When you think you’ve been slaying eating healthy and working out lately, it can be discouraging to see the numbers on the scale rise instead of fall. The good news is that, although there are some surprising factors that are likely behind the gain, they all have pretty easy fixes. Here are the most likely culprits for your recent gains.
YOUR H2O HABITS
“Since the human body is made largely of water, changes in your hydration status can cause small fluctuations in body weight,” says Ashvini Mashru, R.D., author of Small Steps to Slim and owner of Wellness Nutrition Concepts. When you’re dehydrated, you might shed a few pounds...but they’ll come right back when you increase your water intake. And if you just downed a glass of water, the scale will reflect that, too.
In other water-related reasons you might gain weight, people often confuse the sensations of hunger and thirst, says Samantha Finkelstein, R.D., founder of Nerdy Girl Nutrition. So you might find yourself reaching for food when what you really need is a tall glass of water.
Blame hormones like progesterone and estradiol for how annoyingly tight your jeans get during your period, says Finkelstein. Then, of course, there are the cravings, which are due to a combination of hormonal fluctuations and an increase in metabolism. “The brain perceives these changes as a lack of glucose, which can lead you to consume around 100 to 200 extra calories, especially on days when you bleed heavily,” says Mashru.
There’s also the fact that, before your period, your serum magnesium levels may drop. “That can lead to low insulin levels, which increases your sugar cravings,” says Mashru. The takeaway: Between the bloating and being the human equivalent of the Cookie Monster, you might gain a few kilos.
BUYING INTO HEALTH HALOS
Tons of foods have misleading health halos, meaning they seem healthy but really aren’t. “Watch out for items marked as being low-fat, -carb, -sodium, or -sugar,” says Finkelstein. “Any time a flavorful ingredient is removed, something to compensate is added back in.”
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That means loading your shopping cart with these seemingly healthy foods could sneakily add tons of sugar, salt, or other problematic ingredients back into your diet.
YOUR BATHROOM ACTIVITIES
Everybody poops—and everybody's weight is affected by poop: Sometimes higher numbers on the scale are just a hint that you need to go number two.
“The last time you passed a bowel movement can make all the difference when it comes to your weight, especially if you’ve taken in a large amount of food,” says Mashru.Pooping can generally make you lose between one and four pounds, so don’t be surprised if you weigh more when you’re constipated.
WEARING SNEAKERS ON THE SCALE
It’s important to have a routine when you step on the scale. If you weigh yourself naked in the morning one day, then in your workout gear at night on the next, it’s almost impossible to get the same exact result. “Your clothing, jewellery, and shoes can add up to five pounds,” says Mashru, who recommends weighing yourself in the morning after you use the restroom. “Since you’re not eating or drinking during the night, your body has a chance to remove extra fluids," she says. "That’s why you pee so much when you wake up." As an added benefit, you won’t have weight hanging around from a recent meal.
A HIGHER CARB INTAKE
When your body converts carbs to glycogen and stores it in your muscles for energy, it automatically retains water—Mashru says it’s 2.7 grams per gram of glycogen, to be exact. That doesn’t mean carbs are evil, though! “Consumed in moderation, healthy carbohydrates, such as those in whole grains, whole wheat, fruits, and lentils, provide you with energy and important vitamins and minerals,” she says. “While cutting out refined carbohydrates can reduce your weight and improve your overall health, you don't need to cut out carbohydrates altogether.”
SKIMPING ON SLEEP
Getting enough sleep is a vital part of everything from being on-point in your morning meeting to feeling less rage-y during your commute. Weight loss is no exception. When you don’t get sufficient rest, your body can start churning out the stress hormone cortisol and increase post-meal insulin. “Both these hormones promote fat storage and are associated with weight gain,” says Finkelstein.
Much like with your period, a lot of this comes down to hormones. When you’re sleep-deprived, the hormones leptin and ghrelin can go haywire. Leptin, which tells your brain when you’re satiated, decreases, while appetite-promoting ghrelin goes up. The result? You’re tempted to eat more than you need.
OVERDOING IT WITH THE PROTEIN SHAKES
While protein shakes can be a helpful way to recover after an intense workout, chances are you don’t need one if you’re already having a post-workout meal. “For most active individuals, a nutrient-dense meal with a healthy ratio of carbohydrates, fat, and protein is adequate to refuel,” says Finkelstein.
If you’re an elite athlete, then sure, your body may require both a protein shake and post-workout meal. But you likely only need one or the other, and Finkelstein recommends foregoing pre-made shakes for another reason. “Many protein shakes are high in sugar and filled with artificial ingredients,” she says. “That’s not stuff you want to put back into your body after a workout.”
THE BOTTOM LINE...
While weighing yourself can seem straightforward, in reality, there are plenty of surprising reasons your results may change. That’s why this rule of thumb from Mashru is pretty golden: “Instead of falling into the trap of obsessing over numbers, which can lie, focus on getting your body as healthy as possible by eating clean and exercising regularly.”