Fat loss and the fluctuating scale

At least half the people I see in the gym are trying to lose weight. I can’t tell you how many times a person will say “I went low-carb, and I’ve already lost three pounds this week!” What many people don’t realize is that carbohydrates hold water in the muscle and liver. We are 75% water, so there can be a significant loss in body weight when carbohydrates are pulled out of our diet. This is NOT fat loss.

True fat loss occurs after this initial loss of carbohydrate-induced water retention. There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, so reducing your caloric intake by 500 calories a day is a good guideline for losing a pound of fat a week, assuming that the level of activity remains the same. Burning an extra 500 calories a day with added physical activity is also a great guideline for losing this pound of fat. A combination of these two approaches is best. I do not personally recommend that somebody try to lose more than two pounds a week, because muscle loss is possible. Muscle is our primary motor for burning fat, so it’s imperative that we keep it.

the scale and fat loss

The scale is not the best way to track your weight-loss or weight-gain progress because too many factors are at play in your body when you step on the scale.

People get upset when they have been sweating their butts off doing cardio and the next day the scale shows a weight gain. Again, we are 75% water, and our bodies like to keep it that way. When the body goes through a period of dehydration, the kidneys will release hormones to control the further loss of water. When we drink water later, our hormones will be ready to hold this water temporarily adding to our body weight.

Keep in mind:

* Stress from long, hard workouts increases our cortisone levels, which also increases water retention. The scale will often show a weight loss after a few days of rest, when the cortisone levels decrease to normal levels.

* It’s common to gravitate to sodium-rich food when carbohydrates are reduced in the diet, which will have you retain water. Sometimes we over-replace salt lost through sweating.

*If you are training with weights in a gym or indulging in other weight-bearing exercise, you will probably gain muscle, which is awesome but will make the weight scale go up. Muscle weighs more than fat.

These are some of the reasons why I do not put much faith in the scale when it comes to short-term fat loss. I weigh my clients frequently to determine their hydration but average out these readings over a couple of weeks to determine true composition changes. I highly recommend the use of “skin-fold calipers” because they make it easier to determine if this weight loss or gain is from fat or muscle. Skin-fold caliper readings are not affected by water levels in the body, so the calipers give a more accurate reading of body composition and fat loss.

I hope this article has helped you understand that our bodies are constantly fluctuating in weight mainly because of water retention. This is why it is important not to take weight measurements too seriously when you are trying to lose fat, but instead to rely on more accurate forms of measurement, like skin-fold calipers. Also you can tell by how your clothing fits and how you feel in your body. And diet is most important when trying to lose weight or fat, which we will talk about in another post!

I personally have been through these weight-loss issues when preparing for bodybuilding shows and know that if you don’t truly understand why they are happening, it can take a tremendous psychological toll on you. The key is to understand that all the factors mentioned above can give you a false reading of true fat loss on a weight scale and it is important to rely on alternate forms of measurement to determine true compositional changes.

If you have a sound diet and exercise program in place, don’t give up, no matter what the scale in the bathroom says. You will win at the end!