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meatmama 02-29-2008 09:07 PM

Why the scales can lie.
For all of us ready to throw out our scales. I came across this and found it interesting.


A biologist at Berkeley shared something very revealing on the low-carb BBS system about 4 years ago that helps us all through the erratic weight fluctuations you invariably encounter: Fat cells are resilient, stubborn little creatures that do not want to give up their actual cell volume. Over a period of weeks, maybe months of "proper dieting", each of your fat cells may have actually lost a good percentage of the actual fat contained in those cells. But the fat cells themselves, stubborn little guys, replace that lost fat with water to retain their size. That is, instead of shrinking to match the reduced amount of fat in the cell, they stay the same size! Result - you weigh the same, look the same, maybe even gained some scale weight, even though you have actually lost some serious fat.

The good news is that this water replacement is temporary. It's a defensive measure to keep your body from changing too rapidly. It allows the fat cell to counter the rapid change in cell composition, allowing for a slow, gradual reduction in cell size. The problem is, most people are frustrated with their apparent lack of success, assume they have lost nothing, and stop dieting.

However, if you give those fat cells some time, like 4-6 months, and ignore the scale weight fluctuations, your real weight/shape will slowly begin to show. The moral of the story - be patient! Your body is changing even if the number on the scale isn't.


Common patterns of weight loss from tracking a lot of people who become assimilated into the low carb lifestyle, a pattern emerges.... the 2 week induction is pretty heady...weight lost just about every single day, enormous and unbelievable amounts of weight loss are reported. This is often followed by complaints that weight loss "stalls" or that the rate drops to only 1 pound per week.

Many people just don't know that fat-loss ...the actual goal when on a weight-reduction" diet, is rate-limited. In other words, the human body has factors that prevent more than a certain amount of fatty-acid release from storage...and even more factors that prevent those released fatty acids from being used up instead of stored back into the fat cells.

A priority of the human body is survival. Anything that threatens its survival results in the cascade of events to maintain the previous status quo. Water fluctuations are one way the body does this. OK...so you done good on Atkins' during induction...lost 10 pounds the first 2 weeks. Maybe 7 the first week and 3 the second. But, whoa! Weeks 3 and 4 there is NO loss! And weeks 5 and 6 is only 1/2 pound each!

So... what gives? Initially, the body jettisons the water attached to the glycogen stores that we diligently deplete to get into ketosis...this accounts for about 3-5 pounds of water. In addition, muscle stores of glycogen are not being replaced when used...which will account for the rest. All in all...MAYBE 1/2 pound of fat was metabolized during the first week... and MAYBE 1/2 pound of fat was metabolized the 2nd week. Of that 10 initial pounds, only 1 pound was fat and 9 pounds water...

The body senses this lack and sirens start shrieking: Warning! Warning! Losing water... new thing...got to get back to the status quo! Brain tells body to produce and release that vasopressin anti-diuretic hormone....more water is retained, and no weight loss noticed. Fat loss is still occurring, MAYBE even 2 pounds per week, because ketosis is firmly established and appetite suppression is in effect...but water retention is hiding that continuing fat loss. The body is preventing dehydration with this mechanism, and that's a *good* thing.

From the perspective of the scale, it can be discouraging. Which is why the mantra: Water retention masks fat loss (repeated frequently to oneself) is helpful. Water retention will mask ongoing fat-loss for as long as the body retains the water. We can combat this by drinking more water...but we aren't going to totally overcome this mechanism during the initial water-loss phase of the Atkins diet. By weeks 5 and 6, things start to get back in balance, and the scale will begin to reflect the true fat-loss...which, as mentioned before is rate-limited.

Individuals vary, but max weight loss runs about 2 pounds per week...under extremely optimal conditions... or 1% of body weight (whichever is the lower number). So don't use the scale as an excuse to undermine your progress. Even when the scale is in a stall, fat loss can be occurring.


We've been told over an over again that daily weighing is unnecessary, yet many of us can't resist peeking at that number every morning. If you just can't bring yourself to toss the scale in the trash, you should definitely familiarize yourself with the factors that influence it's readings. From water retention to glycogen storage and changes in lean body mass, daily weight fluctuations are normal. They are not indicators of your success or failure. Once you understand how these mechanisms work, you can free yourself from the daily battle with the bathroom scale.

Water makes up about 60% of total body mass. Normal fluctuations in the body's water content can send scale-watchers into a tailspin if they don't understand what's happening. Two factors influencing water retention are water consumption and salt intake. Strange as it sounds, the less water you drink, the more of it your body retains. If you are even slightly dehydrated your body will hang onto it's water supplies with a vengeance, possibly causing the number on the scale to inch upward. The solution is to drink plenty of water.

Excess salt (sodium) can also play a big role in water retention. A single teaspoon of salt contains over 2,000 mg of sodium. Generally, we should only eat between 1,000 and 3,000 mg of sodium a day, so it's easy to go overboard. Sodium is a sneaky substance. You would expect it to be most highly concentrated in salty chips, nuts, and crackers. However, a food doesn't have to taste salty to be loaded with sodium. A half cup of instant pudding actually contains nearly four times as much sodium as an ounce of salted nuts, 460 mg in the pudding versus 123 mg in the nuts.

The more highly processed a food is, the more likely it is to have a high sodium content. That's why, when it comes to eating, it's wise to stick mainly to the basics: fruits, vegetables, lean meat, beans, and whole grains. Be sure to read the labels on canned foods, boxed mixes, and frozen dinners.

Women may also retain several pounds of water prior to menstruation. This is very common and the weight will likely disappear as quickly as it arrives. Pre-menstrual water-weight gain can be minimized by drinking plenty of water, maintaining an exercise program, and keeping high-sodium processed foods to a minimum.

Another factor that can influence the scale is glycogen. Think of glycogen as a fuel tank full of stored carbohydrate. Some glycogen is stored in the liver and some is stored the muscles themselves. This energy reserve weighs more than a pound and it's packaged with 3-4 pounds of water when it's stored. Your glycogen supply will shrink during the day if you fail to take in enough carbohydrates.

As the glycogen supply shrinks you will experience a small imperceptible increase in appetite and your body will restore this fuel reserve along with it's associated water. It's normal to experience glycogen and water weight shifts of up to 2 pounds per day even with no changes in your calorie intake or activity level. These fluctuations have nothing to do with fat loss, although they can make for some unnecessarily dramatic weigh-ins if you're prone to obsessing over the number on the scale.

Otherwise rational people also tend to forget about the actual weight of the food they eat. For this reason, it's wise to weigh yourself first thing in the morning before you've had anything to eat or drink. Swallowing a bunch of food before you step on the scale is no different than putting a bunch of rocks in your pocket. The 5 pounds that you gain right after a huge dinner is not fat. It's the actual weight of everything you've had to eat and drink. The added weight of the meal will be gone several hours later when you've finished digesting it.

Exercise physiologists tell us that in order to store one pound of fat, you need to eat 3,500 calories more than your body is able to burn. In other words, to actually store the above dinner as 5 pounds of fat, it would have to contain a whopping 17,500 calories. This is not likely, in fact it's not humanly possible. So when the scale goes up 3 or 4 pounds overnight, rest easy, it's likely to be water, glycogen, and the weight of your dinner. Keep in mind that the 3,500 calorie rule works in reverse also. In order to lose one pound of fat you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in.

Generally, it's only possible to lose 1-2 pounds of fat per week. When you follow a very low calorie diet that causes your weight to drop 10 pounds in 7 days, it's physically impossible for all of that to be fat. What you're really losing is water, glycogen, and muscle.

This brings us to the scale's sneakiest attribute. It doesn't just weigh fat. It weighs muscle, bone, water, internal organs and all. When you lose "weight," that doesn't necessarily mean that you've lost fat. In fact, the scale has no way of telling you what you've lost (or gained). Losing muscle is nothing to celebrate. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue. The more muscle you have the more calories your body burns, even when you're just sitting around. That's one reason why a fit, active person is able to eat considerably more food than the dieter who is unwittingly destroying muscle tissue.

Robin Landis, author of "Body Fueling," compares fat and muscles to feathers and gold. One pound of fat is like a big fluffy, lumpy bunch of feathers, and one pound of muscle is small and valuable like a piece of gold. Obviously, you want to lose the dumpy, bulky feathers and keep the sleek beautiful gold. The problem with the scale is that it doesn't differentiate between the two. It can't tell you how much of your total body weight is lean tissue and how much is fat.

There are several other measuring techniques that can accomplish this, although they vary in convenience, accuracy, and cost. Skin-fold calipers pinch and measure fat folds at various locations on the body, hydrostatic (or underwater) weighing involves exhaling all of the air from your lungs before being lowered into a tank of water, and bioelectrical impedance measures the degree to which your body fat impedes a mild electrical current.

If the thought of being pinched, dunked, or gently zapped just doesn't appeal to you, don't worry. The best measurement tool of all turns out to be your very own eyes. How do you look? How do you feel? How do your clothes fit? Are your rings looser? Do your muscles feel firmer? These are the true measurements of success. If you are exercising and eating right, don't be discouraged by a small gain on the scale. Fluctuations are perfectly normal. Expect them to happen and take them in stride.

It's a matter of mind over scale.

Why The Scale Lies

iamblessed 02-29-2008 10:17 PM

Thanks for this info! I was getting so frustrated with the scales, stepping on them several times a day:blush:, and for the last week I have lost and gained the same pound over and over:cry: I went in the bathroom today and found that hubby had taken the scales out and hide them:annoyed:, guess that will take care of that frustration, now I'll be worrying about where they could be hidden:dunno:. I guess once a month weigh in at Curves will have to do:rolleyes:

nadi namaki 02-29-2008 10:18 PM

Great info thanks.

dietsprite 02-29-2008 10:42 PM

Very interesting, thanks for sharing. :)

Maeve 03-01-2008 07:01 AM

This IS interesting. I am starting to go crazy. I started Atkins back in October, went from 196 to 188, climbed the ladder, and then, the scale stopped moving. I thought, ok, I'm in a stall. Enough was enough and I started Induction on Monday (but fell due to a craving for nuts late at night) but have been perfect since Tuesday. I went down to 191, then, jumped back to 193 and this morning, I am 194. Since I have not cheated one iota, I have not changed my signature or profile, but I am starting to wonder. I was diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome a year ago and have taken care of things by dieting and joining a gym (which I work out at 5 days a week, doing cardio every day and the weight circuit 3 days a week). So.....:mad::dunno::aprayer:

squeakie 03-01-2008 07:32 AM

This is a great article. I think I've seen it posted here before, but it's a great idea to continue posting it often because it is so helpful and insightful. Thanks. :)

micki 03-01-2008 08:49 AM

thank you for posting

AlmondBear 03-01-2008 11:42 AM

Thanks I needed that :cry: I wish the part about the weight loss should be taking place in the 5th or 6th week wasn't in there, especially when they said in the beginning it could take 4-6 months before you begin to see change.. it's been 7 weeks for me :( i should have seen change by now...:annoyed: I hope this is my case and i start to lose weight soon...

LJB 04-24-2008 01:57 PM


AllieCat0817 04-24-2008 03:17 PM

Definitely a common topic of discussion over the years:






lisabinil 01-14-2010 08:08 AM


poopsie2223 01-14-2010 08:21 AM

That kind of would explain "wooshes", too, wouldn't it? If the fat cells replace the fat volume temporarily with water, there is going to come a time sooner or later where the body flushes out that water. And while you can't lose three pounds of fat overnight, you can easily lose three pounds of water that way. That really confirms something I've thought all along, that the fat/water interaction is complicated.

It seems like at first, you lose a huge amount of water, but that isn't "real" weight loss, it takes a while for your body to catch up with real fat loss to that big initial water loss. That is why many don't lose following that initial induction drop for weeks sometimes. Then they start to lose again.....wooosh.....stop again (while the cells are losing fat but filling up with water....until the body can't hold onto that much extra water and releases it....woosh....

That also explains why sometimes you are losing NEITHER pounds nor inches. If the fat cells are staying "plumped up" with water, so do you!

Victrola 01-14-2010 09:42 AM

What a great article! And it really compels me to try and do Bikram yoga DAILY, so I can sweat all that excess out!

Balance 01-14-2010 10:22 AM

What about the scales that measure BF%? Do they lie as well?

lisabinil 01-14-2010 10:27 AM


Originally Posted by Balance (Post 12995273)
What about the scales that measure BF%? Do they lie as well?

You can Google this for more info but they are not considered to be totally accurate.

clackley 01-14-2010 01:10 PM

Well written and very interesting. I have never lost weight in a 'straight line'. It is always up and down almost daily. I am not throwing out my scales though!!!!!

sassy_red 01-14-2010 02:19 PM

Interesting article, very nice to know in advance of my next stage of LC eating (weeks 3-5). :D

mayleesa 01-14-2010 05:02 PM

as a slave to the scale, i appreciate this message....my weight loss has averaged about 5lbs a month...albeit sloooooooooow in my mind i'm encouraged by this info.....i know i KNOW this but it's so nice for validation for fluctations when i'm still in ketosis and am working out...sigh....PATIENCE is NOT something i OWN....I WANNA BE SKINNY NOW lololol

2bflawless 01-14-2010 08:31 PM

Very true...I weigh more than I did before my DD3 was born but can wear smaller size.

chiody 01-14-2010 08:53 PM


Originally Posted by Balance (Post 12995273)
What about the scales that measure BF%? Do they lie as well?

Some of them has a "athlete" setting essentially lowering the results to adjust for leaner body mass and higher percentage muscle situations. So in essence, it's a guessing game, that little electrical current they send through you produces quite a relatively questionable result apparently.:doh:

jamistar77 01-15-2010 05:38 AM

great post! thank YOu

clackley 01-15-2010 05:41 AM

Another thought is, that eventually the fat cells shrink but do they ever go away or is liposuction the only way to get rid of them?

jamistar77 01-15-2010 06:33 AM

Cathy, I heard that they never go away, like you said, But when you get your body fat% checked, how does it decrease? Good question..

sassy_red 01-15-2010 07:18 AM

Man, today is one of those days when I *need* to reread this. lol Twice! :)


Originally Posted by clackley (Post 12998740)
Another thought is, that eventually the fat cells shrink but do they ever go away or is liposuction the only way to get rid of them?

That's a good question. I'd always been under the assumption that fat cells shrink but don't "disappear", yet multiply when they get too big. Heard that from high school all the way through college but I don't know if it's anecdotal or real. Would be nice to know that it's wrong...

Rosetta 01-15-2010 09:49 AM

Well, it's unrealistic to expect the scale to show constant weight loss. I weight myself every day just to keep myself honest. It helps me think about what I'm eating and doing for myself. It reminds me not to be in denial. It's my accountability partner. I don't go to it every morning expecting a whoosh or a lower number. That's because I know that's not how Atkins worked for me last time, and I lost the weight. I still like it though, because without it I tend to wander into confusion about my WOE. :dunno:

jamistar77 01-15-2010 09:56 AM


Originally Posted by sassy_red (Post 12999143)
Man, today is one of those days when I *need* to reread this. lol Twice! :)

ME TOO! :annoyed:

jamistar77 01-15-2010 09:57 AM


Originally Posted by Balance (Post 12995273)
What about the scales that measure BF%? Do they lie as well?

My scale measured the same BF% as when I got it checked by my personal trainer at the gym. It is pretty close. off by .2. :)

207 01-15-2010 02:08 PM

What a FANTASTIC post!!! Thanks!

JazzleBug 01-15-2010 02:53 PM

I agree - fantastic info. Thanks for bumping this.

Ilpirata 01-15-2010 04:42 PM


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