Follow the Bouncing Ball: Scale Rebound

I hate when this happens! And it happens to me a lot: I go down three pounds and then up two.  Down one and a half, then up one. Over and over again! Aack!! (yeah, that’s a scream face) It’s so frustrating and I just wish it would stop, even if it means not losing weight but just holding steady! It happened again today: I’d gone down 9 lbs last week and I’m up 3 this week! Grrr!

Sadly, there is nothing anyone can do to stop this.  This is how our bodies work. Because we are always eating, drinking, moving, our weight changes not only day to day but hour to hour! Almost all of us have had the experience where we weigh first thing in the morning and then later on at the doctor or the gym, we hop on their scale and -yikes! that’s 3 pounds more than this morning! Is this thing broken?!

I wish! Unfortunately, our weight naturally fluctuates due to what we’ve eaten, what we drank, whether we’re retaining water, if we are menstruating, if we are sick, etc.  Just eating requires fluid to metabolize food, so there’s that weight! Not to mention whatever we happen to be wearing! This is why most people tend to weigh the same time of day, wearing (or not wearing) the same thing each time.  Frankly, even we are doing everything right, our weight will fluctuate but unfortunately, this is not a comforting fact to any of us! This is why a lot of weight loss experts recommend taking measurements in addition to or in place of weighing.  This is the primary reason why these same experts do not recommend “daily weigh ins!”  Weighing in daily, or even weekly, can be tremendously discouraging, especially if you hit a plateau.

It took me a long time to buy a scale.  I really thought lightning was going to strike me when I finally did, but I had reached the point where I actually wanted to know my weight and I had no scale at all in my home. For the first time in my life, getting on the scale wasn’t painful or scary or as depressing as it always had been.  At first I weighed every couple of months and it was frankly kind of exciting to see the number going down, and then I joined an MFP challenge that required weekly weigh ins, and for the first time, I began to see the scale fluctuation for myself.  It was confusing and depressing and discouraging: what am I doing wrong? Why aren’t I losing? Is this a plateau and how do I get over one? How long do they last?  Sooo. Very. Upsetting. This is why so many people quit.  This is why so many people go on a binge.  It’s very hard not to panic when you see the number not moving or worse, as in my case so often, bouncing up a few pounds! If it had not been for the support of my MFP fitness friends, I probably would have panicked and done some stupid “protein shake cleanse” or something equally hare-brained!

FYI: this is where I remind you guys that if you aren’t tracking, you should be! I don’t mean you need to count calories or weigh your food, but you do need to keep track of what you eat, a ballpark figure of how much you ate (like one hamburger patty or 3 eggs), when you ate it, what exercise you did and how you felt during the day.  For example, if you felt really sleepy after lunch or got really hungry after dinner, then that tells you how your body responded to your food.  This way, if you do end up on a plateau or you really aren’t losing weight, you can look at what isn’t working and start making changes, otherwise, it’s like trying to hit a bulls-eye in a dark room: you can’t hit the target you can’t see. If you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, you won’t know what you’re doing right either.  You don’t want to change the wrong things! Apps like My Fitness Pal let you log your food and exercise and there is a little section for Notes at the bottom of your diary so you can track things like hunger or low/ high energy.  I also use a DietMinder journal just because I like the paper kind.  If you want to know more about tracking, why you should do it and another great template, check out  Elizabeth Benton has some great info and some great podcasts on the topic (among other things!)

Scale rebound is normal and common and if you haven’t seen it yet, you probably will at some point.  Weight fluctuation is normal.  Our weight is not made to stay the same day after day, because our bodies are processing plants: things come in; things go out, and whenever you decide to weigh yourself, who knows what you’re still processing inside? I’ve been on this journey for about a year and a half, and I’m never happy to see the number creep down or bounce back, but I’ve learned not to panic when it’s not the number I wanted to see.

First off, I am not someone who weighs daily: I weigh no more than once a week, mainly because I am okay with whatever number pops up on there and also because now that number motivates me- whatever it is! If it’s down, then, yay!! keep going!! If it’s not, then get your butt in gear and get it lower!! It also lets me know if I’m on a plateau or if my current eating habits aren’t working for me. It keeps me in touch with my body, but I also have to accept that it’s not always going to give me the news I want to hear.

The other thing that I started doing is taking measurements.  For a long time, I held off on this, partly because I’m not the most coordinated person, and also because I knew I wasn’t going to find a measuring tape long enough.  I admit, that thought was really REALLY depressing, considering most tape measures are about five or six feet long and they still aren’t long enough to go around my hips! (Yeah, that’s a freaking scream face emoji right there!! Ugh!!) But I got one, eventually, and after a while, the tape does reach around the widest part of my body! (FINALLY! YAY!) That in itself is tremendously encouraging! Losing inches tells you that you are making progress even if your weight is not going down. How does that happen? Because, as trainers like to tell you, muscle weighs more than fat, so if you are working out, then you can be building muscle and burning fat, which weight-wise, could cancel each other out! Building muscle is good for your metabolism, since it raises your basal metabolic rate; maintaining muscle burns more calories than maintaining fat, so the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate.  Think of how this might play out if you are not taking measurements: Let’s say you weigh 285 and are exercising, eating healthy and after a couple of months, you still weigh 280.  You might become discouraged and give up. “I did everything I was supposed to and I’ve only lost 5 lbs in 2 months?!” But if you were taking measurements, what you might have seen is that you lost 2 inches on your waist and 3 on your hips, which means you’ve exchanged the fat for muscle, so even though your weight looks like it hasn’t changed substantially, you’ve actually made some great progress!  This can add to the confusion and frustration because most of us would have noticed that our clothes fit differently, so “my pants are a lot looser, but I haven’t lost hardly any weight?!” It’s like looking through a keyhole- you’re only seeing a narrow part of the whole room; taking measurements actually opens the door! Yes, you are making progress, and your body is healthier for it, but if you don’t use more than one tool to measure that progress, you can set yourself up for disappointment and discouragement!

That doesn’t mean you should throw away your scale (unless you want to). It’s a tool, but like all tools, it has it’s limitations.  Measuring yourself isn’t going to tell you how much you weigh: it’s just going to show you how your body has changed.  For example, I lost more inches around my hips, waist and bust and less around my arms and legs, mainly because I’m trying to gain muscle and lose weight. So I’m losing fewer inches in certain places and more in others.  I think measuring tapes and scales are best used in conjunction with each other, but that is because it works for me.  So while my body is changing shape overall, I’m also seeing a downward trend in my weight.

Ultimately, that’s what you want with the scale: a steady downward trend, while in your measurements, you can see progress of a different kind.  The key takeaway is that you don’t only focus on one tool to measure your progress! You don’t rely on one technique for building a healthier life- it’s a combination of things, like diet and exercise, not just one or the other. So in measuring your progress, it’s best to do the same thing: use everything at your disposal!

Another key takeaway is not to be discouraged by fluctuations in your weight.  Our bodies are living organisms, not static statues.  They change as we change and change is not always a bad thing.  In fact, when I initially started losing weight, my doctor was more concerned that it was a symptom of serious illness than she was excited that I was finally dropping pounds. Losing weight rapidly is not healthy and usually not sustainable, so when your weight bounces around before finally going down and staying there, look at it as a sign of being healthy and not a sign of failure.  People keep telling me that weight loss is a journey, and sometimes there are detours.  You’ll get there eventually, so learn from the journey and try to enjoy yourself along the way!



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