8 Sneaky Offenders that Cause Weight Fluctuations

Julia Malacoff
by Julia Malacoff
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8 Sneaky Offenders that Cause Weight Fluctuations

When you’re working toward a weight-loss goal, it’s normal to be watching the number on the scale like a hawk waiting for any changes that might occur. But if you’ve been tracking your weight for even a few weeks, you’ve probably noticed fluctuations are common. Still, they can be frustrating to see when you’re working hard to get into your best shape ever.

Even for those who aren’t actively trying to lose weight, it can be unwelcome to see the scale jump up. Rest assured, weight changes from one day to the next are generally temporary and, according to experts, they don’t mean you’re not making progress.

Here, find eight explanations for why your weight can spike — straight from nutritionists who help people meet their weight-loss goals every day — that have nothing to do with gaining fat.

1. YOU DRANK A TON OF WATER

It’s true that staying well-hydrated is a good move if you’re trying to lose weight, but the first few days of upping your water intake could actually cause the number on the scale to creep up, too. Why? “Let’s break down what weight really is,” says Megan Ware, RDN. “It is not just the measurement of fat in the body. It is the weight of your bones, organs, muscles, fluid and waste. When you’re dehydrated, you actually weigh less, but that doesn’t mean you are healthier. Let’s say you don’t drink much fluid one day, and the next morning you wake up and your weight is down. Then you drink a ton of water and the next day it looks like you gained 2 pounds. That does not mean you gained 2 pounds of fat; it just means that your body was depleted of water the day before.”

2. YOU STRENGTH TRAINED YESTERDAY

Lifting weights can speed your progress in the long run, but it can also temporarily cause your weight to appear higher. “I’ve had so many clients tell me they had a ‘perfect’ day: They ate healthy, nutritious foods all day, packed their lunch, made dinner at home and had a really killer workout with their trainer,” Ware says. “They get up in the morning expecting the scale to tell them what a good day they had yesterday, to give them their ‘reward’ for a day well done.” When they see the scale go up instead of down, they understandably get bummed out. But here’s the thing: “Intense exercise causes inflammation,” Ware explains. “In this case, inflammation is actually a good thing. When you are in the gym lifting weights, you are creating tiny little tears in your muscle fibers. When those fibers build back up (with proper nutrition), that’s what causes a change in body shape, tone and additional muscle. Your body takes on more water to help with muscle repair, which can translate to a higher number on the scale.”

3. YOU ATE MORE SODIUM THAN USUAL

It’s no secret that certain types of foods can affect your weight, and sodium is one that can have an immediate (although temporary) impact. “Packaged foods often have high amounts of sodium or salt, which causes you to retain water in your gut,” explains Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RD, the founder of Millennial Nutrition. “This results in a bloated belly and a higher number on the scale. The good news is that it usually goes away within a day or two.” To avoid this, Barkyoumb recommends focusing on whole foods and using herbs and spices to season your meals instead of salt.

4. YOU ATE MORE CARBS THAN USUAL

Though carbohydrates are not the enemy of weight loss, eating an unusual amount of them over the course of one day or even a few days can make it seem like you’ve gained weight. “Carbohydrates are another type of food that can result in water weight showing up on the scale,” explains Alexia Lewis, a certified health coach and registered dietitian. “This is why people lose weight faster initially on a lower-carbohydrate diet. The body doesn’t hold onto the extra water. It’s also why people gain weight quickly when they eventually go off that lower-carbohydrate diet; that water weight comes back and the scale bounces up!”

5. YOU HAVEN’T GONE TO THE BATHROOM IN A WHILE

No need to get into the nitty gritty here, but if you’re constipated, you’ll see that reflected on the scale. “If you aren’t going to the bathroom regularly and getting rid of waste, that is going to cause your weight to fluctuate,” Ware says.

6. YOU’RE ABOUT TO START YOUR PERIOD

Most women know their weight can be affected by their menstrual cycle, but some are surprised just how much weight they can temporarily gain because of their hormones. “About five days prior to your period, you may experience weight gain due to water retention,” Barkyoumb says. “The average woman will gain about five pounds in water weight during this time. No need to panic though; you’ll drop down to your normal weight when you start your period.”

7. IT’S THE WEEKEND

Yup, really. “One small study in first-shift Monday to Friday workers found that people’s weights tended to go down during the workweek, hitting their lowest point on Friday morning,” Lewis says. “Weights went up over the weekends to their highest point on Monday mornings.” People who lost weight overall still followed this pattern, they just lost more weight during the week than those who remained the same or gained weight over the course of the study. “While this is one small study and it cannot be applied to the population at large, it does allow some insight into normal weight patterns,” she says. “Understand that even though the scale is going up and down, over time, overall weight can change.”

8. YOUR WEIGHT WAS DOWN YESTERDAY

Sometimes yesterday’s weight can affect today’s weight for reasons that are all in your head. “Some people cannot get on the scale without judging themselves for the number they see,” Lewis explains. “If the number is up, they decide they have failed, feel bad and resolve to eat less and work out more. If the number is down, they decide they are a success, feel great, and decide they can eat more and work out less.” Ideally, you’d behave the same each day when dieting and over time, your weight would start to trend downward, despite the normal fluctuations, but for many people, this is easier said than done.

“If the scale makes you think this way, consider weighing yourself less often so you don’t see the natural ups and downs,” she suggests. It may also be worth considering adding some alternative methods of tracking to your routine, like weekly measurements and progress photos. That way, your weight is just one of the many ways you keep track of how you’re doing, and suddenly, the inevitable peaks and valleys don’t seem like such a big deal.

About the Author

Julia Malacoff
Julia Malacoff

Julia (@jmalacoff) is a former fashion editor turned health and fitness buff who writes about all things lifestyle—especially workouts and food. Based in Amsterdam, she bikes every day and travels around the world in search of tough sweat sessions and the best vegetarian fare.

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55 responses to “8 Sneaky Offenders that Cause Weight Fluctuations”

  1. Jake Wilson says:

    If you’re strength training correctly, your weight SHOULD go up – otherwise, you’re not doing it right.

  2. Klo Light says:

    Informative article. Thanks..

  3. David Hicks says:

    I find this interesting. I always gain weight over the weekend (1-3 pounds usually) because I tend to eat out, and have more down time when I snack. But, that weight is usually gone by Tuesday or Wednesday and if I am trying to lose weight, I often have a net loss for the week.

    • shawnsBrain says:

      Yes, this is exactly me too.

    • Brian O'Neil says:

      Here is the underlying fact that the article fails to address: There are 3500 Calories in a pound of fat. If you’re running a 500 Cal/day deficit for weight loss, most bathroom scales can’t even detect the 1/7th of a pound of fat you’ll lose every day. Even at 1000 cal/day, your meaningful weight loss can’t be seen day-to-day as even a glass of water is more weight than you’ll lose in fat. It also means you almost certainly don’t actually gain 3 lbs over the weekend, because to do that, you’d have to consume an additional 10,500 Calories above what it would take to maintain weight. You don’t do that by eating out and snacking a little bit. That’s eating an entire week’s worth of Calories in two days. This article does kind of explain what’s going on, but missed the more important point that you should not even be thinking about your day-to-day weight loss. If you think you’re going to get rewarded for a “good day” by seeing a lower number on the scale the following day, you’ll quickly grow frustrated and fool yourself into thinking that your good habits aren’t paying off. You shouldn’t have “good days” and “bad days”, you should be consistent every day. Record your weight every day, but only look at results week-over-week.

      • Rick Smith says:

        Great point and further explanation!

      • Carrie says:

        10,500 calories is a week’s worth? Maybe if you’re starving yourself. I don’t count calories (because they’re BS), but estimate I’m around 18,000 per week. My weight is stable and appropriate for my height (23.5 BMI).

        • Brian O'Neil says:

          For what *should* be a typical 2000 Cal/day diet, 10,000 is 5 days, but that’s what you’d have to eat over and above, so if you add in 4000 Calories that would just maintain your weight, you gt 14,500 Calories for the weekend, which is about what a healthy adult should consume in a week.

          • Mark Baloun says:

            Absolutely patently FALSE!! It is not “simple physics” if you run a calorie deficit you’ll lose weight. It’s 2017 can these silly myths go away please?? They’re so off base it isn’t funny. Tell someone with a thyroid deficiency that all they have to do is run a calorie deficit. Tell a hard gainer in the gym that all they have to do is run a calorie surplus. It is patently false. It’s not black and white. Metabolism is a huge factor some people store everything as fat some people burn everything.. some people use the calories efficiently some do not. I’m a bodybuilder and have been for twenty years.. formerly a competitive bobdybuilder and there are just some silly myths that just drive us nuts. Just run a calorie deficit and you’ll lose weight is one of the most pervasive and painfully false myths around.

          • Brian O'Neil says:

            Yes, Metabolism is a HUGE factor. Most of a normal person’s daily Calorie burn is base metabolism. This is part of a body’s total energy balance though. If a thyroid condition keeps your base metabolic rate low, it may be difficult or impossible to eat little enough to lose weight while still getting adequate nutrition. However, it is still the case that if you consume less energy than you metabolize, you’ll lose weight. All systems in the universe obey conservation of mass, momentum, and energy, including the human body. And for a normal, reasonably healthy adult, these physics can be used to keep weight under control while also maintaining overall health. To call this “Absolutely, Patently false” implies that the human body is exempt from the laws of physics, and also makes people vulnerable to all kinds of fads and magic pills that profit substantially off of pretending that there is some magical way to lose weight without dieting and/or exercise.

          • Suzi Scott says:

            I can’t believe we are having this debate – it borders on ridiculous. Brian, you are absolutely, patently CORRECT!!

          • Kelly Whitaker says:

            I completely agree with Brian too. It’s calories bottom line. What affects what calories goes in and what calories goes out are all other factors, but the difference is the bottom line. People saying calories don’t matter are looking for excuses.

          • robinbishop34 says:

            If you aren’t in a deficit, you aren’t going to lose fat. Someone who claims they aren’t losing while in a deficit are simply not in a deficit.

            I’m not saying there aren’t physiological factors that can/do impact metabolism somewhat, but for a majority of people who frequent this site (very overweight), all they need to do is figure TDEE and eat below that level to drop.

          • SuperBoppy says:

            I agree. Genetics play a huge role in what a person’s weight will be regardless of what they eat or don’t eat. Around 20 years ago or so, I went on a calorie deficit program and lost 60 pounds. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, to constantly measure everything, hunger pangs (not always, but often enough). I lost weight alright, but I lost a lot of muscle as well. Trying to keep the weight off was impossible, even though I was still monitoring my eating. Within a year, I gained all the weight back and then some. A few years ago, I determined never to do that to myself again. I still watch what I eat, but I do not restrict my diet, other than to watch carbs, especially refined ones. I have lost weight and my weight is quite stable. I am still much heavier than I would like to be, but never again will I go on that rollercoaster ride, and restricting calories to the point of making myself ill (literally). My wife is a foot shorter and over 130 pounds less than me, and I eat about the same amount as she does. If you looked at my brother and my mother’s side of the family, the majority have weight issues. Yet I have friends who eat like horses, eat all kinds of junk food as well and are skinny. Genetics and biology is so much more complicated than the “just eat less” crowd will admit.

          • usa anon says:

            Genetics can certainly play a small role — the biggest factor is what you eat and what you burn — People who believe otherwise need to come back to this side of De Nile

          • Jason Langdon says:

            The problem with telling “someone with a thyroid deficiency that all they have to do is run a
            calorie deficit or telling a hard gainer in the gym that all they have to do
            is run a calorie surplus” is that most people don’t know how to OR do not track calories. Most people ESTIMATE the amount of calories they eat and are off by a lot.

      • Fischer Bacher says:

        Agreed.

    • Elliott D. Kraus says:

      Hi, I have stage 4 CKD. Kidney disease.
      I drink 42 oz water daily.
      I drives me crazy when I gain 2 lbs 3 hours later I’m 2 lbs less.

      • Cynthiac LunaRising says:

        I’m no specialist regarding kidney disease by any means. I am Yoga Instructor, Health/Fitness trainer ~ by trade and life choice 30+ years. How much daily h2o intake do your Drs recommend? My impression is that it is widely held belief & practice to drink a minimum of 1 gallon (128oz) h2o daily just to give your body what it needs to maintain proper level of hydration, even if you are not sweating.

        • K8rx says:

          If your kidneys can’t process that, no bueno.

        • usa anon says:

          widely believed but not support by any scientific study ————————My impression is that it is widely held belief & practice to drink a minimum of 1 gallon (128oz) h2o daily just to give your body what it needs to maintain proper level of hydration, even if you are not sweating.

      • James A Tillman says:

        Elliot, you may want to consider reading the Plant Paradox Program by Dr. Stephen Gundry. By significantly altering your diet you may correct this condition. You can purchase the book on Amazon for about $16.00. By following this program and switching out foods I was able to correct my kidney condition.

        • Katrina Samuel Garrison says:

          You were able to cure stage 4 kidney disease by eating plants???

          • James A Tillman says:

            I will not get into particulars or try to explain it because I am not a medical doctor. What I will say is the book is written by one of the top Medical Doctors in the world. If Eliot is willing to read 285 pages he will learn how and why this program works and that the body already has the ability to cure itself. The solution is balancing his gut microbes, drastically reducing the poisons that are getting into his body curing his leaky gut which will eliminate the toxic substances that are invading his system. His body will literally regenerate itself. Cells in most of the body are replaced every 90 days if they get the right fuel along with eliminating the poisons that are bombarding his system and hindering there growth.

          • K8rx says:

            So you’re saying that the kidneys have nothing to do with, say, hypertension, and are not inextricably linked to heart health, but their function level relies almost solely on the quality of gut flbut we possess and the “poisons” we intake (consciously or otherwise).
            By the way, a great deal of damage is caused by proteinuria, the passing of protein through the kidneys, which happens often in diabetes…as does leaky gut syndrome.

          • James A Tillman says:

            They are all linked through the breaching of the gut wall. When toxins and bacteria constantly invade the body inflammation happens. Immune responses over react. Killer genes are activated which lead to the various diseases. The key is repair the gut wall stopping the little pieces of human waste from seeping into your system.

          • K8rx says:

            Tell me, what is your training and education in? I’m a doctor of pharmacy, and as such, have to understand disease states such as CKD intimately. I can promise you it’s not from “killer genes” activated by the body’s natural inflammatory response. You might be thinking of killer CD8 T-cells, which are immune cells, but primarily they target viruses, faulty cells, and foreign cells such as tumors.
            Also, when immune responses are exaggerated, you have an autoimmune response or an autoimmune disease.
            It is also notable, as I mentioned before, that leaky gut does not occur alone, in the absence of other disease states.
            But you are completely welcome to believe that an imbalance in gut bacteria perforates the colon wall, lets waste leak into the abdominal cavity, and magically causes the immune system to attack the kidneys.

          • James A Tillman says:

            I am not a Doctor. The information I shared is part of reading info from well renowned Doctors like yourself. I do not proclaim to have the details correct. What I will say is the sources of information I am mentioning come from Doctors who think well beyond medicine. In fact part of the problem is that most Doctors and Pharmacists have developed tunnel vision driven by the trillion dollar drug industry. There is so much money to be made by developing and distributing new drugs that these people no longer care about curing people. This has been said by Doctors themselves. I have read books like the Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry which discuss in detail what has happened. Their research in based on the treatment of over 100,000 patients, the study of the evolutionary past of life on this earth. They had the research of other Nobel Prize winning Medical Doctors and Biologists. They has written papers, books on these subjects. They describe what is happening based on the latest research. After changing my diet based on the recommendations described I basically eliminated all the illnesses and medical conditions I suffered. I was shocked by what happened and was not expecting it. I only wanted to lose a few pounds. Instead at 61 years old my body regenerated back to what I looked like when I ran track in college 40 years ago. The incontinence, high blood pressure, pre-diabetic conditions, irritable bowel, brain fog, skin problems, kidney issues, depression all miraculously went away along with the need for all those prescribed drugs. In the Plant Paradox Dr. Gundry gave numerous examples of people cured of various diseases by changing their diet. Determining for instance that Plants have been using Lectins as a bio weapon to discourage animals from eating them and their seeds is very recent. Understanding that these lectins breach the gut wall in humans causing autoimmune responses is a very recent discovery (last 7 years). Our problems in the US are rooted in our rapidly changing technology. The problems became complicated because they are hidden. That is why the US is ranked 36 among developed countries and spend more than any of them on health care. Obesity and Opiate abuse is at epidemic proportions, yet we are not getting better.

          • James A Tillman says:

            I also want to add, look at the drug commercials constantly advertised on TV. It is pretty obvious what has happened. I love capitalism but when it gets out of control it can be as detrimental as it is beneficial. So the next time you mention your credentials be wise to understand that you may be buried so deep in the minutia that you are in fact a part of the problem.

          • K8rx says:

            I agree that the drug industry is interested in treating and not curing. That’s why you see so many new treatments for autoimmune disorders now (psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis) and no new antibiotics.
            But I wasn’t educated by the drug industry, and those aren’t my goals.
            I do ascribe to the somewhat humorous saying that “medicine is the only profession that is constantly trying to put themselves out of business.” That’s a VERY old quote and very old mindset.

            You did finally answer my question about your level of kidney function, with your age and status of pre-diabetes.
            To be fair, I would have written a very streamlined book based on evidence of people changing their lifestyles to include sustainable amounts of exercise, changing their diets to include the proper amounts and proportions of nutrients from correct sources, and getting adequate sleep, while incorporating stress-reducing activities alongside their exercise.

            My guess? You read a diet book with a bunch of hokum and slapdash research, a ton of repetition and back-patting, totally inane spitballing about piles of bones, and some legitimate stuff, but what you DID was terrific.
            What you DID was what medicine cannot do-what we call therapeutic lifestyle changes. Those things restored and rejuvenated you. Medicines can improve by increments in people unwilling to take their conditions seriously when they have the chance.

            However, when someone is in stage four CKD (chronic kidney disease, AKA kidney failure), no amount of plant-based life forms will restore their kidney function. Sometimes you gotta look up what a man is asking before you answer.

          • James A Tillman says:

            Buy and read The Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry and study his credentials then tell me it is hokus pokus. People say the same thing about cancer and other diseases being non-curable. As for the saying doctors are trying to put themselves out of a job is really pretty naive. Some may truly believe it but again if technology in our food and drug industry has changed so fast that over the last 60 years diseases that never existed before all of a sudden appeared then something is happening. Doctors are human to and just like everyone else can develop tunnel vision and focus on narrow windows instead of making connections from a number of areas. If you don’t know what you are looking for you don’t know how to find it. So take the time and read the Plant Paradox. It can be purchased on Amazon for $16.00. BTW if you are who you say you are then that is what the pharmaceutical industry wants us to do. Fight among ourselves like lost sheep a keep buying those expensive drugs and having those surgeries. Also, keep eating the GMO food, processed foods and beverages, new world grains, casein a1 dairy, a diet high in calories and low in nutrients. The key has been to have the ability to follow the data and the resources such as patients, facilities, experts from across a broad perspective in order to capture and analyze all the data. The resources to study indigenous tribes and determine why they do not get these diseases. The ability and resources to study skeleton remains of people living over 10000 years ago and see no signs of arthritis or why did the average height and brain size of these people literally shrink in a couple of hundred years. Also, look at the references and peer review research highlighted in the Plant Paradox. Then tell me it is hokus pokus. Then tell me it is all a bunch of garbage.

          • K8rx says:

            Exactly. (Rolls eyes) Were you on a regimen of dialysis for part of this miraculous turnaround?

      • K8rx says:

        Are you on dialysis? Has your nephrologist been specific about the time of day of your water intake, and how you can lose weight?

      • K8rx says:

        Btw, a pint of water is a pound, and a gallon is a kilogram.

      • Jason Langdon says:

        You’re not gaining anything. Drinking 42oz of water is the same as standing on the scale wearing a 42oz sweater. Sure the scale moves but your body fat doesn’t increase.

    • usa anon says:

      you cold also reachyour goal faster if you decided to stick to your plan for 8 weekends in a row — not a big sacrifice over a life time

    • Jason Langdon says:

      While you maybe gaining WEIGHT on the weekends, you’re not getting FATTER. You’re probably just retaining water from all the sodium in the take out food you ate.

  4. Glenn Nelson says:

    I weigh in everyday first thing in the morning and I keep a daily track of my weight. I too have noticed that my weight can be +/- 2% and I realize that this is normal. I also noticed my weigh goes down during the week and then goes up on the weekend. While I try to maintain consistent eating habits and am a monotonous eater during the week, my diet changes somewhat on the weekends (restaurant, friend’s) so I to not freak out as long as I can maintain that */-2%.

    • James A Tillman says:

      Glenn, I do the same thing. By weighing every day and recording it on a free online calorie/weight counter I see trends which helps tells me if I am gaining unwanted weight and thus can adjust my diet. Every person is different but like you I find keeping track really helps.

  5. cherylridgeway says:

    Funny that I should get this today! I got on the scale today after weeks of not and was not happy so, I decided that today I start doing what I’m suppose to do.

  6. Carrie says:

    “Though carbohydrates are not the enemy of weight loss” is probably the most misleading information here. They are a frontrunner in the list of weight loss enemies, and should be minimized in a healthy diet.

    Weight loss (and weight gain) is always going to have fluctuations. Our bodies are not machines and we do not perform the same activities or eat the same things each day. Look for the longer term changes.

    • MH says:

      It’s not misleading it factual. Carbs are good, you should be eating carbs, just the right amount. If you deprive yourself of carbs, your body has nothing the burn off when you train so it will got to you next dense source which is muscle. That is how people get skinny fat. YOU should never deprive yourself of carbs, they are you friend. Unless you like being slow and tired all day? Think of carbs as fuel, that is fuel to keep your body moving.

      • Trisha Blann says:

        You must correct yourself when you speak about carbs. HEALTHY carbs, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, are good for you. UNHEALTHY carbs, such as potato chips, cookies, ice cream and the likes, are NOT good for you, can and will cause weight gain as well as other problems when eaten in excess or as the only carbs a person eats. IF a person chooses to eat these carbs, MODERATION and PORTION CONTROL is AN ABSOLUTE MUST in order to remain healthy and allow room in a healthy diet for healthy carbs, healthy fat, and protein. It’s called a balanced diet for a reason.

        • robinbishop34 says:

          True, but high glycemic carbs are important post (strenuous) workout. They quickly nourish a beaten central nervous system and muscles, while stemming the production of cortisol.

          Its not uncommon for weight lifters, and those who engage in high intensity cardio to have ice cream, or sugary cereal post workout.

          • Trisha Blann says:

            Also true, but for someone trying to lose weight, not as a weightlifter or high intensity cardio, there needs to be regulation of those type of carbs. Someone who is does not have that type of exercise on a regular basis can not and should not eat high glycemic carbs, but should focus on the low glycemic carbs. There needs to be a differentiation made because there are a lot of people who don’t understand the difference between carbs, or even what portion control is.

          • robinbishop34 says:

            Fair enough.

      • Mein Kartman says:

        What a load of carbs. I’ve been ketonic for over two years. I train for, and compete in, triathlons without ever consuming more than 50 net carbs per day. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN ESSENTIAL CARBOHYDRATE. Your body is designed through thousands of years of evolution, to burn fat. For thousands of years man eat mostly fat and proteins.

        • K8rx says:

          Did you guys hang out? Near the fig trees and fruit trees as olives and such?
          No, those guys were a little too evolved for you, nevermind.

        • Jason Langdon says:

          The thing about keto is that most people who take on a keto diet give up cake, dounuts, pies, pastries, white bread, etc. They don’t give up fruits and vegetables.

  7. Mark Baloun says:

    Stop looking at the scale folks.. doesn’t tell you anything productive day to day. I recommend you step on a scale once a month. Day to day? The mirror or bodyfat measurements are where the truth is.

  8. Fischer Bacher says:

    Yes, carbohydrates are not the enemy of weight loss.

  9. Jason Langdon says:

    People need to learn the difference between weight loss and fat loss. The number going up and down on a scale means you’ve either gained or lost weight, it does not reflect whether or not you’ve gained or lost fat.

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