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7 Ways the Scale is Lying to You

By February 6, 2023 No Comments

Scales lie. That’s just the way it is. What should be an objective metric is often inaccurate, difficult to decipher, and not directly correlated with your progress. If your goal is to change your body composition in any way the scale should NOT be used alone. You must combine the data you get from the scale with other tracking metrics such as body tape measurements, progress pictures, how your clothes are fitting, how you feel, etc., or else you won’t be getting the full picture of what’s actually changing with your body composition. 

Here’s what the day-to-day scale number actually reflects: 

1. Hydration status and electrolyte balance
Electrolytes (magnesium, potassium, and especially sodium) control water balance and cell hydration. When electrolyte levels become too low or too high, they can cause shifts in fluid balance which can lead to increased or decreased water weight. 

2. Food residue in the gut
Food residue, or the undigested food moving from the gut through the colon before excretion can actually make up 3-7 pounds depending on what you ate (high-fiber foods tend to produce more food residue).

3. Your frequency of bowel movements
Not going enough throughout the day can hold onto extra pounds that will show up on the scale.

4. Carbohydrate intake

Glycogen (the storage form of glucose, AKA what carbs get converted to in your body) can make up around 5-10% of the weight of your liver, and 2% of the weight of your muscles.

For every one gram of carbohydrate stored in the body (as glycogen), there is approximately 3-4 grams of water retained.

5. Whether you worked out or not
Working out can cause you to both lose and/or retain water which can of course tip the scale in opposite directions at different times.

When you work out and sweat, you will lose water and electrolytes. Depending on how much you sweat, the scale can drop significantly. 

6. Your menstrual cycle

You may notice water retention at other times during their cycle due to individual variances.

Additionally, if you are post-menopausal, hormones will still fluctuate at different times and can cause water retention to the same degree.

7. Stress and sleep
Chronic stress can cause water retention due to the increase in cortisol (primary stress hormone). This occurs because cortisol can partially bind to a receptor known as a mineralocorticoid receptor, which normally binds a hormone that causes water to be retained in the body.

When enough cortisol is present, and for long durations of time, it can bind to this receptor and cause water retention.

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