what the number on the scale really means

Thanksgiving weekend came and went and now that the new week is here, you probably hit the scale with that familiar ‘ugh’.

You can’t believe you gained five pounds.You didn’t even eat all that much! You thought it would take more food than that to start gaining weight. So depressing.

Hang on a minute – that can’t be right! 

What IS actually happening every day when you step on the scale and you see a fluctuation that doesn’t make sense?

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We all know that it takes 3500 stored calories to equal one pound of fat. Chances are, you didn’t eat enough to push you over the limit of 17,500 calories or a five-pound weight gain! But what we have to remember is that the scale doesn’t tell us everything!  It doesn’t let us know our body fat percentage, or how much muscle we have.  In fact, the only really good thing the scale does perfectly is tell us the numerical value our gravitational pull…. and that could be from a lot of different things.

So what is the holiday weight change from, if it’s not fat?

Salt.  Did you eat loads of foods you typically stay away from? Processed foods and store-bought goodies can be loaded with additional sodium for preservation. This can cause all sorts of mayhem on your body including the holding of excess water.  Your face can look puffy, your jeans feel tight and even can cause noticeable effects in your hands and fingers.  If you ate some foods you normally don’t, you could have gained some gravitational pull from the water.

Carbs.  I always am telling my nutrition clients, after a holiday or ‘refeed’ day (where we increase our carbs) that it will take a few days after to see their weight stabilize.  When we eat carbohydrates, things like rolls, sweet potato pie and crackers with our cheese, our bodies will hang on to water, causing that puff again and more importantly, storing those extra carbs in our liver and muscles for later.  This is actually why carbs are so great, if we are competing in an endurance event or work a physically demanding job, you need a way to store additional energy for later. 

Our bodies are super efficient and smart and in order to save for the future, the extra carbs are stored as glycogen mainly in our livers and muscles. How much we store depends on our size and our body fat percentage, among other things, but you can count on around 100g in our liver and anywhere from 350-800g in those muscles.

So what does that mean if our stores have been low and we’ve been watching our carbohydrate intake before Thanksgiving at grandmas?  Well, that means there is more room to store. Think of it like a drawer that was only 25% full.  Your weight was based on that percentage, so when you add the additional 75% to the drawer, you have a big increase!  Each gram of glycogen can hold 3-4x their amount in water so if you have a 75%increase in glycogen (assuming your body can hold 800g), that could be 5.3 pounds just in water weight!

Alcohol.  Did you drink over the holiday?  Chances are, if you were boozin’ you were dehydrating yourself as well.  Every time we drink, not only do we slow down the processes in our body in regards to our metabolism, but we increase the speed in which we … er… eliminate.  Not just urine. Drinking can cause an increase in our poo too, cleaning your system right out.  Depending on your size, this can be several pounds of poo. So if you drank, chances are you are a bit dehydrated and emptied out and that will affect the scale.

Hormones.  Ladies, you know the change in your hormones can make you hold water and feel bloated. A change in hormones can cause a change in the amount of water being held in our cells and that can affect the scale.  Remember we have a huge amount of fluid in our bodies, and about a week before your period, your progesterone levels fall.  That drop causes our kidneys to release LESS urine into our bladders, making us hold more water and feel uncomfortable… and gain weight.

So don’t despair!  Know that your weight gain is typically not what you think it is.  The better option is to watch the scale every day and look for trends.  You will see, over a week or two, that you are trending up, staying the same, or trending down by looking at your average.

Stay the course through the holiday, enjoy those little times when you are celebrating and don’t stress the scale!  If you want to learn some more and stay on track, you can always join in on The Four Week Push!  It’s Free and I had so much interest, I decided to keep it open so others could join in and stay on track at any time of the year! Click Here to join in!











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