View all blog posts
There's a number of reasons why people fail on a health and fitness journey and give in to the mental challenges that the process delivers. One major factor that can make or break your adherence, attitude and mindset is THE SCALES. A simple step on the scales and an expectation not being met, disappointment or disheartenment can cause an immediate deviation and deflation justifying throwing in the towel. When health and fitness professionals say that you can't always rely on the scales, there is a lot of truth in this from a scientific perspective given the number of factors that affect the number on the scale that aren't fat gain or fat loss related.

Here's why the scales may fluctuate and not show you what you want to see, it's why you should continually have a realistic perspective and understanding of this throughout your journey so you don't get disheartened. 

Our Equalution client Robert, down 15kgs with a complete change in body composition. This was achieved through independently selecting foods of his choice meeting our strategised macronutrient and micronutrient intake requirements set on a weekly basis according to her progress and goals.  

1. That time of the month

Some women retain fluid before menstruation and significantly during the week of their period. This shows up as weight gain on the scales, but it is a fluid gain, not a fat gain. It's common for females during this time of the month to gain anywhere from 0.25-2.5kgs which should not be mistaken for weight gain.

2. Hormones

On the above note, hormones particularly related to causes such as menstruation, menopause, stress (cortisol levels) can cause fluid retention which again should not be confused for fat gain and deter you from the process.

3. Water intake

Dehydration can cause your body to hold water and as a result, the retention can lead to an increase on the scales. The rule of thumb is 1L per 20kgs of body weight, if you're under this intake by a considerable amount daily you could be running the risk of dehydration effects which means your body is holding onto water.

4. Dining out/High sodium

The day after a dine-out meal it is normal to feel a bit bloated and fluffy despite not blowing out. This is largely due to the high sodium content of dine-out meals which can cause your body to retain fluid and appear heavier on the scales. The same can be said for significant fluctuations in your sodium intake daily. If one day your sodium is sitting at 2000mg and then the next it spikes to 5000mg then your body is likely going to retain water the following day as a result of the significant fluctuation. The best method of assisting with water retention in this case is through upping your water intake.

women working out

5. Training

Regular exercise, particularly resistance training with weights or bodyweight, leads to increases in your muscle density and weight. This doesn't necessarily mean you're 'gaining muscle' while losing body fat as in a calorie deficit growing while you're shrinking is contradictory but it just means your muscle density has increased post work out largely with fluid.

This commonly balances out by a loss of body fat so that overall the scales register a weight loss however if the weight loss is minimal or almost non-existent training could be the cause. The best way to distinguish between fat loss and muscle gain is to take your body measurements. If they continue to go down, particularly your waist measurement, this indicates loss of body fat.

6. Glycogen

Glycogen is a form of glucose that your body stores in the muscles and liver. It's your main fuel for exercise and physical activity, just like petrol to a car. Glycogen is packed into the muscle cells with water: 3g of water to 1g of glycogen. If you drastically cut your carbohydrate intake then you use up this stored muscle glycogen and water.

Note: this is not a fat loss acceleration in fact it does more harm than good.

Initially it will register as a significant weight loss on the scales, however this is NOT fat loss and isn't physically favourable or will indicate your body is changing - its fools gold results. Unfortunately, without glycogen you won’t have any energy and can feel lethargic which is why low carb, keto and paleo diets commonly fail together with being highly restrictive. Then as soon as you begin eating carbohydrates again, the glycogen and water levels in your muscles will replenish and the scales go up.

7. Time of the day and bowel movements

The time of day you weigh yourself will largely vary your weight. If you're weighing at night after a day's worth of food and water then it's expected this will show on the scales and there will be an increase from the previous day and/of that morning. The most accurate way to weigh in (mindful of all these factors that can impact accuracy) is first thing in the morning on an empty stomach after a good nights sleep and a bowel movement. On this note, if you haven't been to the bathroom or are having troubles going to the bathroom this can show on the scales given your body hasn't been able to rid the waste. Ensure your fibre intake is at the recommended 15g per 1000 calories and your water intake also above the 1L per 20kg recommendation for optimum bowel function.

woman on scales

8. Lack of sleep

Lack of sleep is also another major cause of water retention. If you've had a disrupted sleep or not enough hours at night then you can expect to potentially feel and be heavier on the scales the following day. Try going to be bed early and aiming for 8 hours of sleep a night, if you find you're having trouble going to sleep give switching off all electronic devices prior to bedtime and winding down a go.

9. Your scales

Your scales could be faulty or if you're using different sets of scales then your weight can vary from scale to scale, so, don’t expect your weight to be exactly the same if you’re weighing yourself somewhere else. For the most accurate and consistent results, weigh yourself at the same time of the day on the same set of scales. Keep a log of your body measurements which can provide an additional indication of your fat loss progress. If you find your weight isn't shifting at some point or another but your measurements are decreasing, you can take comfort and peace of mind in the fact you're on track and heading in the right direction.

Note: scales which have a body fat percentage and muscle reading are also highly inaccurate so don't rely on that either, like body fat callipers it's not at all an accurate way to gather your body fat percentage.

10. Miscalculations/Binges and Blowouts

So you think you're in a calorie deficit, perhaps not? If you're miscalculating food, picking, having binges or blowouts you could be increasing your daily intake and counteracting your calorie deficit so alas the scales may not be lying but you could in fact be gaining weight! While the scales aren't always 100% accurate and valid often they aren't a complete bluff when it comes to your body transformation and may indicate issues in your diet if none of the above factors weigh into the equation of lack of movement.

In turn, address your diet - ensure your entries are accurate (nutritional info on some products do change - don't rely on old entries), use verified entries in a calorie counting tool (remember most of these tools have used generated databases), and be honest as to your adherence to address any poor habits that could be affecting your fat loss.

On this note, ensure you're engaging with a professional in the initial phase of your transformation to assist with putting you on the right calorie intake for your body and goals. An intake too high or too low can affect your results.

In turn, the scale should not make or break your commitment to your journey. Particularly given the many factors that affect the number you see listed above. As mentioned, the scale has some validation, however depending on your starting point and goal there are also countless transformations that show a significant shift in body composition and large physical change but little movement on the scale.

Also, have real expectations. The variation person to person in a reasonable amount to lose significantly varies and is also limited by the science of fat loss - fat can only drop at a certain pace, anything drastic is usually unfavourable physically and will just be water and muscle.

Don't be defined by a number! Hot tip: weigh-in once a week rather than daily.