The biggest problem with the scale is that it only shows a number. In terms of tissue type, the body may be analyzed into water (blood, lymph, urine), fat, muscle, bone, carbs (glycogen and glucose), nervous tissue (brain and nerves), hormones, connective tissue, contents of digestive tract (including intestinal gas), air in lungs, and epithelium. The scale shows your total body weight.
Obsessing over what the scale says without considering body composition is where the trouble begins. Your ratio of fat to muscle is known as body composition and it’s one of the ideal ways to judge your progress. Instead of obsessing over the reading on the scale, shift your focus to body composition.
The percentage of fat varies from person to person, but even an obese person has more water than fat.
The adult human body averages 53% water. This varies by age, sex, and adiposity. In a large sample of adults of all ages and both sexes, the figure for water fraction by weight was found to be 48 ±6% for females and 58 ±8% water for males. Your body weight can fluctuate 2-4 pounds a day or more from shifts in water alone.
In a lean adult, the percentages of protein and water are comparable. It’s about 16%. Muscles, including the heart, contain a lot of muscle. Hair and fingernails are protein. Skin contains a large amount of protein, too. Muscle is the weight you want to keep. Fat is the weight you want to shed. Even if you’re not an athlete or bodybuilder, you should still set goals to develop and maintain muscle not only for how it looks but also for what it does for your metabolism, your strength, your health and even your confidence.
Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle as glycogen and water are stored along with them. That’s why your weight can go up a few pounds when you eat more carbs. Add sodium (salt) and you may gain even more. Humans use glucose as an energy source, there isn’t that much of it free in the bloodstream at any given time. Sugar and other carbohydrates only account for about 1% of body mass.
Minerals account for about 6% of the body. They include salts and metals. Common minerals include sodium, chlorine, calcium, potassium, and iron.
The scale is not your enemy. It can be your friend if you know how to use the number as part of the feedback you need to progress and make course corrections. What matters the most is body composition, not just body weight.
Simply remember the difference between body weight, muscle weight, and fat weight. This knowledge will change the way you think about diet and exercise, changing the way you act. You’ll act smarter! You’ll start thinking about muscle!
Measure your body perimeters
To measure our body circumferences, all you need is a dressmaker tape. Place the tape around the body without pressing.
- Neck: Relaxed, measure the circumference of your neck around your widest point.
- Shoulders: Relaxed, arms at your sides, measure around the widest part of the perimeter.
- Chest: Measure the circumference of your chest around your widest point.
- Bíceps: With the arm relaxed and hanging beside the body, measure the horizontal circumference at the midpoint.
- Abdomen: Relaxed, measure the horizontal circumference at navel level.
- Forearm: Arm hanging beside the body and slightly separated from the trunk, measure the perimeter at the widest point.
- Waist: Relax your abdomen, measure the narrow horizontal perimeter of the torso.
- Hip/Glute: With both feet together, measure the maximum circumference of the hip.
- Thigh: Standing with legs slightly apart, measure the maximum horizontal circumference just below the gluteal fold.
- Calf: Standing with legs slightly apart, measure the maximum horizontal circumference between the knee and ankle.
With this measurements, calculate your body composition.
Don’t worry if you get on the scale and find that your weight has gone up or down a few pounds from the day before. The amount of food you eat, how much water you drink, how much you exercise and how much you’ve gone to the bathroom can all temporarily influence your weight. Weight training can cause your muscles to retain water, and your body may also retain more water if you’ve eaten a lot of carbohydrates. Salty food intake, hormonal fluctuations, and constipation can also affect your weight, temporarily making you a few pounds heavier than usual.
Reasons why body weight fluctuates daily:
1) Sodium: Think of your body like a pendulum scale. If you eat more salt than usual one day, your body will react by trying to balance the scale by retaining more water. Eat less salt than usual, and you have the opposite effect. If you eat a lot of salty food, you retain fluid, causing you to feel bloated and potentially see a higher number on the scale.
If you´re trying to lose weight, avoid these salty foods:
- Pretzels: Naturally low in fat, and some are made with whole wheat. But you can get a lot of sodium from them, especially if you don’t stop at a 1-ounce serving.
- Pasta sauce: Many are very high in sodium, often with more than 600 milligrams of sodium per 1/2 cup serving.
- Instant noodles: Instant noodle soup cups or packages are easy, inexpensive, and taste pretty good. But one serving will deliver about 750-950 milligrams of sodium (depending on the brand and the flavor).
- Mixed nuts: Nuts are a smart snack, giving you “good” fats, fiber, and protein. Naturally, nuts have almost no sodium, but nut mixes often have added salt, so check the label.
- Spicy chicken tenders: One order (three pieces) of spicy chicken tenders from a fast-food chain or restaurant can add more than 2,100 milligrams of sodium.
- Tortilla chips: Most tortilla chips are dusted with salt, totaling at least 250 milligrams of sodium per 2-ounce serving.
- Bottled Salad Dressing: Can have as much as 400 milligrams of sodium per 2-tablespoon serving, depending on the flavor and brand of the dressing.
- Lunch meats: Processed meats have salt and sodium for shelf life (or food preservation) and taste. Packaged lunch meats, even when they look like they have just been carved, contain about 560 milligrams of sodium or more per 2-ounce serving.
- French fries: Even the smallest size of fast-food french fries adds at least 250 milligrams of sodium.
- Fast Food burger or sandwich: One fast-food burger or sandwich alone can have more sodium than you should get in a whole day.
2) Alcohol: This diuretic causes dehydration in the body, which leads to water retention. The water retention is a result of your body wanting to make up for the difference in water levels drinking alcohol has caused. Also, alcohol stimulates your appetite and wrecks your self-control regarding the amount of food that you consume.
3) Carbohydrate intake: The body turns the majority of eaten carbs into glucose for immediate energy, storing them in the liver. Glucose that is not used for immediate energy, turns to glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the muscle tissue, which can lead to water retention. To save each gram of glycogen, we need three grams of water. This is why endurance athletes who carb-load tend to gain water weight in the days leading up to their races, and why people on low-carb diets lose weight so quickly at first. Aa low-carb diet often leads to rapid weight loss, but it is not fat you’re losing, it’s the body using up the stored glycogen for energy, which causes less water to be retained, leading to weight loss (not fat loss).
4) Strength training: Lifting weights or doing body weight exercises causes trauma to muscle tissue. The muscle rebuilds itself and grows, making you stronger and more toned. Part of the body’s response when repairing microscopic tears in muscle is fluid retention.
5) Dehydration: While bodybuilders and fitness models often intentionally cut down on water before competitions or photo shoots to show off more defined muscles, depleting your body of liquids can actually make you retain water. When we don’t drink enough fluids, our bodies hold on to whatever water we do have in us to maintain fluid balance. Then, our kidneys excrete fewer fluids via urine because they’re training to maintain that balance, and that can make the scale go up.
6) Restroom usage: 1-3 pounds a day of body weight change can be seen by using or not using the restroom.
7) Hormones: Most women are probably familiar with this one already. Experts believe that water is retained when hormones fluctuate, especially about one week prior to your period.
All of these can make your body weight go up or down without causing an increase or decrease in body fat. They are not necessarily areas you need to overly concern yourself with controlling, but hopefully now that you know a little more into how and why the number on the scale is not stable, you will relax a little when you step on the scale and it’s not necessarily what you were expecting.
Sustainable fat loss
The human body is always trying to maintain water balance for our overall health.
One to two pounds of weight loss is considered to be a healthy amount of weight to lose in a week.
Why is more weight not better? If you lose more than the 1-2 pounds in a week, it most likely not just body fat. It could also be muscle tissue, water weight, etc.