Is Your Scale Your Frenemy?I’ve been dieting for almost this whole year, minus the month+ that I was gaining weight for my stem cell fat transfer breast augmentation surgery. Amazingly, I’ve been sticking to it (another post on how will follow).

I’ve been religiously using the MyFitnessPal app which has me tracking my goal, and eating a meager 1200 calories a day. I’ve also been working out and generally being more active. So far this year I’ve dropped 10 lbs, gained 10 lbs and dropped 8 lbs. Fun, I know.

If you diet, you’re probably familiar with this phenomenon: There’s that one day when you go out to eat and you say eff this diet. I know my “diet” has me at 1200 calories and to maintain weight I’m supposed to be at 1800. So I eat 1600 calories worth of food that day. I should maintain my current weight at that calorie intake right? Wrong. My weight blows up by 3-4 lbs!! Two days later, at my 1200 intake and I’m back to normal.

Did I really gain 4 lbs by eating more food than normal? And then lose it again?

Turns out the answer is “not really”.

Your Floating Weight

One lb. (of fat) equals 3,500 calories so you would’ve had to consume 10,500 calories to gain 3 lbs.  So as long as you didn’t consume 10,500 calories your 3 lbs is likely fluid.

Your weight is less of a static number and more of a floating number between 2-3 lbs. One person suggests adding 3 lbs to your weight to make your “maximum” weight. This can help account for fluid weight and food that’s in your belly.

You must consume about 3500 calories in addition to your calorie expenditure in order to gain a single pound (and keep it).  This doesn’t even take into account fluid intake. One gallon of water weighs 8.34 lbs – one 8 oz glass is half a pound! If you drink two glasses of water before you weigh yourself you’ll be one lb heavier.

Take a look at this scenario: “When you eat a slice of ham or an egg, you don’t drink a quart of water. However, when you eat a big meal, you drink a lot more liquid in order to digest it. Water is essential for digestion. Let’s break down the weight of a big meal: the first course weighs 5 ounces and the meat dish, 7 ounces. There’s 12 ounces right there. Add to that the weight of the vegetables and starchy foods, which is another 7 ounces, and your meal’s weight goes up to 19 ounces. You also have to include the weight of the bread, dessert, and liquids. When you add it all up, you see that it’s normal to gain two pounds after a major diet detour. It’s not the end of the world, because those two pounds are not two pounds of fat.”

By this same token the people who say they eat less for one day and start to lose weight already (as if they’re some sort of weight loss god mocking the rest of us drooling over cheesecake) are experiencing this same fluctuation. So it’s safe to stop hating the person who thinks they can lose weight in a day or even a week – they’re probably just bottoming out on their floating weight.

The Right Tool for the Job

Cheap scales may not be the most accurate way to track your diet progress. Weight can fluctuate from one step-on to the next. If a more expensive, fancy scale isn’t in the books you can do an average weight to get a more realistic view of your progress. Weigh yourself morning, noon and and night (or morning, evening, night) and take the average weight.

Before I got my TargetScale I would keep a spreadsheet with my weigh-ins and measurements and track a daily and weekly average (nerd, I know). I would also keep track of my daily calorie consumption in the same spreadsheet and take a weekly average of that. (Trends and whatnot, yeah, nerd)

In fact, a more realistic way to measure your health might be to go by your BMI measurement. If you have a fancy scale like the TargetScale or Aria, or even some cheaper options – you’ll be able to see a breakdown of your body composition (fat, muscle, bone, water). Having a scale to measure these can also help pinpoint that any weight gain IS caused in fact by water retention due to a salty meal (or to help digest food you’ve eaten).

Aid the Cause

The “damage” is already done after eating the one big meal, but maybe there are things you can do to help get back down to the scale weight of yesterday.

Avoiding salt in the days after can help deflate the water retention as well as eating bananas (or raisins) – as potassium helps eliminate fluid retention.  Cabbage and cranberry juices are also natural diuretics.  Vitamins A and C may be helpful as well as they “diminish the fragility of capillaries and decrease water retention”.

Another remedy for an overindulgence meal is eating a cup of plain, low-fat yogurt with active cultures. The active cultures will help aid in digestion (something you’ll desperately want after your big meal)!

Where Danger Lies

Don’t feel defeated because you ate a big meal and your weight blew up. Simply go back to your healthy eating and exercising habits and the excess weight will come off soon enough. Sometimes it’s depressing to step on the scale and see that 3-4 lbs after a meal and you may feel like giving up on your diet, but try to avoid that kind of thinking!

The moral of the story is don’t despair so much over your weight number. Try to focus on your calorie intake and activity level and your weight  should follow suit.

Have you seen your scale blow-up after overeating just once? Share your story in a comment! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for more musings than I can fit on my blog or add my blog to your RSS reader of choice!


Weighing: How?…Where?…Why?
Why weight goes up after eating
Why does my weight fluctuate 2-4lbs every day
Stabilization – Weight Gain After a Big Meal
Diet 911: After You Overindulge
8 Home Remedies for Water Retention
Measuring Fat and Weight Loss: More Than Stepping on the Scale

By | 2017-05-18T13:26:50+00:00 August 30th, 2012|Fitness, Health|6 Comments

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About the Author:

I’m a just-turned thirty year old atypical Minnesota girl. Sometimes blonde hair, always blue eyes, with a sense of humor and nerdy tendencies. I thrive on advertising, pop culture and fashion. My latest obsession is Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes!


  1. Ally April 25, 2013 at 11:28 AM - Reply

    I went to a Chinese buffet last night and was only up by less than a pound this morning, however, I’m already up over 3 lbs from last week because of TOM. Not sure if I can lose 3 1/2 lbs in 4 days but if it’s all water weight, I might be able to do it. I’m going to take your advice and drink lots of water and eat bananas and raisins for snacks.

    • Alice April 25, 2013 at 12:05 PM - Reply

      I’ve found when I have great weight fluctuations that eating well for a couple days afterward can get me back down quickly. Eating yogurt, nuts, avoiding red meats or anything that’s high in sodium seems to work, as well as keeping my calorie intake down to 800-1200 (if I’m not working out or moving around a lot). I use the MyFitnessPal app for tracking food and it also keeps track of nutritional information like sodium and sugar.

  2. Rob January 16, 2014 at 9:10 PM - Reply

    I have found that by monitoring my calories is not enough. if my sodium is higher than the daily amount on myfitness pal I will be up in water weight the next day. but then I really watch the sodium the next day and the water weight comes back down.

    • Alice January 16, 2014 at 9:26 PM - Reply

      That’s a great point!

  3. Johnny February 10, 2014 at 6:00 AM - Reply

    don’t go silly on counting every calorie, its the type of calories you consume, if you consume a majority of your calories in carbs you’ll hold more water weight. solution “drink more water” this will flush the water retention associated with carbs intake. also don’t starve yourself on 1200 calories a day, that’s also a reason you wont lose weight either, your body will conserve and store fat because you aren’t eating enough. seriously up your good fats and protein intake (yes organic grass fed beef is a good fat) so is coconut oil, avacado, organic dairy, wild caught fish, nuts. eat protein with every meal, the only only carbs from fruits vegetables, rice and oatmeal. avoid processed foods, and if you like a cake make it yourself with real ingredients. of course you have to exercise too, but exercise also make you hungry, again don’t snack on salty processed carbs, drink a protein shake or eat a banana. ive lost about 45lbs doing this and followed some good real advise

    • Alice March 3, 2014 at 9:51 AM - Reply

      I’m definitely been taking a what I eat approach versus how many calories I’m consuming. I do try stick to it when eating out because hardly any of that is good for you, but I’ve cut out about all processed food from my diet. My husband and I have been eating more vegetables and fruits, and really try to limit our eating out. We’ve stopped buying pop, cookies, etc. and shop at a natural foods co-op. We’ve been ingredient checking most things we buy, like bread! I was shocked to find HFCS in my bread, so now we found an organic bread to eat that’s not full of enriched flour and crap. At my height, weight, and activity level, my calorie intake for a day is around 1500 last I checked, though some days I feel full eating 500-600 calories, and others eating around 1800. Lately, I’ve been focused on exercising more and moving more in general. Thanks for commenting!

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