Understanding Weight Fluctuations

Digital Bathroom Scale Displaying OMG Message

If you are a woman, chances are you have a love-hate relationship with the scale. Almost nothing can make us more despondent than stepping onto the scale one morning to find that we have gained three pounds overnight. But, before you punish yourself, let’s look at what may actually be happening. Most likely those extra pounds are not related to true weight gain at all.

Salt and Water

When you eat a meal high in sodium, your body will retain water to help keep your electrolytes in balance. And, yes, this can cause as much as a five-pound increase when stepping on the scale. In general, people should limit their daily sodium consumption to 2,300 milligrams daily, and people over the age of 51 or those who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, should have no more than 1,500 milligrams daily.

Glycogen and fluid

This factor has to do with our consumption of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are converted to glucose in our bodies which is then utilized by our cells for immediate energy. Any remaining glucose is stored in our muscles and liver as glycogen, and here is what you may not know—for every gram of carbohydrates that your body stores via glycogen, it stores three to four grams of water. So, yes, the scale may show an increase after that pasta meal you consumed, but it is reflecting the extra water you are storing, not true weight gain.

This also explains why people can lose weight quickly on a low carbohydrate diet. By decreasing your glycogen stores, you are releasing all the extra water. While you might like the number on the scale, it is mostly a reflection of the water you have lost.


Water also seems to be retained when hormones fluctuate around the time of menstruation. Making the situation worse, is that we also tend to indulge in salty and carbohydrate-rich foods during this time. No wonder we can feel so bloated. Be fair to yourself: this is not a good time to step on the scale.

Mid-day fluctuations

The ideal time to weigh yourself is in the morning right after you wake up and before you eat or drink anything. During the day your weight is going to fluctuate due to the volume and sodium content of your meals and beverages and whether you have had a bowel movement or not.


Our bodies are about 60-65% water, and water is critical for brain function, filtering toxins, transporting nutrients, balancing electrolytes and organ lubrication. When dehydrated, our bodies respond by increasing a hormone that signals the kidneys not to filter existing water but to reuse it until proper hydration and equilibrium is restored. So, if you are retaining water for whatever reason, don’t respond by restricting your fluid intake.

Strength Training

Have you ever experienced soreness after an intense training session? This delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the result of microscopic tears that occur in your muscle fibers when you lift weights. When these tears occur, muscles may slightly swell and retain fluid for a few days. This is a normal part of the recovery process.

So, as you can see, fluid retention seems to play a huge role in the day to day weight fluctuations we experience and has nothing to do with actual weight gain. While the scale can be a useful accountability tool during a weight loss journey, it is only one way (and probably not the best) for gauging overall progress. To keep yourself sane during the process, it is important to identify other non-scale victories. Are your clothes fitting better? Are you off medication? Are you able to engage in activities that used to be difficult or impossible? Are you happier? Overall, this journey should be about more than just the number on the scale: it should be about renewed health and quality of life.

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