How about this? You’ve worked super hard to be in killer shape for your beach vacation. You’re gone for a week where you eat out a lot, maybe have a little extra ice cream, but overall you’ve been reasonable. The first morning back you weigh in 5 or 6 pounds heavier…but it was only ONE week!
How about the flip side? You’ve been out of control with your eating. Cookies for breakfast, cereal for dinner. And lunch? Oh yeah, you knew you were missing something. The bad behaviors are really catching up to you and you decide you are cutting the junk, going cold turkey on all things bad, and only filling your body with nutritious foods. You do this for 2 days and just have to weigh in! 4 pounds down! WOW! You feel incredible. In one week you lose 7 pounds and think you have found some sort of miracle. In the weeks to come you find that it really starts to slow down though, and suddenly you’re losing .5 pound, or nothing at all for a week. What gives?
Maybe you don’t fit in to these scenarios exactly (personally I’ve been through all 3), but for many of us the scale goes up and down with shocking regularity and it can be incredibly discouraging. But here’s what we want you to know: weight fluctuations are NORMAL!
It is nearly impossible that you ‘gained’ 3 pounds overnight. One pound has 3,500 calories, so for that to be a true weight gain, you would have consumed 10,500 calories that your body did not use. In one day. Highly unlikely. But what is likely is that a restaurant used more salt on your grilled chicken than you use at home, and salt helps your body to retain water. Water retention can add those pounds despite its calorie free status. What is likely is that on your vacation you consumed more carbohydrates as you grabbed more convenience foods, which in conjunction with a higher calorie load, can lead to a startling leap in the number on the scale, with (again!) water being a huge part of the equation. On the other hand, if you suddenly drop your processed foods in favor of whole fresh foods, your body can shed a great deal of water in a short period of time too, but eventually you will reach an equilibrium because as we know, water is crucial for our bodies to function. Also, don’t use water retention as an excuse to drink less water! Research shows that drinking more water actually reduces retention; if your body thinks it’s not getting enough water it will hold on to everything it’s got.
In many ways, these scenarios are just mind games. Most people have an internal ‘set point’ for their weight and they have to develop certain habits to push that point up or down permanently. Personally, I know exactly what I can do to drop 5 pounds in a week, give me 1 day not following those behaviors and I’ve jumped back to my set point. I can gain 5 pounds at the beach, but give me a couple days back to my usual eating habits and I’m back to that same point.
Hormones, foods you eat, spices used, stress levels, what side of the bed you woke up on, etc., all play a huge role in when and how much your weight fluctuates. So what can you do to beat this mind game? First step is just realizing that some fluctuation is normal, so please don’t stress out at every little blip on the scale. Second, be consistent with your health and nutrition for the long haul. You can’t just commit to 3 months of a healthy lifestyle and expect your weight to stay the same if you go back to your old habits. Developing a healthy lifestyle that includes the occasional treat and a variety of foods will keep your weight steady, and help your mind adjust to these fluctuations. Don‘t weigh yourself daily if you can’t take the ups and downs. Once a week or even every other is plenty to make sure your weight loss or maintenance efforts are staying on course. Finally, pay attention to your body. Over time you will start to recognize what foods and drinks cause fluctuations, and if you have them you’ll know to expect some temporary changes. Journaling what you eat, when you eat, and how you feel about what you ate, can be a great way to get in touch with your natural ups and downs.
***Please note that extreme and sudden weight loss or weight gain can be a sign of serious medical conditions. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.