For many people, stepping on a scale is the most highly anticipated and nerve-wracking part of their weight loss plan.
All the hours of work in the gym to burn that extra fat and gain muscle can be validated, or completely wiped out in this one moment, depending on what the scale says.
Except that’s not true.
There’s a prevailing myth that our bodies work like simple machines. You take x amount of calories out of your diet, you lose y amount of weight immediately.
The reality is that while operating at a caloric deficit is the way to lose weight, that weight does not burn in a linear fashion. Your body weight is not simply the sum of your calories.
There are a couple of things to unpack here, but let’s start with a basic misunderstanding that so many people miss.
Fat Loss Doesn’t Always Mean Weight Loss
If you stepped on the scale right now, then went 24 hours without any activity, and stepped on it again, you’d probably see two different numbers.
Why? Because at any given moment a number of things are contributing to your weight:
- Water retention: Excess fluids that build up in your body can constitute a ton of weight. As fitness expert Emily Skye points out, water retention typically comes either from a diet that is high in carbs and sodium, or during menstruation for women. So if you’re coming off a carb heavy meal, the increased glycogen stores in your liver and muscles will add to your overall weight.
- Full stomach/bowels: It’s simple—when your bowels are full you weigh more. Food that is still being digested will also add quite a bit to your scale.
You could burn fat off your body by the pound and still see little change on the scale if you’re carrying water weight on that day. Then, after flushing those fluids out, you would appear to have suddenly dropped several pounds.
Your weight in a given moment is a very poor estimate of how your total fat loss. However, averaging your weight loss over time can give you an accurate picture of your fitness.
You Need To Brace For The Woosh
What the hell is the “woosh”? The woosh is your savior when you’ve spent days watching your weight flatline.
As Leigh Peele explains, after days of working out and seeing no weight loss, “out of nowhere, the scale will drop dramatically lower than it had been registering. This is known as a whoosh.”
The verdict is still out on what exactly causes your body to lose weight in wooshes instead of at an even pace, but the most popular theory revolves around water retention.
When you operate in a caloric deficit, your body breaks down the triglyceride in your fat cells for energy. However, these cells are not immediately shrunk. Instead, they temporarily fill with water.
This means that even after you’ve burnt those fat cells, they linger for a bit, and don’t completely leave until you’ve flushed the excess fluid they’re now holding.
You can weigh yourself every day, but always look for overarching trends in your weight loss, not just day-to-day changes. Otherwise, you’ll wind up thinking you’re making no progress, when in reality you’re destroying your body fat.
Fat Loss Is A Lifestyle, Not A Result
Here’s the thing about fitness that no one wants to talk about: It never ends.
Your body fat percentage will always be one lost month away from skyrocketing. The muscle you’ve gained is always one injury away from diminishing.
The key is not to think of your fitness as a goal that you achieve and then stop. You need to think of it as a lifestyle, a part of your day-to-day for the rest of your life.
Not only will this view encourage you to commit to your fitness plan, but it will help you maintain perspective in regards to your weight loss.
You may not see the fat loss you want on a day-to-day basis, but over the course of weeks, months, and years you will have the results and life you’ve been working for.