to think. Weight fluctuations are dependent on your goals, your health, and your latest lifestyle choices, so that number on the scale is misleading.
It’s time to move beyond the love/hate relationship with your scale to see it as it truly is: a snapshot to your ever-changing body weight.
The Lies The Scale Tells
Here’s 6 reasons why the scale is your fitness nemesis:
How much water you drink (or don’t drink) throughout the day as a direct effect on the number the scale shows. According to research done by John Castellani of the U.S. Army’s Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, “your total body weight can shift up or down by nearly half a percentage point with any given day.” An even greater shift can be the result of a low-carb diet. The heavier you are when you start such a restrictive diet, the more water weight you are bound to lose.
For example, a high school or college wrestler could drop 15 pounds in a single night to meet their weight class requirements by using diuretics and dehydrating themselves.
In the summertime, you will feel heavier because your body uses a hormone called aldosterone to hold onto fluid.
Adding onto the water weight factor is glycogen stores. Carbohydrates are stored inside the muscle, which is why the day after carb-loading or an Italian pasta dinner causes the number of the scale to creep up. Scientifically speaking, the body will store 2-3 grams of water for every 1 gram of glycogen.
You might also want to consider what kind of carbohydrates you’ve been consuming recently. Complex carbohydrates are less likely to prompt a rapid change on the scale, while sugar will. Consuming massive amounts of sugar will raise insulin levels, inhibiting the body’s ability to remove sodium. Water is retained in an effort to restore homeostasis. So, while you might be cursing yourself for eating that cannoli last night, it really is just a weight fluctuation caused by water and glycogen stores.
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One of the biggest scams in the weight loss industry would be colon cleansing. You are not losing fat, you’re simply expelling food waste that would have come out with your next adventure to the bathroom. Yes, we’re talking about your motility, otherwise known as the frequency of bowel movements. The rate of motility varies between individuals, due to factors like how much you chew, what kind of food you are eating, how active you are, how much water you drink, and so on. It’s no wonder, then, that a trip to the bathroom could help you lose some weight.
Are you an international jet setter? Here’s some interesting news for you. Air travel impacts you weight. That might not seem surprising, since most people experience bloating and constipation after long days of air travel, but that’s not all there is to it. Flying in an airplane disrupts the microflora of your gut.
A study was published in Cell that reported what happens to mice who had jet-lag. The bacteria in their digestive tract changed, and the animals gained weight. Researchers found similar results in two international travelers who went from the U.S. to Israel. Now, was this real fat and/or muscle gain? No, but if you believe the scale, you might think you actually did.
Give yourself about 24-hours after air travel to hop on the scales again.
It seems like stress is at fault for everything negative that happens with health, doesn’t it? Well, here’s another way being stressed out is messing with your life. Stress will cause you to gain a few pounds, solely because of an increased amount of cortisol in the body. Cortisol prompts the release of a hormone known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which controls water retention in the body.
Stress also makes you lose precious shut-eye. Since sleep also plays a role in cortisol production, sleep deprivation could cause weight gain. Even one or two nights of poor rest could cause a temporary increase in weight, so be sure to keep a healthy sleep schedule.
The Number Is Not The Whole Picture
Hopefully, it should be apparent by now that the weight on the scale shifts on a range of factors. What’s in your gut, how well you have slept, or if you’ve been stressed. Additionally, the number on the scale is not the whole picture. Numbers can only tell us so much. A scale reading isn’t synonymous with the amount of fat you are carrying but is a total measure of everything you have—fat, muscle, bones, organs, blood, water, glycogen, stomach contents, and so on. There is no differentiation between fat and muscle.
This means that the way the scale tips is not the ideal indicator of how healthy you are. Focusing solely on the scale going up and down is unhealthy. You don’t know if you are gaining or losing fat and muscle.
People end up thinking they are making progress but wind up putting back on weight when they replenish their glycogen stores or lose the bloat.
If you want a more precise picture of how much you weight, look at things like progress pictures, take averages of your weight over a course of several days, get a body circumference measurement, bio-electrical impedance for fat percentage, and remember your goals. If you are trying to gain muscle, you are obviously going to gain weight, since muscle weighs more than fat.
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