What Is The Scale Trying To Tell You?

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Slow and Steady Weight LossI’m sure you’ve heard time and again that the scale doesn’t matter. (It shouldn’t.) Muscle weighs more than fat. (It doesn’t.) When you start dieting and working out, you lose fat and gain muscle so the scale won’t change. (Maybe, but it depends.)

The scale can be crazy at times, and take you on a trip that’s more up and down than the stock market. I’d venture to say that most of us aren’t immune to the panic and/or frustration that thing can cause in our day. I’ve had days where I was on top of the world and days of doom and gloom in the past, all due to a number.

I’ve gotten better in this aspect after learning more about why it is the way it is. I have an occasional moment where it makes me mad, but I’m much more able to just let it go. The more consistent you are with your eating, the more consistent the scale will be. It also greatly simplifies your day to day meal planning if you aren’t always adjusting.

Here is an interesting fact about the scale. Carbs are often vilified because of their water manipulating properties. They provide energy but they also increase the water stored in muscles. I’m referring here to all carbs – healthy or not. Bread, whole grains, fruit, corn syrup. I’m lumping them all together for this conversation.

Carbs are the macronutrient that bodybuilders manipulate when getting on stage to completely change their look for this reason. You can look very different in the mirror with no weight loss or gain at all, within a couple hours, just based on the amount of carbs you eat. Magical things, aren’t they?

The amount of water stored in your muscles reflects on the scale. This is the reason weight loss when starting a diet is greater in the first week or so, than later. Usually when you cut calories, the carbs drop and your body gets rid of water weight. After you consistently adhere to your new eating, the excess water is gone and the “real” loss begins.

The reverse is also true. Less carbs = less water, more carbs = more water even if your total calories don’t change. Keep this in mind if you have a day where you eat more or fewer carbs than usual. Let me give you a real world (AKA personal) example.

The other day I was at an 8 hour training class that involved over 2 hours of bootcamp activity. I had breakfast, lunch and snacks with me, but I underestimated the amount of exhaustion that a 44 year old body would feel after this buttkicking. Dinnertime rolled around and I was too tired to think, let alone make dinner.

The Kid and I went out and I ballparked what I ate, but the restaurant wasn’t ideal and had almost no protein choices. Pure carb heaven. I ate a HUGE amount of carbs but still around the same calories for the day that I normally eat.

The next morning the scale was up 2 1/2 pounds! If I didn’t know about the magical carbs, I’d freak out and think I’d blown it totally. I busted butt for hours and the scale went up?! I knew I blew it!… Instead I looked at the big picture and didn’t overreact.

Many people who slip up go one of two routes afterwards. 1) They cut back the next few days to make up for it which can backfire by eating too little and causing hunger, cravings, and more overeating. Or 2) Throw in the towel and eat bad for a couple days since they blew it anyway.

You don’t have to complicate things by adjusting or trying to make up for a deviation from plan. Just get back on track, no guilt, no freaking out. I returned right back to eating as usual and I didn’t adjust anything over or under to account for the different day.

The scale all week was up and down as my body adjusted with the excess water. It took the entire week and the scale returned to exactly where it was before the extra carb day. It was as if nothing had happened. If I’d reacted by adjusting every time the scale moved, it would only serve to continue the up and down cycle.

The more consistent you are with your day to day intake, the more consistent the scale will be and you’ll be better able to judge the success of your progress. If you eat differently daily, it can be a very frustrating road with you wondering if anything is working or not. You may cut your calories unnecessarily thinking that your plan is not working. It also keeps you in that evil cycle with the scale. Think of it almost like driving. Small adjustments here and there, no wild jerking of the wheel and over steering!

Slip ups and planned events like holidays are a normal part of life, but they aren’t a sign of failure. Don’t beat yourself up over a slip. Don’t turn a non-impacting slip into real damage by throwing in the towel. Finally, don’t over complicate things by trying to obsessively adjust numbers to make up for it. Simplify, move on, and save the stress. There are plenty of other things to stress about in life besides eating and the scale. 🙂

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