I hate to break it to you, but your scale has been lying to you.
At the most basic level, not all measuring instruments are reliable; I recently had a conversation with a friend at the gym about how he always puts more weight on his left heel when he wants a “light day”, because he knows that the scale will read a lighter weight that way.
Ingenious? Sure. But also a great illustration of one way in which, quite literally, the scale is lying to you (or you may be making it lie; that’s up for debate).
When it comes down to it, the number that your bathroom scale indicates is only a measure of your body’s gravitational pull, nothing more. It is dictated by lots of factors that are out of your control (read on for more info).
So let’s dive into the reasons why your weight might be fluctuating daily, what it means for the long term and how you should approach progress. If you want to get directly to the good stuff, scroll all the way to the end to download the love letter I wrote you - in the form of a printable reminder for your bathroom mirror.
Reasons for Daily Weight Fluctuations
Sodium causes water retention, and, well, water is heavy. You know that bloated, puffy feeling you get the day after you eat takeout? Yup. that feeling is water retention caused by sodium.
In the body, each gram of carbohydrate is stored with 3g of water. So don’t freak out if you eat more carbohydrates than normal and the scale jumps the next day - you didn’t gain fat overnight, you just topped up your muscle glycogen stores. Consider that carbohydrate-rich foods are often also high in sodium (think spaghetti and meatballs), and you’ve got yourself a double whammy.
The weight of food itself
Maybe you ate a ton of vegetables yesterday, but you still woke up heavier today. It’s not a reason to get frustrated and throw the towel - it just means that there is more food currently sitting in your gut
The time of your last meal
Whether because you woke up earlier than usual or ate dinner later than normal, the delay between your last meal and the time you step onto the scale might cause fluctuations. Then again, it has to do with the amount of food still in your gut as you may still be digesting your last meal.
Your transit time
That’s right, we’re talking POOP! If you haven’t gone #2 in a while, well guess what, you’re full of sh!t (I mean, literally) and shit’s heavy (literally and figuratively). Once again, you didn’t gain fat overnight, but you may need to take a closer look at your eating habits and lifestyle to improve your digestion.
Your last workout
If you crushed it in the gym yesterday and wake up wicked sore, don’t be surprised if the scale tells you you are heavier than normal. Weight training causes micro-tears in the muscles, and the body retains fluid to help repair the damage. On the flipside, if you wake up the day after your weekly long run light as a feather, consider downing some serious H2O today and upping your electrolytes game: you are likely dehydrated!
Some medications can cause a weight spike because they encourage water retention. Something to take note of if you start a few prescription medication or take a new OTC drug.
Ladies, don’t be alarmed if your weight fluctuates throughout your cycle; this is totally normal and is linked to water retention.
The effect of alcohol on the scale is actually usually perceivable over a few days. While you may wake up the morning after a night out lighter than usual, it has everything to do with dehydration. However, your body is likely to counteract that over the next couple days by retaining water, leading to perceived weight gain. Couple that with high-sodium hangover food, and you’ve got yourself the perfect storm.
Yup, this list is huge - and these factors can lead to fluctuations not only from one day to the next, but also within the same day. In fact, some say that the scale can move as much as 5-10lbs within a single day! And I recently experienced 4-5lb variations from one day to the next.
This is part of why it is important, if you are going to weigh yourself, to do in conditions as consistent as possible. Ideally, you would want to weigh yourself first thing in the morning, after using the bathroom, in the nude, using the same scale each time. Otherwise you are basically comparing apples and oranges - how can you interpret the data if you sometimes step on the scale at the gym, either before or after your workout, wearing various amounts of clothing, and other times you do so at home?
Daily? Weekly? Only when the stars align?
Some people read this and conclude that they should only weigh themselves once a week, or once in a blue moon. To some people, this works, but you do need to realize that the less often you weigh yourself, the more partial the measurement you are getting. What I mean by that is all the factors we listed above are still at play, but you may not be able to spot a trend if you don’t regularly weigh yourself.
Regardless of how often you currently weigh yourself, here are a few red flags when it comes to your relationship with the scale:
It sets the tone of your day
It determines how much you will eat that day
You equate weight loss with fat loss
You are set on getting to your goal weight no matter what it takes
It gets in the way of other aspects of your life, like your social life or your relationships
Read more about red flags as it relates to dieting here!
Other ways of measuring progress
The number between your toes may have played a big part in how you measure your progress thus far, but I am here to tell you that it is not the only way.
Some of my favourite ways to measure progress with clients include:
How your favourite jeans fit
Overall energy levels
I would strongly suggest you speak with your coach if your relationship with the scale has seen better days, or if you would like to move on from your regular weigh-ins. Navigating this solo? Please reach out!
What the scale is not telling you
I want to make sure this lesson sticks with you, so I created a downloadable reminder for you. Essentially, it is a love letter to yourself - and a reminder that your weight is not everything. I’d love it if you printed it out and stuck it to your bathroom mirror!