The Scale is a Liar: The Best Way to Track Your Weight Loss Progress

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by David Rose

If you are trying to lose weight, what I'm about to share with you is very important to understand, no matter what diet or method you are following.

If you don't track your weight in the right way, you may get discouraged, worry a lot, have a lot of emotional ups and downs, or worse, give up entirely.

What you have to understand is this: Your weight is a very unreliable way to measure fat loss.
You may think that because you ate badly one day and suddenly weigh more the next day, that you've gained a bunch of fat. It's a common belief, but just not true. Fat is gained over time (many days, or weeks or even months).

What causes day to day weight changes?

The biggest culprit by far is WATER!

You'll weigh more after eating a meal. You'll weigh less after going to the bathroom. You have probably noticed you weigh less in the morning than at night. And, yes, you may suddenly weigh more, or less, from day to day, even if you weigh yourself at the exact same time each day. Some of this weight is caused by changes in food or waste in the body, but it's mostly water.

This is because water is very heavy, so even small changes show up on the scale. Just one cup of water weighs half a pound. Two cups weighs one pound. Our bodies are 70% water, so even slight dehydration or slight water retention will change your weight, which has nothing to do with fat gain or fat loss.

Bottom line ...

If you wake up one morning suddenly 1+ pounds heavier, you didn't gain 1+ pounds of fat, you gained 1+ pounds of water.

Are you still NOT convinced your jump in weight from pigging out yesterday isn't fat gain?

Here's proof:
1) One pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories.
2) To gain one pound of fat, you would have to overeat by 3,500 calories mostly in the form of dietary fat. Meaning 3,500 calories BEYOND what your body normally burns for daily energy needs.
3) That means that for the average person, you would have to eat 5000 to 5500 total calories for the day.

Did you eat 5000+ calories yesterday? I didn't think so :)

This logic becomes even more obvious if you've gained 1.5 or 2 pounds or more overnight or even over a couple of days. Gaining significant fat takes more consistent overeating than just a day or two.

How carbs affect weight

Most people think that any extra carbohydrate or sugar they eat turns directly into fat. That's not true. Carbohydrates not burned for immediate energy needs are mostly stored as glycogen (a form of sugar). Glycogen is not fat, and it is very easy for the body to gain and lose.

Carbohydrates affect your weight because the body requires 3 - 4 grams of water to store 1 gram of glycogen -- and you've just learned how drastically water affects your weight. So when you suddenly eat more carbohydrates, you will see a sudden gain in scale weight (not fat). When you suddenly remove carbohydrates from your diet, you see a sudden loss of weight (not fat).

Weight loss stalls and plateaus

Weight loss stalls can also be explained by water.

There's a weird phenomenon called the "whoosh" effect. Why this happens isn't entirely understood, but the theory is that when you burn off the fat in a fat cell, it fills with water temporarily. And the water can stay there for a long time. Then suddenly, one day it flushes away and your weight drops in a big way. (Ironically, sometimes you have to eat more (increase calorie intake) to get this to happen but that's a different topic).

So stay the course. Stalls can be frustrating, but realize that body composition (fat loss) changes are very likely happening within, while body weight stays the same.

Muscle versus fat

Another thing to realize is that muscle weighs more than fat. So if you are doing regular resistance exercise while dieting, and if your weight is staying the same, it's most likely because you are gaining lean muscle (a VERY good thing) while fat is dropping.

Best way to measure weight loss

The solution to all the above is to avoid the bathroom scale, and instead track your progress in inches. You can either take measurements, or just notice how your clothes fit over time. Are your clothes getting tighter or looser?

If you still want to weigh yourself, do it weekly at most. Even then, take the long-term view. Use your average weight over a period of time as an indicator.

Final tip: Because you look at yourself in the mirror every day, your mind doesn't register the subtle changes that are occurring in your body composition. (Often other people will notice changes before you do!)

Again, weight loss is a process. You gained your current fat stores over a period time, and you will lose your fat stores over a certain period time. Fat storage doesn't dramatically change from day to day, so don't let the "lying" scale fool you.
 


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