Female weight fluctuations explained
One of my biggest obstacles when it comes to coaching women (actually its everyone) is something that’s been practically hardwired for years. There are relationships one develops as they grow up. A relationship with your parents. A relationship with your friends. A romantic relationship. And for some reason, society has engrained in our minds that we need a relationship with a scale too.
The scale is one of MANY tools to measure and track progress as well as overall health marker. But the scale is just that, a tool (both in the literal sense and the insult).
I’ve harped on this topic before so I’m not gonna go into it.
As much as there’s been great strides on the war against the scales, the battles continues. It used to be that women fought these battles more than men, but we’re equal opportunity now. And that gap has been bridged. There is still one aspect that women fight these scale battles with alone. Today I plan on sending over some reinforcements. Honestly it’s not the scale that we’re fighting. It’s our understanding of “cruising the crimson wave” that affects what you see on the scale. I know that it sounds funny coming from me (a dude) having no experience of this personally. I can assure you most of the people I coach are women and having been doing this for years, it’s a requirement for me to be in tune with all of this…like how Mel Gibson understands women in the movie “What Women Want,” only less creepy. Seriously, all our cycles are synced now. I kid I kid. But seriously though. This aspect of the whole fitness journey is something that’s exclusive to women and often times not addressed.
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
Say someone weighs themselves daily or weekly. Normally I’d recommend keeping it around the same time and day either weekly or biweekly. If you choose daily it’s only because you understand what I’m about to tell you and know that the number that day is just a snapshot of THAT DAY. Say that person weighs themselves daily or weekly and they just so happen to hop on the scale and see the number 4lbs heavier than last week or even the day before. WTF?!?!? is usually the initial reaction and then it turns into panic and feeling like they’ve either regressed or stopped progress. From there it’s a slippery slope of either getting a case of the f*ck it’s and eating whatever, or doubling on workouts in order to play catch up.
So what do you do when that happens? One word.
Take a step back and realize that the number that day is just a snapshot and so many factors go into what it says daily. Weight fluctuates daily (especially if one has more muscle than they do fat). Blowing your nutrition plan because of this will only set you back. And overdosing on workouts when it isn’t needed could impair recovery and set you back just as much. The culprit is water. It’s not a bad thing. There’s a reason your body retains it during certain times. Water fluctuations are normal and DO NOT mean fat gain. Retaining 2lbs of water weight doesn’t mean you’ve gained 2lbs of fat. Just making that clear.
Here’s what happens.
Hold up……before I go into. I just gotta say one of the things that surprised me the most out of all this how little understanding some women have of what goes on every month. Before I fell into the rabbit hole of female hormones and their role in the universe, I assumed that most women had this as common knowledge. Either it was never covered in school or wasn’t ever explained in an entertaining way. Either way its ok. Psssh, growing up I had no idea that men also produce the hormone prolactin and in high amounts can cause men to lactate too. The human body is a crazy thing.
But just to catch up. The female cycle is about 28 days long and has 4 different phases.
Phase 1 – Early Follicular week: The first 7 days after shark week (lady week)
Phase 2 – Late Follicular week: Next 7 days until ovulation
Phase 3 – Early Luteal phase: First 7 days after ovulation
Phase 4 – Late Luteal phase: Peak week or week prior to
Each phase has a different effect on the body. There’s actually a ton of things that happen during each phase but to keep this post short I’m only addressing the water retention and weight fluctuations.
Phase 1– This is where the lowest level of water retention occurs. Picture the ebb and flow of an ocean wave. This is basically when the tides recede.
Phase 2– Estrogen starts showing up and joins the party. With estrogen comes water retention. Estrogen affects water in a few ways but mainly by changes in sodium handling. Changes and sodium can cause water retention. (It’s not so much about how much sodium you ingest, it’s how your body reacts to it, just throwing this out there before anyone makes any decisions to cut sodium out).
Phase 3– The wave crashes and the tide gets pulled back in. This is where water retention slows and start to recede.
Phase 4– One more big wave. Progesterone levels drop during this phase and also affect sodium handling. Because of this, water retention rebounds. It isn’t uncommon to fluctuate between 5-9 lbs this week (depending on how muscular you are too).
Having said all that, everybody is different. Hormonal changes, dominant hormones, and hormone deficiencies are different for everyone and could change this model. But for the most part, this is what happens. Now that you have a bit of a clearer picture of what goes on, here’s what I suggest you do:
Now that you know all this, you’ll realize that weight fluctuations happen all the time. One day you could weigh one weight and the next weigh 6lbs more (this isn’t even taking food volume and bloat into account). This doesn’t mean you’ve actually gained permanent weight or fat. After a while you’ll start recognizing where your true weight set point is at. From there, you’ll start recognizing what is water retention and what isn’t. Bonus points if you’re a math person and like to figure out medians and stuff.
I guess the best way I can describe it is like a punching bag. Your body is the actual bag itself. The amount of sand (water) in it is what affects its size and weight. But the bag itself doesn’t actually grow. Hence, you don’t actually get fatter. It’s just how much sand is in it on that given day.
Water isn’t the only reason for weight fluctuations. Things like sodium and its relation to cortisol (stress hormone) affect things. How many carbs you’ve had that day affect things too. Carbs are stored as glycogen and for every 1 gram of glycogen, 2-3 grams of water are needed. The more muscular someone is, the more glycogen can be stored in those muscles. Meaning more water being pulled into the muscles with that glycogen.
Which is another reason why I keep mentioning “the more muscular someone is…”. Ladies, please don’t take that as being bulky or huge. The goal of body recomposition is building muscle and burning fat (aka making yourself more muscle than fat). Because of how the hormones are set up, women usually start this journey as being more fat then muscle. Men have more testosterone which makes them start already having more muscle (which is why you hear the husband and wife tales of my husband just started working out and the f*cker’s leaner already!). Being that the goal is recomposition (that lean and fit look), and we already know that the more muscular someone is the more metabolic they are, so building muscle (NOT BULKY) is priority numero uno. Which is why sometimes females who are beginners will see results on their clothes and in how they look and feel, but not so much on the scale (and actually the weight often increases). That’s ok. Remember what’s happening on the inside. Now that muscle is actually being built, water retention and weight fluctuations become more visible. Even though fat loss is also occurring (which is why they feel and look leaner), the scale says otherwise and it leads to the slippery slope of feeling like nothing’s progressing and where beginners often give up.
If you’ve read all of this, then you’ll have done one of the best things you could do for yourself. Arm yourself with knowledge. The scale isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s a tool that’s here to stay no matter how much you fight it.The only difference is now you’ve flipped the switch and are using the scale as a tool rather than the tool use you.
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