This graph is my weight over the past three weeks on a relatively aggressive cut, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit it has been a bit of a headfuck.
I’m weighing and measuring everything.
500 calories per day lower than maintenance (just from diet, not tracking exercise expenditure).
Getting an average of 8 1/2 hours sleep.
Cardio 3x per week, weights 5x per week.
8,000 daily steps on average.
Long story short, I’m nailing compliance and doing all the right things, so why did my weight drop and then go back up?
I lost a kilo, put it back on, lost two kilos, then put one back on.
When I first started my fitness journey, I did the stupidest diet and training program ever, given to me by a “coach,” where I was eating between 750 and 1100 calories and doing 2+ hours of training 6 days of the week.
During this time, I “only” lost 4kg on the scale but I went from a size 10-12 to a 6 in 12 weeks.
There’s a simple answer
The logic is pretty straightforward.
But accepting it, having patience, not getting deterred and seeing the “long game,” that’s where the difficulty lies.
Weight fluctuations can be demotivating as fuck. Even for someone who has been doing this a long time, it can mess with your head.
But by sharing my recent experiences and a bit of logic, I hope you’re able to draw upon your own – and come out the other side with a bit more resilience when the scales are erratic and unpredictable.
Because it WILL happen. And you shouldn’t let a lack of linear progress deter you from staying the course, because then you’ll wind up with no progress.
Let’s start by looking at what the scales actually measure
– Your level of hydration
– The bulk of any food in your belly
– The amount and size of the poops in your colon
– The amount of carbohydrates you eat
– The size of your meals
– The timing of your meals
– The salt in your meals
– If you ate foods which caused localised inflammation
– Natural fluctuations in body water during your menstrual cycle
– Your lean muscle mass
– Your glycogen storage, and
– Your fat mass
Of this basic list of reasons why your weight goes up and down, notice how only ONE reflects a loss in bodyfat.
Next time you’re freaking out that the scale doesn’t reflect your efforts, write this on your bathroom mirror;
“My scale has a very limited capacity to accurately reflect changes in my fat mass.”
And if that’s too long to write, you could probably just put;
“It doesn’t fucking matter.”
The food you eat and water you do or don’t drink, matter.
Not just because you need to be in a calorie deficit, obviously. But also because if you’re eating a high volume of lower calorie foods – that extra volume gets measured – and when you’re eating in a calorie deficit, you really, really need to eat higher volume, higher fibre, lower calorie foods just to stay full.
So does the salt. So does the fibre. So does the fact that if a food even slightly irritates your gut – water gets sent to your colon as an acute inflammation response. Dairy is a great culprit for this. I also find foods like beans and lentils to give me gas and bloating. Keep in mind that if you regularly eat foods like this – you’ll have more scale fluctuations.
Another factor, and one falsely lauded as the reason why low carb diets are “superior,” is that scale weight changes more dramatically when you cut out your carbs.
Not only because by not eating carbs you’re depleting muscle glycogen, but because you’re losing the water that comes along with it. This doesn’t mean you’re losing more fat.
Repeat after me: My weight does NOT reflect body fat changes.
And your fat loss journey will look more like an erratic HR monitor than a straight downward line.
Take other measures
A tight pair of jeans.
ANYTHING that gives you MORE DATA.
Then, you (and/or your coach) can compare all of the different methods you’re using against one another.
You should also learn to read and use biofeedback as an indicator of your stress response, your recovery and your ability to affect your body composition and not just your weight.
(That biofeedback blog is the BEST one I’ve ever written, if you were to read only one page on this entire fucking website – it would be that one. Understanding and appyling the information therein will save you a LOT of trouble on your journeys.)
Average your bodyweight to flatten out daily fluctuations
Weigh yourself a couple of times per week (2 or 3), then take an average of your weight over that week.
This will stop erratic days from obscuring a longer term downward trend.
If you have ovaries, you have to track differently.
Once you’ve averaged your weight over the week, don’t compare it to last week, but compare it from one month to the next. This irons out any fluctuations in weight that naturally occur during hormonal changes. If you’re taking birth control, this is extra important. Thanks to my IUD, I get PMS-like symptoms for a day every week with bloating and cramps, but no bleeding. It does my head in a bit, but I’ve noticed that the day before I start to get cramps my weight goes up by about a kilogram and takes at least 3 days to go back down.
For the BEST guide to female fat loss, impact of birth control and ways to set up a fat loss diet – check out The Woman’s Book Vol 1 by Lyle McDonald.
Some further things to consider
Another study showed that eating the majority of your calories in the AM, compared to the PM, resulted in greater weight loss. I can’t help but wonder if this could this be explained simply because the AM group had a longer time between their large meals and weighing in, whereas the PM group had not just the weight of the meals but also “an accumulation of an additional mass of 250 g (glycogen plus its associated water) could occur with the PM meal pattern.” The PM group also showed less loss of lean muscle mass.
One big issue with this study, which is similar to the challenge we all face using scales – is that they used total body electrical conductivity, similar to the tech used in bodyfat scales. This method unfortunately, does not differentiate total body water (and therefore, hydrationa and glycogen status) from actual muscle mass.
TLDR: Eat a bunch of volume, particularly if it’s carbs and salt in the last few hours before bed and yeah…. you’re probably gonna weigh more the next day.
You are a duck, and the scales are water
Do not allow your emotions to override your logic.
Tracking and measuring? Like, ACTUALLY WEIGHING YOUR FOOD and not just eyeballing?
Feeling your clothes getting looser?
Getting stronger in the gym or at least, not getting weaker or running out of steam?
Seeing more vascularity, more muscle definition?
THEN WHO FUCKING CARES HOW MUCH YOU WEIGH.
Need some guidance on your journey? Get in touch!