I recently started an exercise routine which is a big change for me. It began with 30 minute treadmill walks 3-4 times a week. After building some momentum, I’m now walking 60 minutes a day 5-6 times a week on both a treadmill and outdoors. After completing my first 5K last week, I challenged myself to a new goal with a fun mantra stating “A 5k a day melts the pounds away.” I’ve moved more this past week than ever before which is very exciting for me.
I meet with my health coach every Tuesday and I tend to get on the home scale the morning of weigh-in day each week to see what I’m headed for. Today I was disappointed to see that I’ve actually gained 3lbs when I was expecting a loss. This is the very first gain since I started the Mindful Living program last December. I’ve been exercising, eating right, drinking plenty of water, journaling my food, and maintaining my daily macronutrient goals. My clothes are telling me I’m smaller however, when I stepped on that scale I gasped at the results. Naturally I stepped off and then on again because the scale had to be incorrect, right? Nope…It’s working just fine. Instead of panicking, I took to researching how this could be possible and here is what I learned so far.
Gaining a few pounds on the scale can be deceiving, especially if you know you’re doing all the right things which I know I have. So why did I gain weight?
Post-Exercise Water Fluctuation
Water comprises 65 to 90 percent of our body weight and therefore hydration variation can shift the scale by ten pounds or more from day to day according to clinical exercise physiologists. Some of us may experience water loss after a workout due to perspiration while others may retain water. Regardless of a higher or lower weight result, the amount of water in our bodies has a significant influence on the scale. So let’s not get too excited about a 5lb loss immediately following an intense workout (water loss) and conversely let’s not fret about a 5lb gain (water retention). In both instances, the results are misleading and more importantly they are temporary.
Workouts Influence Weight
It is normal for weight gain to occur after an intense workout or even a day or two later as vigorous exercise results in inconsistency on the scale driven by hydration status, inflammation from muscle damage repair, and even the amount of intestinal by-product such as urine and blood volume. Our body composition is a combination namely of fat, lean muscle mass, and water. Immediately following a workout routine, the proportion of mass in each of these categories can shift as much as 15 percent. As such, post workout weight gain is likely not the type of weight gain that we initially perceive as we stare in shock at the scale.
Weight Gain from Muscle vs. Fat
The dimension or size of muscle is denser than fat, and therefore heavier in nature. When we begin to change our body composition with exercise, we develop additional solid muscle mass while gradually decreasing body fat. In the short term, the scale weight may increase, as body fat percentage decreases. This shift is not a 1:1 ratio as the proportion of dense muscle does not increase at the exact same pace as the reduction in fat. These composition changes occur over weeks and months as opposed to hours or days making the scale inadequate when tracking them.
Most scales cannot detect how much of our body weight is muscle versus fat, so when setting fitness level goals it's not the best tool for measuring improvements. Instead, consider turning to other objective measurements such as measuring inches or simply gauging by how clothing fits. While weighing ourselves is one way to track progress, it shouldn't be the only way and it certainly isn't worth obsessing over with daily weigh-ins which in turn may cause can undue stress and de-motivation.
My best advice is not to give the scale too much power. I need to remind myself of this today as I’m a few short hours from my weigh-in and will undoubtedly confirm my first gain. I’m not going to change a thing because I know I’m doing everything right and I’m armed with factual information rather than anecdotal assumptions. Weight loss is a science. Keep the facts in check and allow mind and body to work together. Do not allow the mind to be impacted by unfounded emotional distress brought on by a scale. I have no doubt my temporary gain will melt off over the next few weeks. Meanwhile I’m going to change into my smaller size workout clothes and head over to gym and use that as this week’s objective measurement.
As always, thanks for reading and if you aren’t already, please consider joining me and my great network of friends on our Losing with Lisa Facebook support group.