Why Does the Scale Sometimes Go UP When You’re DIETING?

Ever stepped on the scale when you’re doing most everything right, only to find that it goes UP!? What’s going on?

If you gain weight while even barely following a healthy-eating routine — there’s good news. You are gaining water weight, not fat. In fact, to gain even one pound of fat, you need to eat an extra 3,500 calories on TOP of your maintenance intake.

Read that again. You would need to pig out for an entire week straight to gain just 1 or 2 lbs pounds of fat.

Simply put: You’re not gaining fat unless you’re completely off the wagon, and you’ve lit it on fire.

Remember, weight loss isn’t linear

If you’re doing everything right, fat-burn will be fairly linear. (You’ll steadily burn 1 to 2 pounds a week of fat, like clock-work). But that doesn’t mean the scale will show you 1 to 2 pounds a week of loss. The Whoosh Effect (definitely click that link to read how it works) means that the weight will come off in big chunks, rather than at steady intervals! You might even go 2 or 3 weeks without seeing the scale move, even though your body is steadily burning fat.

In other words, the number on the scale is in no way related to how much fat you’ve burned!

What causes water-weight gain?

EVERYTHING! Water-weight fluctuations are a completely normal part of how your body self-regulates. That said, here’s a list of things that are known to cause major water weight increases (no kidding.. some of these things can cause the scale to go up anywhere from 2 to 10lbs in a single day).

  • Eating foods that are high in sodium: (e.g. pickles, beef jerky, almost all Asian food, etc.)
  • Your female monthly cycle: (Check out this podcast we did on this topic — it will blow your mind!)
  • Flying: Yup. I know one person who gained 15lbs in one day JUST from sitting on an airplane for 12 hours.
  • Long drives: (e.g.coming home from vacation)
  • Harder than usual workouts: Sweating a lot causes an electrolyte imbalance, and your body responds by holding on to water.
  • Minor dehydration: (e.g. going hiking without proper electrolytes)
  • Sore muscles: (Many people go to the gym a few times, see a 3 to 5 pound GAIN on the scale, and freak out!)
  • Starting a new workout routine (See above).
  • Under-sleeping
  • Over-sleeping
  • Being sick
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Changing medications
  • Eating more sugar/carbs than normal (Yup. You can gain 5lbs from eating a 2oz treat).
  • Eating more food than normal (e.g. cheat meal). This one often causes people to go into a cycle of chronic under-eating, as they believe that the increase on the scale they see from eating a normal amount of food is actually fat. It’s not.

If you just did any of these things, and the scale went up, it’s important to remember that YOU DID NOT GAIN FAT.

If I gained weight, does that mean I’m not burning fat?

No. Water-weight-gain actually HIDES fat-burn. In other words, if you only weigh once a week, you might have burned 2lbs of fat during the week, but eating a high-sodium meal the previous day might cause you to gain 5lbs of water weight.

The above scenario means that when you step on the scale for your weekly weigh-in, you see a 3-pound gain even though you actually LOST 2 pounds of fat.

What should you do about it?

Nothing. The water-weight will fall off over the course of a few days. (Weigh yourself each morning to see it, it’s kind of cool). However, sometimes an electrolyte supplement (sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium), or simply drinking more water, can help your body restore balance.

One thing you can do to help deal with the fluctuations better (at least mentally) is to weigh yourself every day, instead of every week. While it’s far from a perfect solution, you’ll have a higher resolution view into the changes on the scale and a better sense of what’s causing them.

Learning how your body responds to the things in the list above is an important part of developing a healthy relationship with your weight. “I’m going to do this, and I know it will cause the scale to jump, and that’s okay.”

One final comment on water weight: avoid taking water-pills to deal with the problem. Your body will adapt to these, and when you stop taking them, you’ll see a huge pop on the scale that you won’t be able to handle. Water pills are a temporary solution to a problem that can have long-lasting effects on your kidneys and lead to an addiction cycle that’s hard to break away from.