August 3, 2016

How is it that when you’re actively trying to lose weight, the scales don’t tell you what’s happening in your body? The ups and downs of weight loss are so erratic for many women that it’s easy to be discouraged.

Eat half a pack of chocolate biscuits and lose weight? What about having a glass of wine and gaining a kilo? Have you ever done everything right all week, only to see your weight go up?

It doesn’t make sense!

There are many factors which affect weight, including hormones, stress, sleep, bowel movements, dehydration, exercise, food intake, and gut microbiome. That said, there are some factors that are more easily controlled than others.

  1. Carbohydrate intake. If you’re on a weight loss program that calls for limits to the amount of carbohydrate you consume, a single blow out will show up on the scales. It doesn’t mean that the carbs have made you gain fat, but it does appear to delay your progress.

Carbohydrates are broken down in the body to simple sugars (eg glucose), which are either used for energy or put into storage. Most of us don’t increase our energy expenditure sufficiently after a high-carb meal, and so storage is what happens. This is where the results show on the scales: glucose is converted to glycogen for storage, and each gram of glycogen is stored with 3-4 grams of water.

The increase you see on the scales is water weight, not fat. Give it a day or two back on your lower-carb intake and the scales will be back to normal.

  1. Alcohol intake. The body has no storage mechanism for alcohol, so whenever you have a drink the alcohol must be used for energy. This sounds great, right, but not so fast. While the alcohol is being burned off, your fat stores are in hibernation.

Alcohol is dehydrating, which theoretically should make the scales tell you a nicer story. Luckily we don’t drink straight alcohol. We drink wine or champagne or beer, all of which contain water along with the alcohol. Extra water weight equals extra scale weight, even if we are running off to the loo more frequently.

Of course if your choice of drink includes liqueurs or mixers, you’ll be getting the double-whammy of alcohol and increased sugar intake.

  1. Salt intake. Suddenly increasing you salt intake – by eating salty foods that you’re unaccustomed to or by indulging in some packaged or take-away food – you’ll upset the concentration of salt in your blood. Once the body senses this imbalance, it needs more water to dilute the salt. This is how salt cause fluid retention, which of course is like standing on the scales with a full water bottle.

So these three simple factors can have a marked effect on the information the scales give you. If done rarely, your weight will go up temporarily due to increased water but come back down again quickly. But if you do it regularly, your body will become better – again – at storing fat and your weight loss efforts will be very difficult.