Understanding Weight Fluctuations & Erratic Numbers On The Scale


Set yourself free of allowing the scale to make or break your day. Turns out, the mechanical demon isn’t a good measurement of health as much as it is a psychological bully!

There are a few morning routines that have the ability to set the mood for the whole day. Weighing yourself is definitely amongst them. Fortunately, the readings that this mechanical or electronic brute gives you is just a number. And this set of digits may or may not be an accurate reflection of reality. Should you unquestionably rely on your scale? The undeniable answer is no!

Let’s say there was a hypothetical universe where everyone’s weight had no variability. In this universe, a man named Jack has 165 lbs of lean mass and 55 lbs of fat. That means Jack weighs 220 lbs. The percentage of his body fat is 25%.

Now let’s transport Jack back to our universe. The one where the number on the scale goes up and down seemingly irrationally. How much does Jack weigh here? He would probably weigh somewhere between 216 and 228 lbs. Why are the numbers so different? Your weight on the scale can be calculated with the following formula:

Scale Weight = True Weight + Weight Fluctuations

True Weight is the weight you would be in the hypothetical universe (or naked in the morning after going to the bathroom and before eating anything).

Here are a few things that may affect weight fluctuations:

  1. Glycogen stores

The amount of glycogen stored in your body depends on your current consumption of carbohydrates. For every gram of carbohydrate your body stores in the form of glycogen, it also accumulates three grams of water.

If you are carbohydrate-depleted, you will be at the lower end of your weight fluctuations. Conversely, if you gobbled a jar of Nutella, you will be at the upper end of your weight fluctuations.

2. Water retention/depletion

If your sodium intake is above average, you will likely retain water and gain weight. Conversely, if you lower sodium consumption, you will release water and lose weight.

You should keep in mind that your body adjusts to new levels of sodium intake thanks to hormone aldosterone. You can’t keep weight off just by cutting sodium out of your diet. If you eat just a pack of salted nuts after having withdrawn sodium from you diet for a long time, your body is likely to bloat.

3. Bloating during a menstrual cycle

Due to increased appetite, the female body can retain water during a menstrual cycle. For this reason, it’s best for women to compare their weight on a month-to-month basis.

4. Dehydration

Obviously, you’ll be on the lower spectrum of your fluctuating weight average. If you work out a lot or live in a hot climate, make sure you’re refueling with enough water.

Understanding Glycogen

Why does the scale seem so erratic when you are on a diet? The main reason is that glycogen is a much more volatile substance than fat. Glycogen is a polysaccharide that is the principal storage form of glucose. Glycogen is the way the body processes and stores glucose as energy, mainly in the liver and the muscles. Intense cardio like running draw upon the glycogen tucked away in our muscles for fuel, which is why you hear about marathoners “carb-loading” in the days before a big race. Fat loss occurs slowly, while glycogen levels can swing like a pendulum. Let’s see what happens at both ends of glycogen storage.

  • The High End

Often as the result of binge eating, the scale reads a few extra pounds. This is just the weight of retained water. Typically, people on a diet feel defeated because they seem to gain all of the weight back.

  • The Low End

Those who go on paleo or ketogenic style diets (such as Dukan or Atkins programs) usually experience a rapid loss of weight on the very first days. This happens due to a dramatic depletion of glycogen levels. You lose mostly water when you stick to these diet plans.

Sad but true, retained water makes us look fatter than actual fat. If your body retained two pounds of water, you would look as if you gained five pounds of fat.

Don’t despair after a binge even though the scale reads more. This is just the retained water and you didn’t gain much weight. Scale weight may remain the same even if fat loss is occurring because of lean mass gain or glycogen storage. However, the amount of fat will steadily decrease as the result of a balanced nutrition plan and regular exercise.

Interpreting the Scale Readings Properly

Building your own story is the paramount secret behind interpreting the scale. The majority of people use the scale reading as a final number, rather than just one of many possible measurements that help us analyze our weight loss progress. Instead, we need to pair scale readings with the following data:

Waist measurements: This is the most reliable way to measure your body transformation. Every week, take measurements at the navel, two inches above, and two inches below. Compare with last week’s measurements to determine whether a fat loss/gain is occurring.

Energy levels: Assuming that your program is aimed at pursuing a calorie deficit diet, your energy levels are a great indicator. If the scale number goes up, yet your strength is increasing, then you are likely gaining weight from lean body mass.

Bloating: This tells you how much variance is going into your measurements. Be keen on noticing whether you are holding water in key parts such as arms, legs, face, etc. If your eyelids resemble cushions in the morning, it’s useless to step on the scale.

How do you interpret the number on the scale? Do you weigh yourself every morning or once per week? Do you rely on the scale readings when analyzing your progress? It’s best to weigh yourself no more than once per week considering all the variances. You’ll be more likely to focus on what’s really important — achieving your long-term health goals instead of getting psyched out by a number.