What The Scale Means When It Says You’ve Gained Weight

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Last week I wrote about the flawed concept of “calories in/calories out,” based on my own, non-expert findings. Today, a real expert weighs in on weight fluctuation, and explains what I have been experiencing.

According to Richard Talens, fitness coach, co-founder and Chief Growth Officer at Fitocracy, the number on the scale may not accurately reflect whether or not you are losing fat.

And no, it’s not because a pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat. They both weigh just that: a pound!

Talens begins with a mathematical equation, which looks like this:

Scale weight= true weight +/_ weight variance.

He attributes weight variance to the following factors:

Glycogen stores: When you consume carbohydrates, your body stores glycogen to be used later, for energy. For every gram of carbohydrate stored via glycogen, your body stores three grams of water.

Ah-ha! So that’s why I get puffy and the scale jumps up every time I have a major carb-fest.

Water retention/depletion from sodium: Large consumption of sodium causes your body to retain water. Low sodium consumption causes your body to release water. A hormone called aldosterone helps your body to adjust to the new sodium level, so simply cutting sodium from your diet is not a long-term solution. Maintaining moderate sodium levels will help reduce bloating, as will drinking enough water to regularly flush your system out.

Cycle related bloating: Women generally retain water at certain points in their menstrual cycle. Embrace it; it’s part of life. And it sucks.

Dehydration: When the body is dehydrated, it means it is holding onto less water. While this does cause the number on the scale to move south, it is an unhealthy and temporary state of being, and should not be used as a weight loss method.

Fast forward to the days after a binge, when the body is holding on to all that excess glycogen, and the water that accompanies it. Not only does the scale say that you have gained several pounds, but the mirror reinforces it. Talens claims that “bloat weight” makes you look heavier than actual “fat weight”. He recommends taking photos of your self throughout the month, especially after a big carb blitz to illustrate this fact. He contends that you will look fatter in the post-binge photos than in those where you weighed the same naturally. Chances are, the weight ends up in certain places, vs. being evenly distributed. For me, it’s across the lower belly. The good news is that a few days of clean eating and a lot of water consumption will allow your body to return to it’s “real weight.” (Whew!)

The other disconcerting fact that Talens points out is that scale variance tends to be asymmetrical. contends that the upper limits of scale variance tend to be +4% of your normal weight, vs. only -2% on the lower side. For someone weighing 150 pounds, that is 6 pounds more, or 3 pounds less that usual!

It’s hard not to be frustrated, and even harder to stay the course of healthy diet and exercise. It’s good to know that “binge weight ” is only temporary, and there are legitimate reasons for it.

To read more on the subject, and how to accurately respond to those pesky scale fluctuations, check out Talens’ article on Greatist.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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