It sometimes seems crazy to me that a human can gain approximately 2 to 4 pounds in just ONE day. That seems like a lot, right? But more than that, it’s scary! No one wants to step on the scale and see it jump up when their goal is for it to go down. As scary as it can be, understanding the multitude of reasons it happens can help ease a troubled mind when you see that sudden spike.
Who the Scale is For
The scale isn’t for everyone. For many, the number on the scale is a negative experience. It can send them on a path of restricting calories or doubling up workouts. And for many, it can be linked to their self-worth or make them feel as though they’re not progressing even though they are. If the scale has the power to veer you in the wrong direction, has any impact on your body image, or even elicits an emotional response, it’s probably best to toss it out entirely. While it’s a useful tool, there are far better measures of progress anyway (think progress photos, measurements, and biofeedback!).
How You Gain FAT
It’s actually pretty common for the scale to go up a few pounds in one day. The kicker is that it’s probably not fat. To gain fat, you have to overeat consistently for a period of time. Contrarily, in order to lose fat, you have to eat in a deficit for a period of time. If you set out to lose three pounds, for example, you probably don’t expect it to happen overnight. You’d have to put some time and effort into it. The same goes to gain it.
One pound of fat equals approximately 3500 calories. So in order to gain one pound of fat, you’d have to eat 3500 calories over what you normally eat in a day. If you normally eat 2500 calories to maintain your weight, you’d have to eat 6000 calories over the course of a single day to gain one pound of fat. If you stop and think about it, that’s really hard to do!
If the vast fluctuation on the scale isn’t fat, what is it then? It’s weight. Your weight is the sum of everything in your body. Think muscle bones, organs, undigested food, water… plus fat. When you gain or lose weight, it can include any of those things.
Your weight is the sum of everything in your body. Think muscle bones, organs, undigested food, water… plus fat.
Here are seven reasons why the scale may go up that are simply weight and have nothing to do with body fat.
Reasons the Scale Went Up that Have Nothing to do with Body Fat
1. You Ate More Salt
If you happened to eat more salt than usual, your body will retain excess water. This is more common around special events and holidays or anytime you eat processed foods as they’re typically higher in sodium. The additional weight is caused by the excess water our body is holding onto as a result of the sometimes processed higher sodium foods. Higher sodium processed foods carry additional risks like being more palatable which makes them easier to overeat, and in time will lead to fat gain. But rest assured, a meal here or there or even a couple of days of upping your salt intake, won’t result in fat gain.
2. You’ve Been Pushing Yourself Hard at the Gym
When you really push yourself in your workouts, you actually put microscopic tears in your muscle tissue. The inflammation causes your body to send water to the inflamed area. This, again, leads to water retention. Newbie strength trainers will often notice feeling puffy or bloated due to the extra fluid as they can put on muscle much more rapidly than someone who’s been working out for years.
This is weight gain you WANT to see on your scale because it means you’re putting on muscle and getting closer to your physique goals. In fact, most people’s dream body is going to weigh more than their goal weight because muscle is denser than fat. In other words, you’ll look much leaner with more muscle on your body than fat, even if the scale weight is the same.
3. You Ate More Carbs
Eating more carbohydrates at any given time can definitely make the scale go up by filling up your glycogen stores. Your body stores carbohydrates in your liver and muscles in the form of glycogen to be used as quick energy. With every gram of carbs you eat, your body will hold onto an additional 2-4 grams of water to help digest it. So if you eat 200 grams of carbs, you could weigh up to 800 grams more - that’s nearly two pounds of additional water weight!
Conversely, the initial excitement for so many people who follow a low carbohydrate diet is the initial weight loss. But that weight loss is largely due to decreasing the amount of water in your body. Over time, once the glycogen stores have been depleted, the weight loss stalls and you become frustrated with the lack of progress... and energy.
Again, an increase in scale weight due to an increase in carb consumption isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you’ve been eating a low-carbohydrate diet, you can look rather “deflated”. By increasing your carbs and therefore your glycogen stores, you’ll actually plump up your muscles and in turn, make them (and your skin!) look fuller and healthier.
4. You Ate More Food or Later at Night
When you eat a large quantity of food, that food will likely take more time to get processed. So go ahead and add the volume of whatever you ate to your previous day’s weight. To top it off, eating more can cause an increase in blood volume. The same goes for eating later at night.
If you’re reverse dieting or eating more to reach your new maintenance goals, you can count on weight gain. Again, it’s to be expected and isn’t a bad thing. Remember, the volume of some extra food sitting in your stomach isn’t fat gain.
5. Your Digestion is Off
If your digestion is off, it could mean a few different things. If you’re constipated, you may even feel heavier than normal. That constipation is extra fecal matter in your GI tract and most of it will drop off the scale as soon as you drop it off in the toilet. Or your digestion could be off because of bacterial overgrowth or food intolerances. Digestive enzymes, probiotics, and fermented foods are all things that can potentially help remedy this. For more serious issues, it may take some time to get to the root cause and heal your gut to fully lose this extra weight.
6. You’re Ending Your Cycle or Ovulating
Women have more weight fluctuations than men due to the difference in their hormones. If you’re ovulating or coming near the end of your cycle (or about to start your period), you can hold onto an additional five pounds! But don’t worry, it’s temporary and will go away as your cycle shifts.
On one hand, you may want to avoid the scale during this time as this additional weight can be alarming. On the other hand, if you weigh yourself consistently and start to notice the trend in your own body, it may help you come to terms with it. For many, empowering themselves to understand their body better can help put their mind at ease with a fluctuating number on the scale.
7. You Took Some Meds
Some medications can lead to water retention and overeating. If you happened to notice a spike on the scale, it can be a good practice to look up the medication to find out if it’s linked to water retention or may have led you to overeat the night before. Or just take note of whether you feel puffy or bloated the following day after taking the medication. If so, expect the number on the scale to go back down before too long if it’s something you only take on occasion.
Shifting Your Perception
The ultimate goal is for the number on the scale to not trigger an emotional response or a negative reaction as it can be a good thing regardless of what the number is doing. This is why understanding the various ways scale weight can fluctuate is an excellent tool to help shift that perspective to a more positive or even neutral one. This way when you notice the number go up, you can pause and remind yourself that when your goal is to recomposition your body ("tone up", put muscle on, etc), you may actually want the scale to go up. It can be hard to see that number go up or - even stay the same - but if you know you've been consistent, then you know you're making progress regardless of that silly number. Fat loss (as opposed to weight loss) doesn't just mean a lean body, but a strong body.