Stop focusing on scale weight

Scale fluctuations can not only ruin a person’s day but can even end up derailing their diet. But what if I told you that your weight is not the best method for measuring your fat loss progress?

Our body weight consists of two parts: fat-free mass and fat mass.

Fat-free mass is everything that isn’t fat, so we’re talking muscle, bone, organs, water and undigested food in the gut, while fat mass is simply fat. So when we talk about body weight, we are really talking about fat-free mass and fat mass. For those of us trying to change our body composition, ultimately, we’re trying to change our fat mass. It’s not actually weight we want to lose, it is fat.

Weight loss is easy to manipulate, boxers do it all the time by dehydrating themselves before a weigh in. So unless you’re about to jump into the ring anytime soon, let’s shift our focus of attention.

You see your body is complex, and your weight will fluctuate by the hour, day and week for a number of reasons. These fluctuations can be the reason you jump on the scales one day after being 100% adherent to your goals, only to see the scales shoot up the next day (sometimes in the region of 5-10lbs ).

So, what can cause these fluctuations? In a nutshell, the main drivers of huge weight fluctuations over a short window of time are generally water retention and undigested food.

1. The number of carbs you’re consuming will affect scale weight. 1g of carbohydrate comes along with 3g of water. Ever see a person go on a low-carb, or ketogenic diet, and say they saw fast weight loss (not fat loss )? This is basically the fact they are holding less water. However, this doesn’t make carbs the enemy and not everyone sees the same results.

2. For ladies, your monthly cycle will make you retain water at certain phases of your cycle, and in turn make you appear heavier on the scales.

3. Increased stress levels can lead to water retention which leads to a spike in scale weight, which is not necessarily fat gain.

4. Poor sleep patterns can increase stress levels, which we know can lead to water retention and a weight increase on the scale.

5. If you increase the amount of sodium in your diet your body may retain more water and on the flip side of this, if you reduce sodium intake, your body will release water.

6. The time and conditions you weigh yourself can impact the readings, so be consistent with scales, time you weigh yourself and clothing.

7. Alcohol can dehydrate you, leaving you lighter the next day. But on the flip side, alcohol can also increase hunger, which may lead you to consume foods high in salt and carbs that will impact your weight the next day. Aside from that, alcohol can impair sleep quality, which we know can lead to water retention.

The main thing to remember here is scale fluctuations are normal. Losing weight and losing fat are two separate entities. So long as you’re consistently eating in a calorie deficit, you will still be losing body fat. Try not to put too much emphasis on scale weight because it’s only one tool to measure progress. Instead, focus on body measurements, progress photos, how you are feeling and performance with your training. These are much more reliable metrics to measure progress and changes in your body composition.

Micheál Penston is the Head Coach at FM Fitness & Nutrition based in Westport, Co Mayo. They specialize in helping busy men and women to create the healthiest versions of themselves through educating and empowering around all areas of their lifestyle from fitness, nutrition, recovery and behaviours. You can grab a FREE copy of the 5 Stage Health & Fitness Kickstarter or find out more about their online and in person coaching methods at or social media handles @fmfitnessnutrition


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