There’s a reason why most of us dread stepping onto a weight scale – it fluctuates – a lot sometimes! The trending up or trending down feels frustrating, especially when there’s little rhyme or reason why. It’s not that your overall health is totally dependent on what number appears but have you ever wondered why weight fluctuates and when is the best time to weigh yourself?
Here’s a look at various reasons why weight ebbs and flows over the course of 24 hours:
- Time of day and how to weigh yourself accurately
If you find yourself stepping onto a scale multiple times a day, stop. No matter how many days a week or month you intend to weigh, there is only one time of day to do it – first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom and with little to no clothes on. This will be your most accurate weight.
To get as accurate weight as possible, always use the same scale placed on a hard, even surface (no bath rug or carpeting). Check to make sure the scale is on zero before you weigh. Then, step onto it with bare feet evenly distributed and stand still for an accurate weight.
How often should you weigh yourself? It’s preferential to do so each day. Stepping on a scale every morning has the benefit of preventing age-related weight gain. If you keep track of your weight on most, if not all days of the week, you will ‘catch’ yourself if you start to go up on the scale making you aware of that, and from there, you can make small changes like reducing portion sizes or increasing exercise to blunt weight gain.
- Sickness or disease
Having an illness or chronic disease can cause weight fluctuations. For example, diabetes can cause both weight loss and weight gain, depending on whether insulin is being used effectively in those with type 1 diabetes or for people with type 2. If their blood sugars levels are uncontrolled, they may find themselves more hungry thus eating more leading to weight gain.
If you have an illness accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea you’re more likely to experience weight loss.
Medication-related weight gain is not that uncommon. There are many drugs that can cause a noticeable gain in weight such as steroids, antihistamines, antidepressants, antipsychotics, epilepsy medications, beta-blockers, and opiates.
If you are concerned that a medicine is causing weight gain, talk to your healthcare provider. Never stop taking a medicine without talking to them first. During the visit, discuss all treatment options available and together make a plan to perhaps switch medications or at least make lifestyle changes such as eating healthier, exercising, and getting more sleep.
- Consuming too many salty foods
Sodium, the mineral (along with chloride) that makes up salt, causes more water to be retained in the body influencing weight gain. Many of us consume more sodium than we need. Take a look at your diet and refrain from high-sodium foods such as processed meats (bacon, sausage, luncheon), salty snacks like chips and pretzels, and frozen pizza and TV dinners. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends for adults consume no more than 2300 mg of sodium a day.
- Consuming too many sugary carbs
Foods high in simple carbohydrates (carbs) lack fiber which helps to slow down digestion and the rate at which sugars are absorbed. But consuming foods with a high sugar content – e.g. soda, muffins, donuts, cakes, ice cream, and other desserts – are digested quickly which means you’re hungry again soon after eating them. These refined carbs cause blood sugar fluctuations leading to feelings of hunger and food cravings. Also, when blood sugar is spiking after eating refined carbs, the pancreas releases more insulin into the bloodstream attempting to maintain normal blood sugar levels. However, the more sugary carbs you eat, the more insulin released into your bloodstream, and the more your body will convert carbs to the fat that gets stored in the adipose of fat cells of your body, leading to weight gain.
- Lack of sleep
One too many sleepless nights can cause weight fluctuations. Lack of sleep often makes us feel more hungry than usual thus leading to extra weight gain. If you suffer from insufficient sleep, try going to bed and waking up at the same time seven days a week, keep your bedroom dark and cool, allow no electronics in your bedroom distracting you from sleeping, and sleep with ‘white noise’ on such as an overhead fan.
Surprisingly, exercise is not the biggest driver of weight loss, if that is your goal. Of course, exercise expends energy burning calories which can result in weight loss. But if you’re adequately hydrated, you may not see immediate weight loss on the scale. That’s because the water you drink after working out replaces water you’ve lost via sweat.
But, water has no calories therefore it won’t cause any weight gain. One thing to remember: exercise burns calories that can result in weight loss but only if you are burning more calories than you are eating or drinking. However, if you are exercising burning calories, but then consume more calories through your food and beverage choices, you may not see any weight loss or maybe even weight gain. Also, if you are building muscle mass, particularly by lifting heavy weights, you may notice a slight gain in weight.