Find out how to differentiate between daily weight fluctuations and more meaningful weight loss or weight gain.

By Jessica Smith
Updated January 28, 2020
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If you're taking on a new weight loss goal, your instinct might be to hop on the scale twice a day and hope for a consistently lower number each time. Thing is, daily weight fluctuation is normal; Just because you see that number go up or down from one day to the next doesn't mean you aren't on track to weight loss or gain over the long term.  Here, the complete lowdown on normal weight fluctuation.

Why Does My Weight Fluctuate So Much?

Since most of us can't eat enough in a day or two to actually gain 5 or 10 pounds, if you notice a dramatic increase on the scale, chances are it's due to water, says Anita Petruzzelli, M.D., doctor for BodyLogicMD.

"Eating, drinking, urinating, having a bowel movement, and exercise can all impact your body's water composition and therefore weight," she says. For example, high-carb and high-salt foods can cause water retention and a boost in poundage, while exercise can lead to temporary water and weight loss.

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So don't get too excited–or freak out–if you notice weight fluctuation in a day. "Weight gain due to water fluctuation should normalize in a day or two when you resume exercising and eating a healthy diet that's low in salt, refined carbs, and simple sugars," says Dr. Petruzzelli. All the more reason to take an overview of your weight changes rather than weighing yourself constantly. (Related: 6 Sneaky Reasons You're Not Losing Weight)

However, if those extra pounds keep showing up on the scale after you've returned to your regular routine for about a week, it may be due to another lifestyle factor. A daily weight fluctuation range of zero to five pounds won't prevent you from hitting your goals, according to Joseph Colella, M.D., a bariatric surgeon at Magee Women's Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Most people can recover five pounds rather quickly with minor tweaks to their calorie intake and physical activity."

And if the scale shows a seven-pound jump for longer than a day or two, alcohol consumption could be one cause. "Alcohol stimulates your appetite and wrecks your self-control regarding the amount of food that you consume," explains Dr. Colella. Keep in mind that in addition to diet, some medications and health conditions can also lead to weight fluctuation.

How to Track Your Progress, Accounting for Daily Weight Fluctuation

Despite the fluctuations, you can use a scale to your advantage to track and meet your weight goals.

If you want to drop just a few pounds, jump on every day. "That will give you a regular barometer and, over time, a trend line that you can use to reflect back on what you ate and what you weighed," says Dr. Colella.

When you're aiming to lose more weight, though, daily check-ins can make or break your whole day. Avoid unnecessary stress by checking in once a week, and keeping tabs on what you are eating, he says. (Related: Experts Reveal: 15 Small Diet Changes for Weight Loss)

However often you face the scale, be consistent. Dr. Petruzelli suggests weighing yourself naked first thing in the morning after using the bathroom and always using the same scale.

Consider other methods of progress measurement, especially if your weight-loss goal is more than a few pounds since not all positive changes can be recorded by a scale. Regularly having your body composition checked can determine your body's exact fat, muscle, and water content, and the way your clothing fits can also be helpful, says Dr. Petruzelli. If your clothes fit or are too loose but the scale says you've gained weight, the gain is probably muscle, she explains. (Related: 5 Smart Scales That Tell You More About Your Body Than Just Your Weight)

The bottom line: Weight fluctuation is normal, but if the scale rises five or more pounds for longer than a day or two, chances are it's more than simply water weight.

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