Six reasons the scale may go up

Six reasons the scale may go up

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The scale can be an amazing tool to learn data from your body.  But it can also be a total mind F.  How many times have you been killing it with your workouts and eating only to get on the scale and it is up?

You can lose motivation real quick just by the number on the scale, this is why I highly encourage you to use other methods of measurement.  

Let’s go over some of the reasons the scale may be up, even if you have been giving it your all, and let’s talk more about other methods of measurement. Let’s explore the six reasons the scale may go up!

Check out these 6 reasons the scale may go up when you're trying to lose weight.


1. You lifted heavy weights

When you lift heavy weights and put stress on the muscle, you create microtears in the muscle and inflammation.  Your body responds to this micro-trauma by retaining water and rushing it to the muscles to help repair them.  Make sure you are taking adequate rest to allow muscles to heal and know you are doing something good for your body and the scale just sucks sometimes. You can also check out my article on the benefits of strength training for women here.

2. You ate more carbs the day before

Now before you get all anti-carb on me, here me out.  Carbs are not the enemy.  

Carbs are your body’s main energy source, so when you consume carbs the body either uses them immediately for energy or stores them as glycogen in the liver and muscles to be converted back to glucose and used at another time.  When a molecule of carbohydrate is stored, it is also stored with a molecule of water.  Store multiple carbs, which in turn stores multiple molecules of water, and step on the scale the next day, you will probably see an increase, BUT IT IS ONLY WATER WEIGHT!

This is why when people cut carbs drastically, they lose weight immediately.  When you deplete all the glycogen that was stored, you are also getting rid of the water weight.  This is also why people who cut carbs typically gain their weight back when they start eating carbs again.  Carbs are really not the enemy, they are a very important macro-nutrient.  

3. You’re not regular

This one seems obvious, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people I talk to who overlook this simple issue.  Pay attention to your fiber and make sure you are tracking your number twos!  Women should aim for 21-25 grams of fiber per day and men should aim for 30-38 grams of fiber daily.  See the list below for foods and their approximate fiber.

Dietary fiber chart

4. Too much salt

Sometimes too much salty or foods with higher sodium content can make the scale go up the next day (think soy sauce, certain seasonings with salt as the base, etc). Let me tell you this simple phrase I learned in nursing school.  Water follows salt.  So if you had lots of salt the day before, you are probably retaining some fluids, you may look puffy, or as I like to say fluffy.  Salt is big in prepackaged foods, fast foods, and restaurant foods.  Now again, salt is not bad and it is an important electrolyte for human life.  Just be aware that this can be a reason the scale goes up or you may feel fluffy.

5. Poor sleep

The Mayo Clinic says that there are patterns that suggest poor sleep may cause weight gain due to negative effects on metabolism.  A study showed that adults sleeping four hours versus ten hours were more likely to crave calorie-dense foods high in carbohydrates.  Now, no one is saying if you don’t get 10 hours of sleep you will eat all the starchy foods, but aim for 7-8 hours a night of quality sleep. Another explanation is that lack of sleep affects ghrelin and leptin, hormones that regulate hunger.  For a deeper understanding on this topic, check out this article from the Mayo Clinic.

6. You’re cycle

You’re about to start your cycle.  Let’s chat a little more about your cycle and how it can affect your weight loss.   As you may remember from biology class, there are 4 phases to your cycle, the one we will focus on is the Luteal phase because this is the phase right before your cycle that many women see an increase on the scale.  

The Luteal phase lasts about 10-14 days.  During the first part of the Luteal phase, there is a dip in estrogen and a rise in progesterone which stimulates appetite.  On top of this, energy expenditure jumps causing an increase in appetite, cravings, and intake.  

And to make matters worse, when these hormones fluctuate, you tend to accumulate more water causing increased water retention, bloating, and puffiness (and of course a rise on the scale.)


1. Measurements

Get a soft measuring tape and measure about every two weeks.  Make sure you are consistent with the location you are measuring and how you are standing.  Otherwise, this can cause confusing variations in your measurements.  Areas to measure include bicep, chest, waist, hips, thighs, and calves.  Again be very specific, for instance, when measuring the waist, say if it’s at the belly button.  Also, consider stance, if you are standing with your feet apart for one measurement of your hips, then standing with them together for the next, you will get very different measurements.

2. Take pictures

This is one of my favorite ways to measure because you can see it!  I recently found myself a little defeated because the scale had only gone down by 7 or so pounds in 3 months.  When I took pictures, I could totally see a difference and it motivated me to keep going!  Another reason I love pictures is that you have to love how you LOOK.  You may lose 5 inches off your waist, but if you don’t love how you look, it doesn’t matter to you.

3. Measure how you feel? 

This could be answered in many different ways and is totally subjective, but sometimes that helps keep you motivated when the scale isn’t moving.  Maybe you have more energy or your clothes feel looser.  Maybe you feel lean when you look in the mirror, or maybe you feel sexy when you’re with your husband.  These are what we all like to call non-scale victories or NSV and they matter.  Sometimes it is these NSV that keep you going when things get hard.  I highly suggest you journal, even a few sentences each day about how you feel, what you see, and list any and all NSV!

4. The scale (and best practices)

When using the scale, I encourage you to weigh multiple times a week ( I weigh daily, and here’s why.)  Imagine you only weigh one day a week.  Now, obviously, the scale can go up for any number of reasons not related to fat (as mentioned above).  If you only get one piece of data for the week, it can defeat you, especially if you weigh on a day where your weight is the highest.  Weight a minimum of three times for the week and use the weekly average to determine how you are doing.    

Ultimately, there are so many reasons the scale might go up when you have been 100% “on track” (I hate that term but I don’t have anything to change it out with).  The thing to do is to evaluate all the data.  When weighing, weigh multiple times a week and use the averages.  Use other methods of data collection such as pictures, measurements, and how you feel.  When I started recording my data, I learned very quickly that the scale went up slightly on heavy lifting days, but usually came down after cardio and rest.  Be aware of how your body responds to lifting and certain foods. 

I would love it if you followed me over on IG or Facebook at Barbara Casey Fitness where I share my journey and more!

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