Fluid can make a woman heavier even though she has lost fat

EATING WELL

August 25, 1992|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Contributing Writer

Water weight is women's weight-loss Waterloo.

Your scale might tell you that you've gained two pounds, when you've really lost one pound of fat.

That's because, despite incredible technological advances, a scale is not sophisticated enough to differentiate what it's weighing.

When you step on the scale, it weighs your bones, muscles, brains, vital organs, blood and other body fluids. It also weighs food being digested, and the water and iced tea you just drank, but haven't processed yet. And it weighs stored body fat, which is what you're trying to lose.

One pound of fat represents 3,500 calories which you ate, but didn't need, and are now carrying around in case of famine.

To get a pound of fat off your body, you must eat 3,500 calories less than you need, or move 3,500 calories more than you eat, or some combination of the two. If your normal intake is 1,800 calories per day and you restrict your eating to 1,500 calories per day and exercise 200 calories-worth, you will save 500 calories per day, or 3,500 per week for a one-pound weight loss.

A pint (two cups) of water weighs a pound.

It contains no fat, no protein, no carbohydrates, no calories. That includes the tap or bottled water you drink, the water in tea, coffee and soft drinks and the water contained in all foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

It also includes the water in your body fluids.

You weigh more at the end of the day (by as much as 1 to 3 pounds) because you have not yet eliminated the water from the food you ate and drank. Although you are heavier according to the scale, you are not any fatter.

You weigh more during the week before your period (by three to five pounds) because your body is storing up additional uterine fluid in case you should become pregnant.

You weigh less at the end of your period because all that extra fluid has departed.

Although you may have gotten heavier and then lighter according to the scale, you did not get fatter and then leaner. You simply had a change in the weight of your body fluid.

You also weigh more after eating salty food. Salt contains no calories, so it doesn't make you fatter. But to keep your body systems functioning properly, salt and water must stay balanced. So if you eat a lot of salt, you retain a lot of fluid. You are heavier on the scale (by three to five pounds) for as long as three days, but you are not any fatter.

Can you see what's happening here?

You may stay on your well-balanced diet all week and lose a pound of fat, but gain three to five pounds of fluid because you haven't been to the bathroom, are about to have your period, or have eaten too much sodium.

Your unsophisticated scale would tell you the diet's not working.

Your sophisticated brain must know better.

Stick with your eating plan. Stick with your exercise. Graph your weight once a week. Month by month a pattern will emerge. It will show a gradual decline in weight, even though your body fluids play yo-yo.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.

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