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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Smith

Fat in Flux?

Sally wants to lose a few pounds, so she decides she’s gonna start working out more and eating a few less calories. After a few days, she notices the number on the scale has gone down a couple of pounds. After two full weeks of being consistent with her diet and exercise, she’s ecstatic to see that she’s down a whole 5 pounds!

She’s so excited about her progress that she goes out Saturday night and has a drink or two and splits a pizza with her friends. The next morning she wakes up for her routine weigh-in and looks down at the scale… and she’s gained back all 5 pounds!! WHAT?!? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!? She’s so disheartened that she decides this whole thing isn’t worth the effort, and returns to her old habit of 6 doughnuts for breakfast and super-sized fast food for dinner.

Sound familiar? This story is all too common. You probably know someone who’s done this, or maybe you’ve experienced it yourself. Did she really gain all that weight back overnight? Was it all fat? Is it really possible to lose weight without being 100% strict all the time? The truth is, there are multiple reasons why this happened, and most likely it wasn’t because Sally gained all her fat back in one night.

Consistent Conditions

The first possible reason might seem obvious, but people often forget about it. When and how you weigh yourself — before or after eating a meal, before or after a bowel movement, clothes on or clothes off — can make a significant difference. Imagine you weighed yourself on an empty stomach, wearing minimal clothing. Then 5 minutes later, you’ve put on your winter coat and are holding a full plate of food (psst… food still weighs the same in your stomach as it did on your dinner plate).

Would you really expect the result to be the same? Of course not. This is why it’s important to weigh yourself in the same conditions every day. For me, I check the scale in the morning, immediately after I go to the bathroom but before putting on clothes or eating breakfast. For you, it might be at night right before you go to bed. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the conditions are, as long as they are consistent from one weigh-in to the next.

More Muscle

One of the best ways to lose weight is through resistance training. Whether just using your bodyweight (push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, etc.) or lifting weights (weighted squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc.), this helps strengthen your muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and even your nervous system while simultaneously burning a LOT of calories.

Typically, your muscles grow in response to this stimulus, and this can cause the number on the scale to stagnate if you build muscle and burn fat at the same rate. (Side note: this is why it’s important to consider other factors beyond just your bodyweight, such as how you feel, how you look, or how your clothes fit.) But this shouldn’t upset you! Not only is muscle functional for life, but more muscle mass increases your calorie expenditure, which means you burn more fat. Win-win!!

Pain in the...

Guys, you can ignore this one if you want, but ladies, your menstrual cycle can certainly have a frustrating effect on your weight loss progress. As I’m sure you’re aware, bloating often occurs both before and during your period. Altered hormone levels cause your body to retain more water and salt, and of course this can cause a temporary weight gain that has nothing to do with fat. Unfortunately for Sally and many other women, they often give up on their mission to lose weight when they don’t take this into consideration.


Finally, judging from Sally’s story, the most likely explanation for her sudden weight gain has something to do with what she ate and drank the night before — specifically her carbohydrate intake.

Have you ever thought about the word “carbohydrates?” Sally certainly didn’t. People often use the shortened term “carbs” but that leaves out a key element of their function in your body — hydration. Carbohydrates are stored in your body as glycogen, and glycogen molecules contain water, so for every gram of carbohydrate you consume, you also intake 2-3 grams of water.

That beer and slice of pizza that Sally had? Yeah, those are dense with carbs, so she probably gained a few extra pounds of water. Does this mean that carbs are bad and you should avoid them? Not necessarily (personally, I enjoy pizza and beer on occasion). Carbohydrates are a great source of energy, especially for working out, and your body will sweat out that water weight in a matter of hours. Just be aware of the effect certain foods have on your body, and don’t give up the journey just because of a small bump in the road.

Don’t Give Up

What about you? Have you had an experience similar to this? Maybe you were making real progress on your weight loss only to be discouraged by an unexplainable spike on the scale. Don’t give up! One number doesn’t tell the whole story. And if you let yourself enjoy a few extra calories every once in a while, that’s okay too! Just get back on the horse and keep riding. No matter what goal you’re trying to achieve, consistency is the key to long-term progress. And if you need some accountability or want a tribe of supportive friends to lift you up, come join our crew here at CFD. We’d love to have you.

Spencer Smith

Owner & Head Coach

CrossFit Donelson

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