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Surprised by the scale? No Weigh!

Dear Ellen, With the warmer weather I am beginning to panic about bathing suit weather and my weight. I weigh myself daily (sometimes more!) and noticed that my weight fluctuates up to 2 kilos in a day! This is driving me crazy! Why does my weight fluctuate so much? How much should I weigh? and How often should I jump on the scales?

Scale fright is one of the most common springtime issues of the clients I coach. Concern with overweight is legitimate since significant research indicates that maintaining a healthy weight lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many different cancers. However, it is important to recognize that a person’s health status or risk cannot be assumed solely by a number on a scale and “bathing suit” season can drive us to lose sight of what a “healthy weight” really is. In addition, a fluctuating scale may be driving you to obsession. Let’s have a look….

Why does weight fluctuate?

I’d like to start with weight fluctuations since it may already reassure you about those few kilos or pounds that randomly come and go on a daily basis. I love referring to a brilliant advertising campaign for a bathroom scale where a simple Gnome was shipped and weighed in 152 countries around the world revealing significant weight differences just through the effect of gravity! To see the gnome results, click here. Of course, many other things than gravity can make our weight fluctuate unexpectedly. It is important to understand that the number on the scale does not necessarily come from an increase in body fat; it can be water, waste products or other substances that are temporarily present in your body and true weight gain is a process that occurs over a longer period of time. 

Here are 6 of the most common reasons for a temporary “surprise”:

  1. Water Retention – scale up
    You just travelled on a plane or came down from high altitude provoking water retention
    You ate high-sodium (salt) in your last meal. Think smoked, cured or salted meat, processed foods, soy sauce or salted nuts  
    You are taking medication such as birth control, steroids, nerve, depression or anti- anxiety medications which can have the side effect of retaining water or bloating
    You drank alcohol which can lead to dehydration causing the body hold on to fluids
    You ate a heavy meal, especially carbohydrates which can cause temporary excess water retention due to glycogen
  2. Digestion and Elimination – scale up or down
    You ate lots of fibre-filled foods which can cause bloating, constipation and temporary weight gain as a result of the indigestible fibre piling up in the gastrointestinal tract
    You just drank coffee, tea, cranberry juice or another diuretic drink
    You cannot « go »…causing constipation – scale up
    You’ve had a bowel movement or urinated recently – scale down
  3. Hormones - scale up or down
    It’s your time for natural monthly hormonal changes causing water retention
    You have PMS provoking a temporary increase or decrease in appetite
  4. Illness – scale up or down
    You have a cold or flu, and you may not eat as much as usual which can slow down metabolism – scale up
    A stomach bug, where you cannot eat properly – scale up or down
  5. Exercise – scale up or down
    You just worked out and sweat away a kilo
    You lifted weights or did body weight exercises causing temporary trauma to muscle tissue which retain water to help speed up rebuilding
  6. Other surprises you might not have thought of…
    Are you dressed? Did you know that some jeans alone weigh up to 2 kilos?
    What time is it and where are you? Like the gnome, you may weigh more just because of your individual body balance and gravity…I know I weigh more at the end of day than first thing in the morning…
    What day is it? Many of us weigh more on Monday’s than on Friday’s due to weekend splurges.

What is my healthy weight?

Though more doctors and health professionals question its accuracy and usefulness (people with a high percentage of muscle, for example, may present a distorted result), Body Mass Index (BMI) is still the most utilized, standardized and viable measure of healthy weight adopted as the international point of reference.

A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy as this chart shows. Alternately, you can calculate yours with this BMI healthy weight calculator. If you are outside of the healthy range, losing weight is perhaps a good idea for health reasons. If, however, you are within the healthy range and just looking for a magic number on the scale, it might be time to reconsider your real reasons for wanting to lose weight……

Now what?

Now that you have determined what your healthy weight range is, that you have some peace of mind and are more relaxed about weight fluctuations…are you still worried about the number on the scale and how often you should weigh in? Are you interested in some effective alternatives to the scale for measuring your progress? If so, read next week’s article Scared of the Scales? No Weigh!