Understanding Scale Weight Fluctuations

There is nothing worse, and believe me when I say this, nothing worse then stepping on a scale and NOT seeing the weight that you wanted.

Let’s be real, you probably skipped out partying with your friends, didn’t eat anything remotely tasty and you exercised your ass off. Then, the moment of truth comes, you step on the scale, ANNNND you gained weight.

It’s that moment of “WTF” that makes you want to get wasted, eat a bunch of nachos and never work out again.

Pretty lame, huh?

In reality, there are a handful of things that could be worse.

You could have shit your pants in the middle of a nationally televised college football game…


Yes, this is true. Pretty awesome and funny.

Or you actually watch this guy on The Bachelor.

I'm sure love is right around the corner.

I’m sure love is right around the corner.

Both of those things are worse than stepping on the scale. That’s for sure.

I get it though. It’s agonizing putting in all that hard work and not seeing results. It can be a difficult thing to overcome especially when it repeatedly happens.

Being a gym owner the last 4 years I’ve seen this constant battle with just about all of my clients. I’ve had fit men, over weight men, big boned women, and petite women all struggle handling the number on the scale. Include myself in this struggle as well.

Stepping on the scale is probably one of the biggest mind fucks in the whole world. Your self worth hinges on a number that means so little. Something so arbitrary and not important can have a drastic impact on your overall happiness. I’m telling you now, it’s not worth it.

So with all that pain and torture of stepping on the scale it brings about a great question.

WHY does this happen?

There are two things you need to be familiar with. The first is essential body mass (EBM). Your body is made up of a bunch of things like bones, muscles, organs, tissues, skin, etc. These things are essential and you can’t lose them. It’s not like you’ll cut off your femur to drop a few pounds. They are on or in your body and can’t be taken out to effect the scale weight.

The second thing you need to understand is your Lean Body Mass (LBM). Your lean body mass is the amount of weight you carry on your body that isn’t fat. The goal is to drop weight while keeping your lean body mass the same, or in other words, dropping your body fat percentage.

For the sake of this blog we are going to talk about body fat and LBM. Forget EBM, we are going to focus on the 3 things that CAN add to your body weight. They are, fat, muscle, and water.


Your body needs fat. However, if you have an energy imbalance (more energy coming in rather than going out) you can store more fat than needed. The goal is to be in a healthy negative energy balance so that you lose weight.


Your body has muscle (if it didn’t you wouldn’t be able to move) and obviously the more you workout the more muscle you can gain, thus increasing your weight. Muscle is more dense than fat so it takes up less space. It’s true, 10 lbs of muscle = 10 lbs of fat HOWEVER it’s much more compact/dense than fat.


Your body needs water. It’s made up of 60% water. Water is crucial for your body to function properly. It transports nutrients, oxygen and waste in and out of cells. Drink it.

Fat, muscle and water are the three things that cause weight changes on the scale.


Here’s a simple hypothetical

Let’s say someone is 140lbs of lean body mass (LBM) and 40 lbs of fat. They would weigh 180 lbs and have a body fat percentage of 22.22%. Follow me?

This person steps on the scale one day and it’s 180 lbs. The next day it’s 182, and the following day it’s 179. I know you’ve seen this with your weight and your probably wondering why it happens?

Here’s a formula that can explain that.

Scale weight = True Weight +/- weight variance (the daily change that occurs)


True Weight = Hypothetical perfect weight, if there was such a thing. It’s essentially exactly what you’d weigh minus all of the issues that cause weight variations.

Weight Variance= All the daily changes that piss you off.

Working with my clients at Arizona Training Lab I have seen some crazy variations, and they tend to be on the higher side rather than the lower side. If your scale weight is 180 I tend to see it fluctuation between 180-185 more than I do 180-177.

Remember, if there was ever a way to figure out your TRUE weight that would be nice. If your true weight was 180 lbs, all of the variances that I’ll explain next cause you to see a higher or lower number on the scale.

4 Factors That Cause Weight Scale Fluctuations

1. Glycogen- Probably the #1 reason you see fluctuations 

Your body breaks down the carbohydrates that you eat into a type of sugar called glucose. This source of glucose is used for energy. When your body has too much glucose it stores the leftover in your liver and muscles. The stored form of glucose (in your liver and muscles) is called glycogen.

Stay with me, because this is where it gets complicated.

Each gram of glycogen is bound by about four grams of water. This means when your liver and muscles are full of glycogen you can gain four times the weight of that glycogen in water.

More glycogen = More water

When you diet and cut carbs, your body empties out those stored carbohydrates from the liver and muscles. When you lose that glycogen you lose that water. That is why when you start a low carb diet you lose weight quickly (anywhere from 2-10 pounds based on your size).

When you start to eat carbs again, your liver and muscles will take that glucose and replenish the stock. Once it does that, four grams of water joins the glycogen and voila, you gain weight back.

So if you gain 5 pounds on the scale 24-48 hours after binge eating, that would probably be your explanation. You didn’t all of a sudden gain 5 pounds of “fat.”

2. Food Weight

This one might be common sense but many forget. So I’ll touch on it.

Food has a specific weight. 1 pound of chicken weighs 1 pound. 1 pint of water weighs 1 pound. So if you were to eat a pound of chicken and immediately step on the scale you’d gain 1 pound.

Food and water will adjust your weight. If you eat a huge Thanksgiving Day meal and immediately step on the scale you will have an increase in weight.

To go a bit farther, everything you eat sits in your digestive tract for at least a day and while it sits there, guess what, it contributes to the scale weight.

We cool? You got that?

3. Sodium (retaining and depletion)

Sodium is another pain in the ass when it comes to watching your weight fluctuate on the scale.  You might go to a baseball game, eat some nachos, pizza and sunflower seeds. Your sodium intake is drastically increased compared to a normal day.

When you increase your sodium you increase a hormone in your body called aldosterone. Aldosterone affects sodium, potassium, total fluid in the body, and blood pressure. It causes the kidneys to hold on to more sodium, which leads to more water staying in the body. Eating less sodium decreases the production of aldosterone causing your body to hold on to less water.

If this is an issue for you, obviously, limit your sodium intake.

**Aldosterone is more complex than you’d think. It’s actually somewhat fascinating.

4. Hormonal Issues

This goes for both males and females, but without a doubt the females will see this more often. Typically, when it’s that time of month there can be a MAJOR fluctuation in water balance. It can be anywhere from 2-10 lbs based off of the individual.

Another major issue is stress. Stress can drastically impact fluid retention and of course, it can lead to poor eating habits causing you to consume more sodium, bad fats, and unnecessary carbohydrates. The obvious answer for this is control your stress levels and you’ll be in good shape.

Bonus #5. Everything Else

  • Dehydration from a night of boozing
  • Sickness (flu) causing you to lay in bed and not eat for days
  • Creatine and other supplements
  • Running marathons
  • Poor gut bacteria
  • Donating Blood

What Should You Do?

When dieting you’re going to see some crazy swings.  The primary reason is because glycogen is a much more volatile substrate than fat. Fat loss occurs slowly while glycogen levels can swing like crazy (sodium, stress, etc change hourly as well)

You need to understand that weight loss isn’t linear. It’s not going to be a straight line from 160-135. It just doesn’t work that way.

Also, it must be noted, when dieting, you don’t lose 6 lbs of fat from one day to the next. Hypothetically, you might have lost 1 lb of fat and 5 lbs of water. The reverse is also true. When you step on a scale from a night of binging you don’t gain 6 lbs of fat. Hypothetically it could be 1 lb of fat and 5 lbs of water.

How should you interpret the scale?

First, calm the fuck down depending on what it says. It’s arbitrary.

Second, I would go get my body fat tested (i.e. dexa scan or bod pod, not a caliper or hand held scale). This will give you an EXACT reading at that point in time of how much you weigh and what you’re lean body mass is (LBM). I would also measure my waist around the belly button, 1 inch below my belly button and around my right quad.

This is accurate data and inline with helping you lose FAT. The weight on the scale is another metric that can be used, like these above, it doesn’t DIRECTLY reflect what is going on with your body.

Next, weigh yourself once a week on the same day at the same time. That’s it.

Lastly, I would carb cycle. If you plan higher carb days at regular intervals (carb cycle) you won’t ever get close to starvation mode. These higher days also can increase thyroid output and can control your leptin and gherlin levels (appetite control hormones).

Manipulating carb intake can also help take advantage of a key anabolic hormone, insulin. Insulin regulates amino acid and glucose intake entry into muscle cells. If insulin is rarely elevated (low carb diets) dieters will not reap the anabolic benefits (build muscle). Carb cycle right, elevate insulin levels appropriately and you can maximize insulins potential anabolic effects.

And of course, carb cycling can maximize glycogen stores and improve workouts during a low calorie period.

DON’T STAY LOW CARB for long periods.

As a couple of weeks pass continue to measure your progress. The goal would be to see a trend in the right direction. This chart below should give you a good idea of what’s going on.

Here is an awesome cheat sheet that Dick Talens constructed and it’s probably one of the BEST things that you can utilize when taking a look at scale weight etc.

Dick Talens Chart. He can be found at www.dicktalens.com

Dick Talens Chart. He can be found at www.dicktalens.com

The truth is, getting in great shape can be hard. It can take some serious time. Not only that but it takes commitment, dedication and consistency. There is A MAJOR discomfort that comes with getting lean. If you aren’t satisfied with where you are CURRENTLY then you have to CHANGE what your doing and that can require some major discomfort.

**Please share with your workout friends

What’s next? For starters, learn bit more about counting calories here. I also recommend you join me for the next round of online coaching. I’ve recently redesigned the online coaching platform so that it’s more conducive for me working 1 on 1. You must know how to squat, deadlift, and bench. That is the foundation and how the program is going to help you reach maximum results. Click here for more details. 

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