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 Weight Change
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.
Your weight will fluctuate from one day to the next, often causing you to believe you’re not making progress even when you are. It doesn’t always look how you’d expect or behave in the way you anticipate.
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? How can your weight fluctuate so regularly or not seem to move at all and 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 energy balance for your desired result. 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
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 Lose/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 a skinny-fat look 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.
Beware Stalls, Whooshes & Weight Fluctuation
It’s not uncommon to see seemingly random increases and decreases in weight when dieting. This is particularly true for those who have started a new diet, stopped dieting or recently increased carbohydrate intake.
These changes, also referred to as stalls and whooshes, often occur as the result of a change in the amount of water your body is holding.
Both an increase in carbohydrate and high stress levels can cause the body to hold onto more water than normal which can give the impression of rapid weight gain, up to 10 lbs in some cases. This is because 1g of glycogen (what carbs become when processed by your body) can hold 3g of water.
Given that muscles are 70 – 80% water you can see how a sudden change in carbohydrate intake can result in an increase of water retention and therefore scale weight. As for stress it increases a hormone called cortisol which in turn increases a hormone called ADH which controls water balance. (1, 2, 3)
Weight gain due to water retention often sorts itself out in a week or 2 and results in a whoosh of weight loss where you can lose the same amount you gain overnight.
Stalls although similar in cause are when your weight on the scale stays constant due to increased water retention, giving the appearance of stalled weight loss. This typically lasts for a week or two before the weight comes off all in one go.
Provided you’re sticking to your calories and macros this is nothing to worry about and a normal part of dieting.
How to Accurately 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.
Weight Yourself Daily & Take A 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.
Record 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.
Take 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.
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.
In the end weight change can be frustrating and infuriating if you concentrate only on the day to day changes.
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.
Remember that fitness is an incremental endeavour, with all the daily and weekly action resulting in dramatic changes further down the line.
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.