The scale can be one of your most important tools on your weight loss journey, but only if you use it right. Surprisingly enough, using the scale right can take more than a bit of planning, just like many other aspects of your weight loss surgery journey. The number you see can jump around and start to drive you crazy if you do not know the reasons behind the blips.
These are some reasons for some ups and downs on the scale, and how to prevent or at least accept them. Hint: It is probably not yet panic time!
Up: Salt (Sodium)
Did you have a salty meal last night? Did you snack on pickles, top your chicken with salsa, season your turkey burger with soy sauce or another salty condiment, or help yourself to a big salad with fat-free dressing? Those are all great choices for weight loss, but not for today’s weight.
Are you confused? Here is the explanation. Sodium, which we mainly get from salt in foods, has no calories and is one way to add flavor without fat or sugar to food so you can keep calories down for weight loss, But, sodium attracts water. Eat a high-sodium meal or snack, and your body can retain water. You may feel bloated and notice your ankles or fingers swelling. That water inside of you is heavy, and the scale will tell you so.
Tip: Do not eat a high-sodium or salty meal or snack the day before your weigh-in, or keep in mind that you did.
Long-term, stress eating can add fat to your hips and pounds to the scale. Short-term stress can bump up your weight, too, without overeating. Stress hormones lead to water retention and (see above) water is heavy.
Tip: Don’t stress out! Easier said than done, but being aware of stress can help. So can exercising, laughing with friends, and meditating.
Up: Big Meal, Day, or Weekend
Remember the part about how sodium attracts water? So do extra sugar and carbohydrates. It takes an extra 3,500 calories to gain a pound of body fat, but y you are likely to see your weight jump if you eat a big meal, or have a cheat day, or get out of control on the weekend. That sodium and those carbs can add up more quickly than you expect.
A single restaurant meal with rolls or breadsticks, a burger and fries, and a small dessert can have over 5,000 mg of sodium and 200 grams of carbohydrates. That amount may “only” include 2,000 calories (barely over ½-lb’s worth of body fat), but it is enough to bump the scale up as much as a few pounds the next day.
Tip: Do not eat too much! If you do have a cheat meal or day, do not weigh in after it. Most people consider Mondays to be a bad day for a weigh-in because weekend diets are often less strict than weekday eating patterns.
Up: Lack of Sleep
Do you ever feel groggy and heavy when you do not get enough sleep? The scale will confirm that it is not your imagination. You can retain water due to hormonal shifts when you do not sleep enough. Over the longer term, sleep deprivation can make you gain “real” weight (body fat) because lack of sleep:
Increases ghrelin, which is a hormone that makes you feel hungry.
Increases cravings for sugar and carbohydrates.
Reduces your ability to resist cravings.
Tip: Get enough sleep. It is not a luxury that is beyond your control. It is an important part of your weight loss lifestyle, so make it a priority.
Weight loss is one motivation to exercise, but losing too much weight with a single workout just means you are dehydrated, not that you burned off pounds of fat in an hour or so. The scale can show you a low number because you sweated a lot. It can be motivating, but it is not healthy. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and to later water retention – and a bump up on the scale!
Tip: drink 8 oz. of water every 20 minutes while you are exercising intensely. Weigh yourself before and after your workout, and drink 16 ounces of water for each pound that you lost during your workout.
Down: Sudden weight loss
Have you ever started a diet and seen the pounds come off quickly at first before the weight loss tapered off? It may have even happened after WLS if you were one of those patients who lost 10 or 20 lb. within the first weeks.
A good portion of that weight was water weight. It happens when your body shifts from gaining weight (or being stable) to losing weight. What happens is that your body loses carbohydrates that were stored in the form of glycogen. Glycogen holds water. When you lose the glycogen suddenly by going low-carb or low-calorie, you lose water, too. So, your scale weight drops fast.
Tip: Celebrate those first pounds lost, but keep working hard. Stick to your diet and stay hydrated so the pounds keep coming off for weeks and months to come.
Now that you know that the scale can be fickle, you can concentrate on finding the balance between trusting the scale and trusting your diet. If you stay on track with your eating and workout program, and take care of the “little things” such as getting enough sleep and managing stress, you can outlast any bumps on the scale and come out stronger and lighter than ever.