Reasons why the scale goes up
Updated: May 9
Working with clients from all different styles of life, there’s one big thing they all have in common. They ask ME why the scale goes up some days? And to be honest, sometimes it makes me smirk because I should be the one asking said client about why the scale went up – they know more about their own choices than I do! All I see is the data, not the habits, right?
No matter what actually happened for the reason of the scale increase, it’s always one of the following reasons. It could be a collection of these reasons also, absolutely definitely at least one of them.
When most of these reasons happen, usually they are beyond control of nutrition programming (just because you do X, Y and Z exactly, doesn’t mean these can’t and won’t happen), but at least being aware of these reasons and how your choices can change the outcome, is the most important element here. Again, it’s the awareness.
You’re eating in a caloric surplus. The main reason why weight goes up (therefore, the scale number) is because you’re consuming more calories than your body is utilizing on a daily basis. Although it’s technically so much more than just ‘calories in versus calories out,’ honestly, in simple terms, that’s exactly what it is.
You’re gaining muscle. In order to grow muscle, you need to grow weight. That’s absolute. You cannot grow muscle if you are not in a caloric surplus. If you are at maintenance calories or less (in a deficit) then your body will not grow muscle. Hard facts, no exceptions here.
You haven’t pooped yet today. Did you know your intestines are over 12 feet long in total? There’s a lot of little pockets in there where waste accumulates, and you can easily drop up to 5 pounds with a healthy bowel movement.
These almost all go together, so I’m going to cluster them:
You drank a lot of water. Drinking more than what your body is used to consuming (a healthy amount necessary for your activity levels, proper digestion and overall health) can potentially cause a bit of retention, until your body can get used to the intake it’s experiencing.
You had a lot of fibre. Fibre is vital for healthy bowel movements and the process of flushing through your digestive tract. Too much of it (more than the average of what your individual body needs for health) can cause a little bit of back up.
You had a lot of salt. Your body needs sodium for healthy function; vital for your organs. But too much processed salt can retain in your body and cause extra water hold, therefore making you feel bloated and/or seeing the scale increase. Some people respond more sensitively to sodium than others, so it’s important to know how your individual body responds instead of just going off what the ‘average human recommended intake’ is (often times these ‘averages’ take into consideration all the unhealthy stats as well, so just because it’s ‘average’ doesn’t mean it’s proper.)
And in opposite to all of these (not enough water, not enough fibre, not enough salt.) Water, fibre and sodium can all be tied together because they are really closely related. Too much of one can cause an imbalance with the others, or not enough of one can throw another one off. If you don’t consume enough of these, your digestive tract might not be working at its best capacity in order for healthy body function, therefore potentially causing weight retention or even constipation.
You’re stressed. When you are feeling stressed, your body reacts by releasing a hormone called cortisol to help keep you balanced. Cortisol is found in your adrenal glands, which sit above your kidneys. That’s right around your mid-section, so often times when we become stressed, we see retention and bloating around the midsection. Stress can literally ‘make you fat.’
The weather changed. Temperature and air pressure can play a bigger role than you think, and can affect your mood, your energy levels, and ultimately your weight.
Your hormones. We know that female hormonal cycles go up and down on a monthly basis, and testosterone, progesterone and estrogen fluctuate throughout the month. When this happens, we can see inflammation and water retention, and this can result in the scale going up. This usually drops back down once the cycle progresses.
You didn’t sleep well. When you don’t sleep for what your body needs, it can release cortisol (your stress hormone) to try to balance your internal levels. When cortisol is released in the body, it can accumulate as retention around your mid-section, often times like bloating.
You slept more than usual. Being overly rested can sometimes cause the scale to go up; not often, but it’s happened before, absolutely.
You had a hard strength training session. When you push your body hard (and often times feel DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) a lot of muscle fibre tears occur, resulting in inflammation in your muscles. This is how your muscles grow; you tear the tiny fibres in the gym and the repair and regrow even bigger than before. The muscle inflammation usually goes down after a day or two and can be assisted with healthy recovery (rest), water intake, proper nutrition choices and mobility/stretching.
You walked a lot more than usual (or did more 'cardio' than usual.) Increasing daily movement can cause water retention and muscle inflammation, making it seem like you are ‘gaining’ - but relax, it will go back down when your body can adjust.
You didn’t move as much as usual. When your body isn’t moving, it’s not using it’s gylcogen (energy) systems, so it holds onto it. Nothing ‘wrong’ with this, it’s just your body keeping it’s energy cup full for when you’re ready to move again.
You’re sick, and maybe you’re on medication or antibiotics. When your body obtains a foreign virus, it can actually slow down its other systems (digestion, metabolism, etc) in order to work harder to fight off this unknown issue. Antibiotics or medicine can cause water retention, plus all the other common side effects that you would read on the warning label. When you’re sick, it’s vital you rest up, allow your body the time it needs to recover and repair, and get back into your routine only when you’re off the entire medication timeline and feeling absolutely 100%.
Your scale is broken. To be honest, sometimes when it’s just an old scale or it’s been moved around a lot, it will lose its calibration and won’t be accurate anymore.
Remember that just because you see the scale go up doesn't mean it's fat gain. If you're working with a knowledgeable coach who is guiding you, trust them. Ask questions. Seek information so that you can have a clear understanding. Be aware of your choices. Remember that every action you take has a reactions, so what you did yesterday can change the outcome of today - even up to a few days. Relax. Be aware of the data and track what you can. The more data you have to collect and review, the better awareness you have and the more progress you can obtain.