8 Sneaky Offenders that Cause Weight Fluctuations

Julia Malacoff, Julia@jmalacoff is a former fashion editor turned health and fitness buff who writes about all things lifestyle—especially workouts and food. Recently she shared with MyFitness Pal that when you’re working toward a weight-loss goal, it’s normal to be watching the number on the scale like a hawk waiting for any changes that might occur. But if you’ve been tracking your weight for even a few weeks, you’ve probably noticed fluctuations are common. Still, they can be frustrating to see when you’re working hard to get into your best shape ever.

Even for those who aren’t actively trying to lose weight, it can be unwelcome to see the scale jump up. Rest assured, weight changes from one day to the next are generally temporary and, according to experts, they don’t mean you’re not making progress.

Here, find eight explanations for why your weight can spike — straight from nutritionists who help people meet their weight-loss goals every day — that have nothing to do with gaining fat.


It’s true that staying well-hydrated is a good move if you’re trying to lose weight, but the first few days of upping your water intake could actually cause the number on the scale to creep up, too. Why? “Let’s break down what weight really is,” says Megan Ware, RDN. “It is not just the measurement of fat in the body. It is the weight of your bones, organs, muscles, fluid and waste. When you’re dehydrated, you actually weigh less, but that doesn’t mean you are healthier. Let’s say you don’t drink much fluid one day, and the next morning you wake up and your weight is down. Then you drink a ton of water and the next day it looks like you gained 2 pounds. That does not mean you gained 2 pounds of fat; it just means that your body was depleted of water the day before.”


Lifting weights can speed your progress in the long run, but it can also temporarily cause your weight to appear higher. “I’ve had so many clients tell me they had a ‘perfect’ day: They ate healthy, nutritious foods all day, packed their lunch, made dinner at home and had a really killer workout with their trainer,” Ware says. “They get up in the morning expecting the scale to tell them what a good day they had yesterday, to give them their ‘reward’ for a day well done.” When they see the scale go up instead of down, they understandably get bummed out. But here’s the thing: “Intense exercise causes inflammation,” Ware explains. “In this case, inflammation is actually a good thing. When you are in the gym lifting weights, you are creating tiny little tears in your muscle fibers. When those fibers build back up (with proper nutrition), that’s what causes a change in body shape, tone and additional muscle. Your body takes on more water to help with muscle repair, which can translate to a higher number on the scale.”


It’s no secret that certain types of foods can affect your weight, and sodium is one that can have an immediate (although temporary) impact. “Packaged foods often have high amounts of sodium or salt, which causes you to retain water in your gut,” explains Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RD, the founder of Millennial Nutrition. “This results in a bloated belly and a higher number on the scale. The good news is that it usually goes away within a day or two.” To avoid this, Barkyoumb recommends focusing on whole foods and using herbs and spices to season your meals instead of salt.


Though carbohydrates are not the enemy of weight loss, eating an unusual amount of them over the course of one day or even a few days can make it seem like you’ve gained weight. “Carbohydrates are another type of food that can result in water weight showing up on the scale,” explains Alexia Lewis, a certified health coach and registered dietitian. “This is why people lose weight faster initially on a lower-carbohydrate diet. The body doesn’t hold onto the extra water. It’s also why people gain weight quickly when they eventually go off that lower-carbohydrate diet; that water weight comes back and the scale bounces up!”


No need to get into the nitty gritty here, but if you’re constipated, you’ll see that reflected on the scale. “If you aren’t going to the bathroom regularly and getting rid of waste, that is going to cause your weight to fluctuate,” Ware says.


Most women know their weight can be affected by their menstrual cycle, but some are surprised just how much weight they can temporarily gain because of their hormones. “About five days prior to your period, you may experience weight gain due to water retention,” Barkyoumb says. “The average woman will gain about five pounds in water weight during this time. No need to panic though; you’ll drop down to your normal weight when you start your period.”


Yup, really. “One small study in first-shift Monday to Friday workers found that people’s weights tended to go down during the workweek, hitting their lowest point on Friday morning,” Lewis says. “Weights went up over the weekends to their highest point on Monday mornings.” People who lost weight overall still followed this pattern, they just lost more weight during the week than those who remained the same or gained weight over the course of the study. “While this is one small study and it cannot be applied to the population at large, it does allow some insight into normal weight patterns,” she says. “Understand that even though the scale is going up and down, over time, overall weight can change.”


Sometimes yesterday’s weight can affect today’s weight for reasons that are all in your head. “Some people cannot get on the scale without judging themselves for the number they see,” Lewis explains. “If the number is up, they decide they have failed, feel bad and resolve to eat less and work out more. If the number is down, they decide they are a success, feel great, and decide they can eat more and work out less.” Ideally, you’d behave the same each day when dieting and over time, your weight would start to trend downward, despite the normal fluctuations, but for many people, this is easier said than done.

“If the scale makes you think this way, consider weighing yourself less often so you don’t see the natural ups and downs,” she suggests. It may also be worth considering adding some alternative methods of tracking to your routine, like weekly measurements and progress photos. That way, your weight is just one of the many ways you keep track of how you’re doing, and suddenly, the inevitable peaks and valleys don’t seem like such a big deal.

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