The Messy Reality Of Weight Change & Why It’s Not Linear
The alarm pierces the silences and wakes you in what feels like the middle of the deepest sleep you’ve ever had.
Yet you knew it was coming, you’d woken an hour earlier with the desperate urge to pee and become aware of the fact that day was breaking.
Waking like that to pee always strikes you as a betrayal or at the very least an unnecessary inconvenience.
The alarm, as it always does, was going to wake you soon anyway.
Feeling groggy and unprepared to start the day, you start searching for an excuse to stay right where you are. Failing to find one that doesn’t make you feel like shit, you drag the covers off and crawl out of bed.
Trudging off to the bathroom you pee, again, before brushing your teeth and weighing yourself.
Another sure-fire way to make you feel like shit, just like yesterday you feel the scales are conspiring against you, refusing to show you the progress you so desperately desire.
You jot it down in the hope that the weekly trend will show you something that you’re not seeing day to day, here’s to hoping…
Back in the bedroom you find yourself standing in front of the mirror, searching for signs of something the scales refuse to show you.
It’s not fair, you think to yourself as you get dressed
You’re following the “rules”, doing what you’re meant to be doing, why aren’t you getting the results?
Everything seemed to be going fine to begin with, the weight was coming off at the recommend rate and you could see and feel a difference in yourself.
But now everything seems to have stopped, it’s been days since you felt that way and you’re beginning to wonder what’s going on.
The Truth About Losing Fat & Building Muscle
As much as you might wish fat loss or muscle gain was a neat, tidy and linear process, it’s not!
It’s messy and untidy.
It doesn’t always look how you’d expect or behave in the way you anticipate.
Your weight will fluctuate from one day to the next, often causing you to believe you’re not making progress even when you are.
One day things can appear to be right on track and then the next you seem to have stalled as your weight refuses to budge, or worse you appear to have taken 2 steps backwards.
At times the scales can indicate positive progress whilst the mirror disagrees, and you’re left wondering “what gives?”
It’s a sensible question too, why if you’re working so hard are you not seeing the results you want on a day-to-day basis?
It’s not fair, right?!
How can your weight fluctuate so regularly or not seem to move at all?
Where does this leave you in the pursuit of your goal?
Why Your Weight Can Vary So Much From Day To Day
Weight change is the result of manipulating the energy balance equation for your desired result.
However, there are several factors which come into play in determining what you see on a day to day basis when looking for physical changes i.e. how you look in the mirror, measurements you’ve taken or weight on the scale.
To recap, the energy balance dictates that:
To lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume
To maintain weight you must burn and consume calories in equal amounts
To gain weight you must burn less calories than you consume
What this means is, to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit and to gain weight you need to be in a calorie surplus.
When it comes to losing fat or building muscle your macronutrient breakdown and training become defining factors in facilitating these changes.
However, even if you are doing this all correctly the chances are you won’t see the steady changes you expect.
Now, before you go panicking and drastically changing your calorie intake or training plan you must be aware that all of the following factors come into play to determine what you see day to day.
Sodium & Fluid Retention
Fluid retention can make a big difference in your scale weight and is particularly common if you’ve eaten a meal high in salt as fluids in your body will increase to help remove the excess sodium.
Don’t be alarmed if you’re bloated and weigh more the morning after a big dinner. It’s only temporary and as you lose the fluid you’ll lose the additional weight.
Food Intake & Digestion
Undigested food can add weight to the scales and is the reason that you’ll always weigh more at the end of the day compared to the beginning. This is also the reason you should weight yourself first thing in the morning after using the toilet and before eating or drinking anything.
Constipation or lack of a bowel movement can add weight to the scales, if you haven’t had a bowel movement for a day or two do not be surprised if you are a couple of pounds heavier on the scale.
Exercise & Dehydration
Just as an increase in fluid will increase your weight temporarily, the loss of fluid through exercise will decrease your weight temporarily. Make sure you always rehydrate after exercise to avoid a discrepancy on the scale.
The clothes you wear will obviously change the weight you see on the scales, which again emphasises the importance of weighting yourself in the same conditions every day. In your underwear is best but if you want to wear shorts, then make sure you’re wearing shorts every time.
How Fast Should You Expect To Lose Or Gain Weight?
In a purely practical sense you could lose or gain weight at vastly accelerated rates. However, in the pursuit of good health, improved fitness and ideal aesthetics I would strongly advise against this.
Within the fitness industry it is widely accepted that you should not try to lose weight faster than 1 -2 lbs per week nor should you try to gain muscle faster than 0.5 – 1 lb per week.
This is for good reason!
If you try to lose weight faster than 1 – 2 lbs a week you will risk losing a disproportion amount of your hard-earned muscle mass along with the fat you lose, this will lead to a reduction in strength and lean mass and result in subpar aesthetics once you’ve reached your desired weight.
Equally, if you try to gain weight faster than 0.5 – 1 lb per week, you’ll find that any additional weight gained is stored as fat as your body can only build so much muscle at a time.
In this instance more is not better, more is just fatter.
If you take it slow and steady not only will you minimise fat gain, you’ll also look a lot better even as you get heavier and will be able to spend less time losing fat further down the line.
Ensuring you make these changes requires that you take daily measurements to track a few key statistics, along with weekly and monthly progress checks to ensure you’re on track.
The Best Ways To Track Your Progress
When it comes to changing your body it’s very important to track your progress closely to ensure you’re adhering to the recommend weekly changes in weight.
In my opinion, there are 3 stats which provide the most benefit for this purpose.
1. Daily Weight & Weekly Average
As we’ve already discussed your weight can either stay constant or fluctuate daily, rarely will it ever show steady linear progress.
By weight yourself and making a note daily you can take a weekly average to get a better overall picture of how you’re doing week on week.
Maybe day to day it doesn’t look like your losing weight but when you look at the weekly average compared to the week before you see that you are.
Weighting yourself like this allows you to know exactly how you’re progressing towards your goal and gives you the information you need to make informed decisions on any changes you may need to make.
2. Monthly Body Measurements
Progress is incremental and when you’re looking at yourself everyday it can be hard to see the changes that are happening to your body. Therefore, it’s important to take and record measurements every month to get a better idea of how you’re progressing.
Recommended measurements are;
Arms – Relaxed & Flexed
Thighs – Relaxed & Flexed
At the minimum you must be measuring your waist every month to track any changes. If you’re losing weight you should see it steadily go down and if you’re gaining weight it should either maintain or slowly increase.
3. Monthly Photos
As we mentioned above it can be very difficult to remain objective when you look at yourself daily, not to mention the fact you’ll look different in the morning to how you do after a workout and again to how you do at the end of the day before bed.
This is where photos come in.
By taking photos of yourself in a variety of poses you can get a side by side comparison of how you looked month to month. This gives you instant visual feedback and often you’ll find you’ve come further than you thought you had.
Think about it, it’s incredibly difficult to remember how you looked last week, let alone last month. In my experience, trying to compare your progress day to day, week to week or month to month by memory only leads to disappointment. If this describes you right now, then stop!
Take topless photos or photos in just your underwear from the front, back and side and aim to do the same each month using the same lighting and camera each time.
When it comes to tracking your progress, you need to measure your results over time, this allows you to use the data you’ve gathered (weight, measurements & photos) to get a realistic picture of your progress.
The secret is to step back and look at the bigger picture and not put too much stock in the day to day, because as your about to see, numerous factors come into play with how much you weight and how you look on a day to day basis.
In the end weight change can be frustrating and infuriating if you concentrate only on the day to day changes.
Remember, weigh change is not going to be neat, tidy or linear. However, you can be safe in the knowledge that if you do what you need to do daily then you’ll reap the rewards in the following weeks and months.
To help you see this you should track a few key statistics;
Daily scale weight to get a weekly average
Monthly measurements of multiple body parts
Monthly photos in a variety of poses
Remember that fitness is an incremental endeavour, with all the daily and weekly action resulting in dramatic changes further down the line. It’s not uncommon for your weight to appear to be stuck in place before suddenly changing in an instant, this can be due to a few circumstances;
Sodium & fluid retention
Food intake & digestion
Exercise & dehydration
Weight change and in particular weight loss can seem magical at times, it can feel and look like nothing is happening and then out of nowhere changes will appear overnight.
Remain consistent in your efforts and I promise you will be rewarded.