How do you know if you're losing weight? Do you feel lighter? Notice changes in the way your clothes fit? Do you get compliments? Or do you believe you are losing weight only when you weigh yourself and see the numbers go down?
Do the numbers on the scale always tell the truth and reflect changes in adipose tissue (fat)? Why shouldn't we rely only on the scale's numbers to get feedback when losing fat? The reason is the numbers on the scale do not always give us the correct data on the amount of fat in our bodies. Higher body weight may reflect other physiological data, and wouldn't help us validate the feeling that we are losing fat.
When does weight not reflect the real changes in our amount of fat?
1) Hormonal changes - In the days before the menstrual cycle, women can experience an increase of 1-3 kg (2-6 pounds) due to hormonal changes that can lead to stored fluids. Over the course of the period, the fluids gradually disperse and the body weight returns to normal. Among some women, extra pounds can show up a week before menstruation, and in others one to two days before menstruation. Each woman needs to know herself and avoid worrying about changes on the scale before or during the menstrual cycle. Even if you lost weight during that time, you wouldn't likely see it on the scale.
2) Starting an exercise routine – In the early training (1-2 weeks), we do not build muscle. That process takes many months or even years of training, but there are some adaptive processes that occur following the start of the training. This can cause us to accumulate fluid and actually be much more heavy. Frustration from weight gain may be especially high because we invest time and effort when we start exercising, looking forward to decreases on the scale instead of increases. It is important to avoid weighing at the beginning of training. "Read" the changes in your clothes and don't look for a big change in the numbers on the scale (you may even gain weight in the beginning…).
3) Muscle building - When we are in a long period of continuous training, especially when it combines strength training and increased muscle mass, the body's weight may rise despite our fat percentage going down and our body feeling more slender. It is important to understand that muscle tissue weighs three times more than fat tissue! So, you could feel like you are losing weight but the numbers on the scale may remain constant or even rise. In these cases, do not rely on your scale! Instead, measure the body fat percentage for reliable feedback.
4) Fluid retention from certain foods - Most people weigh themselves in the morning, the time when they hope to be their thinnest. But what happens if the night before you eat foods rich in sodium (salt)? For some people, eating a high amount of sodium can affect the body’s weight and cause accumulation of fluid affecting the next morning’s weigh-in.
For example, eating sushi or Asian-style stir fried food the night before can cause fluid retention due to the high amount of sodium in the soy sauce and/or monosodium glutamate (MSG) found in some restaurants.
Even dough (breads, rolls, pasta, muffins, etc.) may cause some people to gain weight due to water retention. Eating a lot of carbohydrates, like breads and pasta, can cause swelling and fluid retention in the body the next day. This problem is known especially among athletes who tend to eat a "big pasta dinner" the night before a competition and wake up in the morning 2-3 kg (4-6 pounds) heavier.
5) Meats - Meats are heavy foods that require long digestion periods. Beef, for example, takes eight hours to fully digest. That means eating a juicy steak in the evening may influence the morning weigh-in. Also, evening weighing after eating meat at lunch could affect your weight. So, if you eat a heavy meal, maybe you should give up weighing over the next day. Give your body time to digest before you place it face-to-face with the numbers on the scale.
Important note - The effects of food on the scale do not occur in the same way for everyone. Some people are more sensitive to sodium in food, others feel bloated after pasta and/or carbohydrates. Weight changes following food consumption may be initially undetectable or negligible, but may grow with age. As you get older, your body may change its rate of digestion and metabolism. It is therefore important to be vigilant and check what kinds of foods cause you swelling, fluid retention and weight gain.