Whether you had one too many margaritas at the bar or ordered takeout more times than you’d like to admit this past weekend, we’ve all experienced it –– the fear associated with stepping on the scale and reading a number that is a few pounds heavier than you expected. While the scale probably isn’t lying, don’t let the number it reads weigh you down!
Fluctuations in your weight are actually completely normal, and we enlisted the help of Dr. Charlie Seltzer, MD, of Lean4Life Weight Loss & Fitness Solutions, to explain why. Read below for the truth behind weight fluctuations.
1. You’re looking at the scale way too often
When it comes to body image, the scale is not the end all, be all. In fact, it is only one point of information in a set of many!
“You don’t need to see the scale move on a day to day basis,” Dr. Seltzer says. “I encourage people not to get too happy when the scale is down and not to get too discouraged when the scale is up.” So, just how often should you be stepping on the scale? According to Dr. Seltzer, it is good to weigh yourself once a day, in the morning, after you use the bathroom.
If you find yourself checking the number it reads obsessively, you may be at risk of a deeper psychological issue. “Eating disorders are very common and the association with the scale is a warning sign,” Dr. Seltzer says. “At the end of the day, anyone can lose weight ––what matters is not that you do it but how you do it. If you’re doing it in a way that makes you miserable, then something isn’t right.” Keep calm and remember that the most important thing isn’t how you look, but how you feel!
2. You’re not staying hydrated
Water is a key factor in your daily weight fluctuations. For example, if you do cardio at the gym for an hour and don’t hydrate properly afterwards the scale could read a few pounds lower than expected because you burned off that water weight when you were exercising.
According to Dr. Seltzer, this is because hydration plays a major part in the number you see on the scale. “This is why it’s important to keep in mind that there are many factors besides the number on the scale that go into play when it comes to your body,” he says. “You can’t live your life by the scale, but you can’t disregard it either.” Keep this simple fact in mind the next time you weigh yourself!
3. You’re constipated
This one might seem obvious, but there is more to it than you think. Constipation can be triggered by numerous things: from your period to your stress levels, to a lack of sleep, to your travel habits, to your diet (and then some). If you feel struck by a backed up system, drinking more water and eating fiber-rich foods will help get things moving.
4. Carbs make your body harbor more water
Everyone knows that carbs are a big villain in the weight-watching world, but does anyone actually know the reasoning behind it? Well, we’ve gotten to the bottom of it. Our bodies can store a lot of carbs. When you eat more carbs than your body currently needs ––and we all know how easy that is–– the leftover carbs get stored in your liver and muscles until they are ready to be used. These leftover carbs cause the body to store more water than it otherwise would.
The scale is going to move no matter what you eat ––carbs or anything else. So, Dr. Seltzer recommends that students focus on healthy eating habits rather than the number on the scale. “If you have too many carbs, don’t worry too much,” he says. “Too much of anything can make you gain weight, so just focus on making healthy calorie choices.”
Reilly Tuccinard, a junior at the University of South Carolina, understands how hard it is to maintain a healthy weight in college, especially with the temptations of food and alcohol. “I find that refraining from buying snacks and always keeping fruit, veggies and lean proteins in my kitchen are the best way to ensure that I’m on track,” Reilly says. “Focus on eating what makes you feel good and working out a healthy amount!” Weight fluctuations are inevitable, but making body-conscious decisions about what you are eating is a great step to avoiding them.
Related: 5 Reasons Why Your Diet Won’t Work
5. You’re consuming too much sodium
Have you ever been hungover, eaten a greasy meal, chugged a massive bottle of water and felt like a bloated loaf of bread? This is because water and salt are extremely attracted to each other. “If you’re not used to eating a lot of salt, the excess sodium will cause your body to hold onto water,” Dr. Seltzer says. “Because of this, any water you drink will fill up in your body ––first in your muscles, and then elsewhere.”
Believe it or not, drinking more water is actually the solution to this problem (besides cutting down on your salt intake, of course). “Drinking more water will generally cause you to retain less water over time,” Dr. Seltzer says. “There are two hormones that control your salt and water intake [aldosterone and anti-diuretic hormone (ADH)]. If you’re chronically eating a lot of salt or drinking a lot of water, you can process both more quickly. If you’re not used to eating a lot of salt or drinking a lot of water, when you do, you bloat.”
PSA: Potassium-rich foods are also a big problem-solver. Can someone pass us a banana?
6. Your period is about to start
Feeling bloated around the time of your period is not something new. But, what is the cause of this feeling? “Women on their period will generally weigh a little more because it makes you retain more water,” Dr. Seltzer says. “It has to do with high estrogen levels.”
If you find yourself unhappy with your body’s appearance during your period, don’t cry and cram in a three-hour gym session. Relax and understand that this is a completely natural process! In a few days, your body will be back to normal.
7. You’re drinking too many sugary alcoholic beverages
Drinking is an obvious part of the college lifestyle ––and whether you consider yourself a frequent drinker or not, alcohol could be causing your weight to fluctuate! However, it is possible to add alcohol into your diet in a healthy way.
“The first thing is to understand that in college you’re going to drink,” Dr. Seltzer says. “Drinking has calories. Drinking also makes you eat more calories. You have to work it into your routine ––if you know you’re going out and are going to have three vodkas one night, then balance those drinks with your other calories during that day.” The next time you go to the bar, shy away from the super sugary or fruity drinks. Your body will thank you!
It is important to keep in mind that weight fluctuations are extremely natural and normal –– so don’t let them bring you down, collegiettes! Rather than torturing yourself by obsessing over an inconsistent number on the scale, focus instead on how you look and feel.