What prevents many women to achieve the shape they aim for is their wrong beliefs and ideas of what this process looks like. Many women rely on the wrong measures of progress and even when they are moving in the right direction with their training and eating habits, they quickly do a U-turn – because their wrong beliefs and fears and their wrong measures of progress make them believe something is wrong and they had better quit.
One of these wrong measures is weight. Many women worry too much about their weight and about small changes in the range of 0.5 – 1 kilogram. Weight is not equivalent to the ratio between lean mass (organs and muscles) and fat mass (adipose tissue). In this post I wrote in more detail about what weight represents and why it is not the best measure.
I work with a lot of women and I see that many of them panic when their weight starts inching upwards – even by as little as 0.3 kilograms. I use different measures of progress – I use weight, too, but together with body measurements (waist, thighs, hips, arms, legs). To me weight is more of a tool that shows me how the body responds to different amounts of exertion, sleep and macronutrient ratios in the diet. In this post I want to show you how unreliable weight is as a way to measure fat loss and that you don’t need to panic, if your weight fluctuates, especially while your measurements are shrinking.
1.Weight and training
I am writing this post mostly because of this item. I would very much like for every woman to realize that training is a kind of stress for the body and that recovery processes take place afterwards. These recovery processes are accompanied by hormonal changes and some minor inflammatory responses (which are nothing to worry about, just a part of recovery). All of this is normally accompanied by some water retention. This is simply the way progress is made after physical exertion.
I am sure many of you have experienced the so-called delayed-onset muscle soreness, when you feel like Robocop not on the day after your workout, but on the next day, and you feel stiff and heavy. This is the result of microtears in the muscle fibers, caused by the workout, and the way you feel signals that the recovery process is going on in the body. All of this leads to some water retention.
2.Weight and electrolyte balance
This is another very important aspect. Anyone who takes at least a little interest in the human body knows that in the body everything comes down to homeostasis (balance). One of these important balances is electrolyte balance (in this case the ratio between sodium, potassium and calcium). It is very important to realize that the needs of a sedentary person are one thing and the needs of a physically active person are a completely different thing. This is also true in this case. Normally (in a sedentary person) the electrolyte balance is maintained by the excretory system, notably by the amount of urine excreted. The needs of physically active people increase, because their diet and the functioning of their excretory system (in this case through sweating during a workout) can cause more electrolytes to be lost. In that case the body uses certain mechanisms to restore this balance – it releases the hormone aldosterone. As a rule, circulating aldosterone levels in our body are not very high. The levels of this hormone increase in response to metabolic or physiological stress.
What are the main functions of aldosterone?
Its main function is to reabsorb sodium. In other words, sodium, which would otherwise be excreted from the body, is retained in the case of stress because of the presence of aldosterone – you can think of it as the brakes in the body.
You could say that water mirrors sodium levels. Sodium has a positive charge, while water has a negative charge. Consequently, the more sodium you secrete, the more water is lost. When aldosterone levels are increased, sodium gets reabsorbed, i.e. it does not leave the body, which means that water is not lost either, but is retained.
Like I said, there is always a certain ratio between potassium and sodium. Extracellular fluid contains more sodium, while intracellular fluid contains more potassium. The body constantly tries to maintain this balance. Aldosterone leads to sodium reabsorption, while at the same time leading to increased potassium excretion. This results in imbalance – more sodium and retained water and less potassium. If your level of physical exertion is normal, this is only temporary, but it can be one of the reasons for weight gain on the days after a more strenuous workout. This is also one of the reasons why appetite is increased, when this type of workouts are not accompanied by an adequate nutrition plan (which applies to most women).
3.Weight and muscles
I am not going to discuss this factor in a lot of detail, because I think it has been said often enough that muscles weigh more than fat, but this is an indisputable fact. If you train with weights, it is quite probable that you are burning fat, but gaining muscle mass. That is why your measurements may decrease (i.e. your fat is melting, your body is getting more defined), but your weight stays the same or slightly increases. The Internet is full of “before” and “after” pictures, where a woman weighs 4-5 kilograms more than before, but her measurements have decreased substantially and she looks much better and more toned than when she weighed less. So weight by itself cannot reflect these changes. That is why a more precise indicator is your body fat percentage which can be measured with a caliper – it gives a more accurate idea of the ratio between lean mass and fat mass.
4.Weight and sleep
If you follow my blog posts, you probably know that to me sleep is a very important factor for health and for our capacity to lose weight. Let me just mention that a sleepless night can cause your cortisol (stress hormone) and insulin levels to increase, which in turn leads to water retention. So if you are experiencing sleepless nights, it is quite probable that you weigh slightly more, but it does not always mean you have gained fat. Normally, if you get enough sleep, on the next day your bloated feeling will be gone and you will weigh less. If you often fail to get enough sleep, in this blog post I wrote in detail how you should eat after a sleepless night in order to avoid falling prey to your carbohydrate cravings.
5.Weight and the monthly cycle
This does not apply to men, but it does apply to women. However this may sound, I am often surprised that there are women who treat their monthly cycles like something that has never happened to them before and are surprised that their appetite increases or they feel irritated, bloated or weigh a little more. And it is very important to emphasize that feeling bloated is not equivalent to looking fat. One is the way you feel, the other one is a fact. Weight normally fluctuates and is not the same during the first 14 days of the monthly cycle and then during the second half of the cycle. What is typical is that between the 19th and the 24th day you can observe a slight weight gain which can persist until the 28th day. If you follow these fluctuations in your weight over a period of time, you won’t regard 500 grams or 1 kilogram as some kind of drama that you channel into destructive actions.
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