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5 Reasons why one should not step on the scale when dieting

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How do you know you're losing weight? Do you feel lighter? Notice changes in the way clothes fit? Getting compliments from other people?  Or do you believe you are losing weight only when you weigh yourself and see the numbers drop down?

Do the numbers on the scale always tell the truth? Do the numbers on the scale always reflect changes in adipose tissue? Why shouldn't we rely only on the numbers of the home scale to get permission when losing fat? The reason is that the number on the scale does not always give us the correct data on the amount of fat in our bodies. Higher body weight may express other physiological data, and wouldn't give us the reinforcement we seek to validate the feeling that we were losing fat.

When does weight not reflect the real changes in the amount of fat?

1) Hormonal changes - in women, in the days before the menstrual cycle there could be an increase of 1-3 kg (2-6 pounds) in weight due to hormonal changes that can lead to fluid stored. Over the course of the period, the fluids gradually disperse and the body weight returns to the true state. Among some women weight gain can be a week before menstruation and in others 1-2 days before menstruation. Each woman needs to know herself and to avoid worrying about changes on the scale before or during the menstrual cycle because even if you did lose weight you wouldn't be able to see it on the scale.

2) Starting to exercise – in the early training (1-2 weeks), we do not build muscle, because it is a process that takes many months or even years of training, but there are some adaptive processes that occur in the body following the start of the training that might cause us to accumulate fluid and actually be much more heavy. The frustration from the weight may be especially great because we invested time and efforts and we started exercising, and look forward to decreases on the scale instead of increases. It is therefore important to avoid weighing in urgent times at the beginning of training. "Listen" to the changes in your clothes and don't look for a big change in the numbers of the weight (you could even gain weight in the beginning…).

3) Muscle building - when we are in a long period of continuous training, especially training combining strength training and increase muscle mass, the body weight may rise despite the fats percentage may go down and we feel much more slender. It is important to understand that muscle tissue weighs 3 times more than fat tissue! So, you could feel that you are losing weight but the numbers on the scale will remain constant or even rise. In these cases, do not rely on the measurement of weight! Measure the body fat percentages for reliable feedback.

4) Fluid retention following foods -
most people weigh themselves in the morning, the time when they hope to be the thinnest. But what happens if the night before you eat foods rich in sodium (salt)? For some people, eating a high amount of sodium can affect the body weight and cause accumulation of fluid affecting the next morning’s weighing. For example, eating sushi or Asian-style stir fried food the night before could cause fluid retention due to the high amount of sodium in the soy sauce and / or monosodium - glutamate (MSG) that could be added to the food in the restaurants. Even dough (breads, rolls, pasta, muffin etc.) may cause some people to gain weight due to water retention. Eating a lot of carbohydrates, like breads and pasta in particular, can cause swelling and fluid retention in the body during the next day. This problem is known especially among athletes that tend to eat "big pasta dinner" night before the big competition and may get up in the morning weighing 2-3 kg (4-6 pounds) more.

5)  Meats - meats are heavy foods require long digestion periods. Beef, for example, takes 8 hours to be fully digested. That means eating a juicy stake in the evening may influence the morning weighing. Also, evening weighing after eating meat at lunch could affect the weight equally. So, if you eat a heavy meal, maybe you should give up weighing over the next day. Give your body time to digest before you place it face to face with the numbers on the scale.


Important note - the effects of food on the scale do not occur in the same way for everyone. Some people are more sensitive to the issue of sodium in food, others feel bloated after pasta and/or eating carbohydrates. Weight changes following the foods you eat may be initially detectable or negligible, but could be bigger with advancing age. Yes, as you get older your body may change the rate of digestion and metabolism. It is therefore important to be vigilant and check what kinds of foods affect you more than others, in the context of swelling, fluid retention and weight gain.

Summary and Conclusions

Relying on home scale numbers may not give us the full picture when we lose weight and burn fat in a dieting process. Listen to the changes in your clothing and the compliments from people (those you trust…), and do not weight yourself more than once a week. Weighing every day could express what you had for the previous or last meal, and not the condition of your true weight. Combining body weight with measurements of body fat percentage could give you a better understanding about the relationship between adipose tissue, muscle tissue and your satiation. Thus, weight gains or remaining at the same weight, even though you feel you should be losing weight, will not lead to frustration because you will realize that the body continues to decrease in fat tissue, even if it is not yet reflected in the numbers on the scale.


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