Each week I receive emails from all sorts of people (previous clients, people I’ve never met, mums worrying about their children.. daughters mainly) stressing over weight.
Weight. Not how much fat they are carrying. But weight. The number on the scales.
What the scales say is NOT the sane way to gauge fat-loss. Read scenarios 1 and 2. I’m going to call a spade a spade.
If you are carrying a lot of body fat, (we’re not talking half a stone here), then as you start a fat-loss programme – with exercise and measured eating – you will see a number drop on the scales quite quickly even if you’re only making small changes (like stopping snacking for example). Eventually the drop will start to slow down and you will need to adopt other methods to gauge progress. Like body measurements, fit of clothes, your happiness….that counts for so much.
If you are NOT carrying a lot of body fat but you want to shift a couple of kilos, then using scales is madness. Yes, get on them at the beginning of your programme if you absolutely have to, then again a month or so down the line, but every day??? The drop in the number on the scales may be minimal and this will mess with your head.
All of us have fat stores. Some of us more than others. This is the stuff we want to get rid of when we say we want to “lose weight”. For us to lose fat we need to eat less than our body needs so that our body turns to our fat stores for fuel, thereby using them up.
When we eat food, some of it goes to fuel our brains, our internal workings (heart, liver function etc) and some is stored as glycogen (this is stored carbohydrate). That is stored in the muscles and liver (around 1400-2000 calories worth). These carbohydrate molecules are stored with water. Quite a bit of water.
When you start your new fat-loss plan (i.e eating less than your body needs), your body will use up your glycogen stores first. If you’ve been overeating and not moving you might have quite a lot of glycogen. Hence those stored carbs (AND the water) will be used up…which means a significant drop on the scales over the first few days. (But it’s not fat, is it? It’s glycogen). And you may find yourself urinating much more (that’s the water). This applies to both scenario 1 and scenario 2.
As the fat-loss programme progresses, the body will switch to your fat stores for its energy. This is why.
- Chances are you’re eating less carbohydrate (less sugar, bread etc) and therefore you don’t have so much glycogen. Your body will use your fat for its energy instead.
- Depleting your glycogen levels is good. When you eat your lovely post workout carbs, they will go to fill up those glycogen levels, and not into your fat stores.
- You will be doing some exercise (if you’re not, it’s not a very good fat loss programme). This means you will be using up your glycogen and some fat too. Carbs go into your glycogen stores to fuel those workouts, not into your fat stores.
If you are carrying a lot of fat, there will be, like I said, a big drop in the scales in the first week. All that water and all that glycogen. But it will slow down eventually.
If you aren’t carrying much fat, then yes, there will be a small drop in the first week (glycogen usage) but it will slow down. If you weigh yourself every day and worry why the scales aren’t moving then you will go mad thinking you’re not making progress. But you will be if you are eating less than your body needs and doing some training.
Other factors which affect WEIGHT (not fat levels, just weight)
Days where you eat and drink more than you normally would.
So, say, you have been eating healthily like you do 80-90% of the time. Then you have a birthday blowout. You get on the scales the following morning out of interest. WHAM! The number has gone up. Of course it has. You will have eaten lots more calories, a lot of which are carbs, which will be stored with that water. You might have eaten more salt than usual (that holds water), you might have taken on a lot of liquid. Your hormones fluctuate every day too and…hell…..you might not have had a poo…..there are a whole number of reasons!
Your weight on the scales can change each day, each hour even, and you cannot gauge fat-loss progress like this.
What to do?
If you have to, weigh once. Then, maybe a month or six weeks later, weigh again.
Otherwise, take photographs, measure waist, hip, chest, thigh, arm. And relax into your programme.
It is wonderful when people want to make changes to their lifestyle and their health. If you’re one of those people, just get a good routine going for progress monitoring, and understand why weighing isn’t the best one.
Have a happy day.