6 Reasons to Not Step On a Scale

Most of you know that I don’t use weight as a measure to determine health/fitness success.  In fact, it’s not something I let people focus on when they are training with me.  The seemingly unsatisfying quest to hit a goal weight can hurt more than help.  For females in particular, the scale fluctuates from week to week, sometimes between 1 to 5 pounds or more.  And, that fluctuation exists regardless of whether you are “in shape” or not.  The scale could show a higher number because of hormonal changes, exercise, carbohydrates, sodium increase, emotional and physical stress and sleep deprivation.

Hormonal changes - Could come from your menstrual cycle or from sleep deprivation both of which increases insulin production.  You feel hungry even if you aren't.  And, you don't feel satisfied when you do eat, which makes you hungrier! 

Exercise - Exercise programs can add more weight to your frame by increasing muscle mass and muscle density. Use a scale or find a provider that can give you a body scan to determine total fat vs total muscle.  A solid exercise program will help decrease overall fat stores while increasing muscle.  Also, intense exercise can cause tears in your muscles which release intracellular fluid (your body’s way of naturally repairing those tears). This fluid is equivalent to water weight but shows as inflammation - primarily in those muscles that have been beaten up.  For this, just let your body do its thing.  You really cannot speed up the healing process so just accept the inflammation and additional water retention.  The inflammation should decrease within a few days bringing your weight and overall size back down.    

Carbohydrates- An imbalance of carbohydrates (low for a couple of days, then high, then low again) can cause water retention. Stabilization of carbohydrate intake or matching carbohydrate to activity can decrease this fluctuation. Don't forget that carbohydrates come from sugar, bread, wine and beer.  Track your food using an app such as MyFitnessPal to identify patterns or work with my DietDoc nutrition partner, Shannon to eliminate this fluctuation. 

Sodium increase - A meal (or many meals) high in sodium can cause fluid retention. We’re talking fried foods or super salty dishes.  Increase water intake and balance out sodium intake on a daily basis. 

Mental/Emotional and Physical Stress -Yuck! Stress and the result of stress, a hormone called cortisol, is nasty.  Stress can come from work stress, lack of sleep, relationship stress, nutrition that is all over the place and an exercise program that is too much, too soon.  Stress causes your “adrenal glands [ to ] release [ a ] hormone called cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. Once a stressful episode is over, cortisol levels should fall, but if the stress doesn't go away — or if a person's stress response gets stuck in the "on" position — cortisol may stay elevated.” (Maglione-Garves, Kravitz, Schneider)

For those folks who are already holding onto extra weight around their midsection, there’s a bit more work involved - “deep abdominal fat has greater blood flow and four times more cortisol receptors compared to subcutaneous fat (8). This may also increase cortisol’s fat accumulating and fat cell size enlarging effect.”  (Maglione-Garves, Kravitz, Schneider)  This means that larger midsection area can actually create more cortisol at a faster rate than a smaller midsection.


For my clients who want body composition changes, I let them know that the gut is the last place to decrease in size and the first place they'll gain weight back.  Not only does stress do a number on your body, it is a menace to your brain. Stress breaks down your ability to feel good and can kill cognition making you unable to think clearly which can potentially negatively impact you at work and in your every day life.  Exercising, therapy, taking time for yourself, resolving tough stressful situations, eating well, meditation and so many other things can help bring down stress and decrease cortisol.

Sleep Deprivation -  Sleep is not just a nap between crazy days.  It’s a time for our bodies to do a TON of natural stuff that can either keep us going or shut us down.  7-9 hours of sleep nightly is recommended for adults. A study on effects of insulin due to sleep deprivation has found that just one night of little sleep can create a huge mess.  “Our study suggests that one night of total sleep deprivation may be as detrimental to insulin sensitivity as six months on a high-fat diet,” said study author Josaine Broussard, PhD. “This research demonstrates the importance of adequate sleep in maintaining blood sugar levels and reducing risk for metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes.” (Fennell)  “Lack of sleep can lead to a range of cognitive, attention, and emotional deficits. ... Sleep deficits have also been linked to the development of some chronic conditions, including diabetes, depression, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.” (Coughlan)  And, lack of sleep puts you at risk for developing a variety of dementias.  A study by Michele Bellesi of the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy,is researching how a brain can actually eat itself due to lack of sleep.  Eat itself!? Are you getting it yet?  SLEEP.  Oh, and, don’t forget that lack of sleep is stressful...here comes cortisol.  SLEEP for 7-9 hours every night.  If you can’t find the time to sleep, chances are you probably have too much going on and are stressed out.  And, if you’re stressed out AND not sleeping adequately, you’re even MORE stressed out.  This statement is a big deal so, I’ll repeat it.  Making the choice to only sleep a few hours a night puts you at a higher risk for depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease.

So, weight gain or fluctuations in weight come from a variety of sources - both positive and negative.  I don’t step on a scale unless I absolutely have to.  My metric is checking in with how clothes fit me.  If my pants are now too tight in my quads area, it’s probably from a tough workout.  If my belt is too tight, it may be because my period is coming or I didn’t sleep great last night or ate like crap, etc.  If I’m sore, inflamed and tired, it may be my new exercise program - time to slow it down.  If everything is inflamed, that’s probably nutrition and lack of sleep. Time to get some help with my eating and get to bed earlier.  

Let’s use these metrics to determine if you’re on a path towards a healthier you:

Smaller clothing size

Better sleep

Easier to manage nutrition

HRV (heart rate variability)

Decreased blood pressure

More energy

Less Stress

The end result of keeping these things in check = a healthier, clearer thinking, probably thinner you! Let’s work on metrics that make sense together.