We’ve all been there – stepping on the scales after days of dieting and intense exercise to find we have lost little to no weight. A very common yet frustrating experience!
However, as it happens, weighing yourself isn’t always the best method to measure fat loss. All too often we are too consumed by what the scales say that we forget to notice other changes that indicate fat loss.
Have you ever found that while the scales haven’t budged, your clothes feel looser, you have more energy, and you are looking more toned? These are much better markers of progress compared to just the scales alone.
Turns out, there is a big difference between weight loss and fat loss!
Weight fluctuations are very normal for every person and rarely anything to be concerned about.
There are many factors that cause weight fluctuations, and many other methods to track fat loss, both of which will be discussed in this article.
Firstly, let’s determine the different between weight loss and fat loss!
Weight Loss Vs Fat Loss
Our body weight is made up of fat mass and lean mass, i.e., water weight, bones, muscle, and organs, which all contribute to our total body weight.
Fat loss is simply just that – losing fat. It goes without saying that this should always be the focus when embarking on a fat loss program, as opposed to focusing solely on body weight.
A typical fat loss program alone can cause many fluctuations in body weight. For example, beginning to exercise more regularly or incorporating a resistance training program into your routine may cause body weight to increase, which is often mistaken for fat gain.
On the other hand, typically switching to a low-carb diet as part of a fat loss plan will result in a drop in water weight which is also often mistaken for rapid fat loss.
To lose fat, we must be in an energy deficit, better known as a calorie deficit. Maintaining a calorie deficit over a prolonged period will eventually result in fat loss.
Though, this is often a slow and non-linear process for many people. To achieve healthy, sustainable fat loss, it’s recommended to be aiming for a loss of around 1-2lb per week on average.
You should ideally be tracking your fat loss progress via many methods, not solely body weight, as while the scales are a good tool, it is not an accurate representation of fat loss.
8 Reasons Your Weight Fluctuates
Weighing yourself can be a tricky method of measuring fat loss. The inaccuracy and weight fluctuations often result in disappointment and despair, which shouldn’t be the case when someone is working hard to lose fat!
It’s important to note that if you’re becoming too consumed by the number on the scales, take a step back and remind yourself of other ways to track progress. We will come onto this shortly!
There are many factors which cause your weight to fluctuate daily. Here are 8 of the most common reasons:
1) Carbohydrate intake
For every gram of carbohydrates that we store (as glycogen in the liver and muscles), the body stores 3g of water.
So, it goes without saying that an increase in carbohydrate intake would result in an increase in water weight.
This is also a reasonable explanation for the keto diet having “rapid” success in the first couple of weeks – it’s due to carbohydrates being cut completely which causes a rapid drop in water weight, not fat loss.
Next time you consume a big bowl of pasta then proceed to step on the scales, not only is this simply the weight of food causing an increase in weight, but it’s also carbohydrate storing.
This is also not a reason to cut carbs out of your diet. As we have established, weight loss isn’t the same as fat loss, and carbs make up a big part of a balanced, healthy diet.
It’s not unusual to experience either weight gain or weight loss through exercise.
In the short-term, exercising causes us to lose weight because of the sweat and water loss as a result of our bodies cooling down mechanisms. Your weight should balance back out again once rehydrated.
In the long-term, if you’re new to an exercise program, particularly a resistance training program, you may notice a gradual increase in weight, even despite you looking leaner and losing fat.
This is simply due to muscle gain. Muscle is a dense tissue, much denser than fat, so while our weight may increase, we will still look visually lean and healthy.
3) Salt intake
Salt, or sodium, can cause the body to retain water – much like carbohydrates.
If you’ve eaten a particularly salty meal, a ready meal, or a takeaway, this can cause fluctuations in weight due to water retention.
Again, if you decrease salt intake, you will find your weight may drop slightly.
4) Bowel movements
This factor can be a big contributor to weight fluctuations.
When haven’t have a bowel movement in a little while, we would obviously be holding on to more weight as a result.
Try weighing yourself before and after a bowel movement and note the instant difference in your weight!
5) Menstrual cycle
The week before a period can often cause many fluctuations in weight, mainly due to bloating. Fluid retention is at its highest on the first day of the menstrual cycle.
Additionally, appetite also increases during this time. Along with a natural increase in food intake, weight may also increase temporarily.
This is why it’s important to track weight changes over time and look at the overall trend, so women particularly can visually see when their menstrual cycle may affect their weight.
6) Undigested food
Naturally, your weight will increase as you eat food. It takes time for your body to digest and excrete food, so this is bound to cause fluctuations in weight.
7) Alcohol intake
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you urinate more than usual as the body works to expel the toxins. This can cause body weight to increase.
On the other hand, depending on the type of alcohol consumed, you may find that an increase in salt and sugar, whether from the drinks or typical food consumed alongside them, may have the opposite effect – weight gain – due to water retention.
8) Medication side effects
Certain medications are known to cause water retention as a side effect, which is worth being aware of if you are taking any medications.
How To Track Fat Loss
When tracking fat loss, we should be using methods that measure changes in our body composition, not just body weight.
- Measuring the circumference of your waist, hips, chest, and thighs
- Skinfold measurements
- Taking progress photos
These are all affordable and easy ways to track fat loss in addition to taking a body weight measurement.
When weighing yourself, for the most accurate and consistent measurement, ensure you take note of the following:
- Weigh yourself at the same day and time weekly (in the morning upon waking is best)
- Weigh under the same conditions every week (before breakfast, after bowel movements, unclothed, etc.)
- Focus on the long-term trend as opposed to the weekly results, which is a more accurate reflection of your progress
- Remember that the scales do not measure body fat percentage, calorie intake, muscle mass, bone density, or health status
Other markers of progress include:
- Increased energy levels
- Better sleep
- Clothing fit and feel
- Appearance and confidence
- Exercise performance improvements
- Smoother digestion
Using several of these methods and markers and ensuring you use the scales properly and are aware of the limitations would make for a more accurate overall method of tracking fat loss.
More complex methods of measuring body composition include bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), duel-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), and other methods that involve measuring body density and body water – though these are more expensive and less accessible for the general population.
Our Top Fat Loss Tips
The best diet is the one that you can adhere to long-term! This is why you should take your current diet and simply make small tweaks that align with your fat loss goals.
Here are some examples of everyday strategies you can implement to help fat loss:
- Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables to promote good health and keep you fuller for longer
- Increase your protein intake, the most satiating macronutrient and key to supporting your muscle-building goals
- Increase your daily physical activity to burn more calories
- Reduce your intake of highly processed foods, which can be a big barrier to fat loss and the cause of weight fluctuations
- Follow a training program that is effective and enjoyable for you personally, including resistance training and cardio – both of which burn fat and sculpt lean muscle
- Consider a supplement such as Burn Lab Pro, which helps increase calorie burn, improve exercise performance, promote lean gains, and help control appetite.
Final Take Home
If you take anything away from this article, be it the fact that our weight fluctuates due to numerous factors which are often out of our control.
If you are embarking on a fat loss plan, ensure you have methods of tracking in place that are more accurate and take into account everyday weight fluctuations.