Author: Brooks Hurbis
Overview: The scale can be a great tool to measure weight, but have you wondered why it fluctuates so much? Learn the causes of weight gain and loss in this article!
Estimated Read Time: 7-9 minutes
Have you ever stepped on the scale on a Sunday morning and thought “Holy Sh***t I really blew all my progress this weekend”. Or even on a random Wednesday, seen a big spike and felt discouraged because you had been perfect with your exercise and nutrition all week? Does the scale feel like random numbers to you and lead to frustration?
The scale is a great tool to measure weight loss but truth is, there are many nuances to why your weight fluctuates that aren’t tied to straight fat loss or gain. In this article we’ll explore a few reasons your weight might fluctuate daily that have nothing to do with fat loss or muscle gain.
Do Carbs or Salt Make You Gain Weight?
If you ate more salt or carbs than usual the day before you may have an increase in weight. In regards to salt (sodium chloride), your body will retain water a lot of water which can cause bloating and an uptick in weight. Water molecules bind easily to sodium to help maintain fluid balance.
For carbs, it's a very similar process. Carbs are stored in the body as glycogen. Glycogen molecules are filled with water and stored in your muscles and liver. Therefore, the more carbs you have, the more water weight you retain. Again, this is not fat loss or gain. It's simply water weight! It’s like if you filled up a jug of water and stepped on the scale holding the jug. If you put the jug down you’ll immediately weigh less.
This is why the opposite will happen if you eat less salt or carbs. Your body will flush a lot of weight quickly. These foods aren’t necessarily causing you to gain weight, they’re just causing you to hold onto water which shows short term weight gain.
This spike in weight can look even more dramatic if you’ve been limiting carb intake through something such as the keto diet. The first few weeks of a low carb diet look extremely promising because you lose so much weight so quickly. But again, it's deceiving because it's not necessarily fat loss, but rather your body flushing out water weight that would have otherwise been bound to the glycogen.
Timing of weigh in: late meal or early weigh in
Weighing yourself at the same time of day does make a difference. If you weigh yourself earlier in the day than you typically do, your body has had less time to digest the food from the night before and the scale will likely show a higher number. Same thing if you ate a meal later than you usually do. Digestion time is shorter than if you had eaten at your standard time and the scale may reflect that with a higher weight.
This also ties into weighing yourself under the same conditions everyday. If you typically weigh yourself first thing in the morning without having anything to eat or drink and then weigh yourself mid afternoon after a few meals, the number on the scale will be quite different. To keep variance at a minimum be consistent with the conditions you’re weighing yourself under. Stick to the same time of day, before or after meals and with the same amount of clothes on or off.
This probably isn’t on the list for the reason you think it is. When you’re stressed your body releases cortisol which some claim leads to weight gain (specifically around the midsection). Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone and is best known for triggering your body's fight or flight response. There’s no strong evidence that the amount of cortisol produced by a healthy level of stress causes an increase in body fat, however you can experience short term weight gain from higher cortisol levels. When cortisol levels go up (like when you’re stressed) your body will retain water and your weight will temporarily increase due to that water weight. This is why people sometimes see a big weight drop when they stop dieting and move into a reverse cut. When their body loses the stress of dieting it releases the water and looks like a big drop in pounds.
Your bowel movements matter and can impact your weight. Got more in ya, you weigh more. Not really much more to it.
You might hop on the scale after a really tough training session and see a jump in weight. No you didn’t gain 3 pounds of muscle overnight (though how great would that be?!) but when your muscles are damaged they absorb nutrients and store more glycogen to recover. This will show a short term weight gain. Same goes for after a rest day, you might weigh less because your body isn’t storing this for recovery.
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People tend to have a love/hate relationship with the scale and it can really impact emotions. But look at how many factors can go into your daily weight outside of just body fat & muscle! The scale is a great tool to have in your toolbelt to measure progress but shouldn’t be the only one. Use it for the data it’s giving you but also measure progress in other ways. Progress pictures, how your clothes fit, energy levels & consistency with nutrition & workouts are all great ways to track progress outside of just the scale.
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Question:Why do you weigh less in the morning?
Answer: We weigh less in the morning because our bodies have had more time to digest our food! As we eat throughout the day we have more physically in us which will cause the scale to go up over the course of the day.
Question: how much weight can you gain in a day?
Answer: As we’ve just gone over it’s possible for your weight to fluctuate for a variety of different reasons and you could realistically see the scale jump over 5 pounds in one day. How much fat can you gain in a day though? It would be very difficult to gain even 1 pound of fat over the course of the day. 1 pound of fat is equal to around 3500 calories over your regular maintenance calories. That'd be more than 2 days worth of calories for most people which just isn't likely.
Question: Do you weigh more at night?
Answer: Of course! Think about it: over the course of the day you’re eating and actively putting more into your body. Your body needs time to digest that food and it takes 6-8 hours for the digestive process. That’s why you’ll always weigh more at night than in the morning. Your body hasn’t had a full 6-8 hour period without you eating to fully digest your food yet.