When Scales Attack

January 31, 2014 Eric Soderlund

It has happened to nearly everyone that has tried to lose weight. You follow you meal plan, do your workouts, confident you have lost weight during the week. But come Saturday morning, the scale says otherwise.

I recently experienced this myself. I decided to drop the 12 or so pounds put on since a knee injury. I’ve been measuring and logging food, sticking to a 750 to 1,000 net calorie deficit, eating healthy meals and working out 5 days a week. Following my plan, I was averaging nearly 2 pounds per week of weight loss and only 4 pounds away from my goal. When suddenly, the scale turned against me.

I gained nearly 2 lbs in three days. Since I know that a pound is equal to 3500 calories, I was certain that I had not consumed an extra 7000 calories in that time frame. So what was going on?

Fortunately, I have a Tanita, Body Composition Scale. It measures total weight, Fat %, Water %, Muscle Weight, Bone Weight and Visceral Fat.
My water % was nearly 57%. That’s 2% higher than my normal. I was retaining water. Since water weighs 8.35lbs per gallon, it doesn’t take much to throw the numbers off.

So what are some common “non-threatning” causes of water retention?


Estrogen-containing drugs, such as the combined oral contraceptive pill, or HRT (hormone replacement therapy).
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) - medications with analgesic (pain reducing), antipyretic (fever reducing) effects. In high doses they are actually effective in reducing inflammation. Examples include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.
Beta-blockers - used to treat abnormal heart rhythms and prevent tachycardias.
Pre-menstrual water retention - this causes bloating and often breast tenderness. Experts say it is due to hormone imbalances, and also some nutritional factors. Premenstrual refers to the second half of the woman’s menstrual cycle (during the days or the week or so before her period begins).
Salt (sodium) - sodium-rich foods will often cause water retention.
Malnutrition and/or bad diet - dietitians say low consumption of thiamine (vitamin B1), as well as insufficient vitamins B6 and B5 may contribute toward fluid retention. Low levels of albumin levels may also play a part - low albumin levels can also be caused by kidney disease.
Allergies - some foods and insect bites may cause edema in susceptible people.

Looking back at my meal log, I saw that I had been eating canned soup for a few days. Not part of my normal lunch but I was looking to mix it up a bit. The Progresso soup, while low in calories, had 690mg of sodium per serving and I was eating the entire can which is 2 ½ servings equaling 1500mg. I was also putting 3 Tbsp of Teriyaki Sauce on my steamed vegetable meals, sometimes 2x a day. That’s another 3600 mg.  I was consuming 2x the normal amount of sodium, in the middle of Winter. I had found the culprit. 

To try to get accurate weigh-ins, I weigh myself at the same time and day every week. I like to weigh myself when I first get out of bed on Friday or Saturday morning. This sets a good tone for the weekend. I know what foods and medications can cause water retention so I know to avoid them the days leading up to a weigh-in.

Focus more on the actions you take regarding weight loss than on the numbers. If you are being consistent with your intake and exercise and your progress slows or stops, you can make smart adjustments if you have been consistent with your efforts.

If you are having problems with weight loss, contact me for some advice.

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