By Naomi Rabon, NW Fitness Team Trainer

If you are like most of my clients – and about 99.9% of the population – then you are still getting hung up on the numbers you see on the scale. And these numbers most likely affect you.

Seeing a certain number on the scale every morning, or several times per week, or maybe only once a week, depending on how often you weigh yourself, can really set your mood for the day. Many of my clients admit to feeling like a failure if they see the same number, or even just one or two pounds up from the previous weigh-in.


I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to weigh myself to know if I feel like I’m a little “up” or a little “down” from my “normal” weight. Some days I do actually feel a little heavier or a little lighter than usual, and I don’t need to step on the scale to know that I feel this way.

Although I have stepped on the scale in the past just to confirm if my feelings were right – and they were every single time! So knowing that you feel heavier on a given day should tell you that you definitely should stay off the scale if seeing higher numbers will mess with your head that day and throw you off your game.


I’ve joked in the past with my clients that if they want to lose weight and just see a lower number on the scale, all they have to do is chop off an arm and then they’ll weigh less.

In all seriousness though, being specific about the type of body composition changes you want to see is completely different than seeing numbers go down on the scale (ready that again).


Here are just a few of the main myriad of reasons why weight can fluctuate that has nothing to do with body fat loss or gain:

1. Hydration We experience fluid gains and losses throughout the day through various means, including breathing, sweating, and peeing. Since your body is made up of water, of course hydration can impact the scale! Conditions like dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, excessive alcohol intake, sweating, or peeing a lot can give an altered scale reading. Generally, it’s only possible to lose one or two pounds of actual fat per week, so if you’re losing more than that you’re probably losing water, not fat. Excessive calorie or carbohydrate restriction, in particular, can show inaccurate weight loss, which is often about 75 percent water loss. Diuretics, such as coffee and other caffeinated beverages, can also cause water loss.

2. Hormones The stress hormone cortisol introduced over a long period of time can impact fluid retention and water weight. Water retention may occur because stress and cortisol increase an antidiuretic hormone that controls water balance in the body. This is one of the common factors that affect weight and is often more difficult to manage. Carbohydrate intake also causes a rise in the hormone insulin, which can increase sodium retention and reabsorption of water in the kidneys. Low-carb diets lead to a decrease in insulin levels, which then leads to a loss of sodium and water from the kidneys. This means that eating more carbs might cause an immediate change in weight, but that’s just due to greater water retention, rather than body fat gain.

3. Menstrual cycle During your period, it’s considered normal to gain three to five pounds, which then go away after a few days of menstruating. Hormonal changes can cause weight gain by increasing fluid retention and altering appetite. Water retention may cause swelling or puffiness in your breasts, stomach, or extremities. This increases body weight but not fat. Also, during your period, hormonal changes can increase gas in your gastrointestinal tract and cause bloating. Water retention in your abdomen may also lead to bloating.

In the week before your period, progesterone levels increase. Progesterone has been linked to stimulating appetite. As progesterone rises, you might eat more than usual, which may slightly impact the weight on the scale. This often is not true weight gain. Estrogen also regulates serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls mood and reduces appetite. When estrogen drops right before your period, so does serotonin. The result is a bigger appetite. By practicing healthy habits throughout the month, you can prevent weight gain or water retention during your period.

4. Sodium and other food/liquid intake Eating foods high in sodium can also affect how much water you retain. Sodium is essential to many processes in the body, but too much can cause the body to retain too much sodium and thus too much water. It is recommended that adults consume less than 2,300mg of sodium per day or 1,600mg for those with high blood pressure. Staying physically active can also help to decrease the amount of fluid that the body holds on to, especially if traveling in an airplane or being stuck at a desk all day.

5. Glycogen storage Glycogen is the body’s storage form of carbohydrate, existing in your muscles and liver and being released when your body needs energy. Eating carbs can be one of the factors that affect weight but it isn’t a bad thing! When you eat carbohydrates, your body stores what it can as glycogen.

Glycogen molecules hold a substantial amount of water: 1 gram of glycogen has 2.7 grams of water with it. So, if you’re consuming more carbohydrates and not using up your body’s glycogen stores, your body is going to contain more water. This additional water is not the same thing as water retention, where excess water is held between cells: in glycogen storage, the water attached to a glycogen molecule is inside the cells.

This is a healthier storage of water compared to excessive water retention because it is beneficial and necessary to maintain glycogen. Regardless, it can increase your body weight by as much as 3 – 5 pounds. This weight change is one of the main reasons you might see dramatic weight fluctuations that don’t correlate to fat gain or loss. When you exercise, you use up some of your glycogen stores for energy, which can decrease the water weight from the glycogen molecules and therefore decrease your body weight.

When you consume carbs, your body will replenish its glycogen stores, and causes weight gain due to water weight. This weight gain is only water weight, not fat weight, and therefore should not be of concern to the athlete or fitness enthusiast that experiences this type of weight gain.

6. Time of day Staying consistent with the tie of day that you weigh yourself can help you get the most accurate weight on a consistent basis. Using the same scale every time can also help you get more accurate results. Many people like to weigh themselves in the morning after their morning trip to the bathroom. This is because bowel movements and hydration status can influence the number on the scale. The average adult’s weight can fluctuate by as much as 5-6 pounds per day from morning to night!

7. Poor sleep Getting sufficient sleep plays an important role in accurate weight measurement. Not getting enough sleep can influence hunger cues and your ability to make healthy choices. According to research cited by the Mayo Clinic, lack of sleep is associated with eating foods higher in calories, sugar, and fat. This is because lack of sleep is associated with a fluctuation in the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is released by the stomach and tells the brain that you are hungry, and the hormone leptin, which is released by fat cells and signals to the brain that you are full.

When you’re sleep deprived, your body tends to have more ghrelin, which means you’re more likely to be hungry and crave foods higher in calories, sugar, and fat. A sleep deprived body also tends to have less leptin, which makes you feel hungrier throughout the day. Not getting enough sleep can also affect how much exercise you get or how hard you workout because of low energy or strength from lack of sleep. Adults should aim to get around 8 hours of sleep per night.

8. Stress When you’re stressed, your satiety signals don’t work as well as they should, so you may end up feeling more or less hungry. Stress also lead to cravings for processed and high-sodium foods, since your body may be seeking energy for comfort. As mentioned above in point number 2, stress releases cortisol which affects water retention and an increase in weight on the scale, but not from an increase in body fat.

9. Medications Certain medications and health conditions, especially related to thyroid function, can cause weight fluctuations and changes.

10. Alcohol Alcohol isn’t processed the same way as other beverages and foods, so it can take longer for your body to eliminate. It also slows the digestion of other substances, which can lead to water retention. Beyond that, alcohol contains extra calories that you may not be accounting for in your overall diet. You may also pay less attention to your overall calorie intake while drinking alcoholic beverages.

As you can see, there are so many factors that contribute to scale weight fluctuating up or down than just body fat gain or loss. That is why it is so important to focus on all the factors – progress pictures, how your clothes fit, how you feel, your sleep quality, strength, energy, etc. – that indicate progress so much more than numbers on a scale.

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Naomi-lighterBIOOne of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.

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