Reasons you gain weight that have nothing to do with fat

Your diet is on point.
Your workouts are great.
You’re legitimately doing everything you should… and your weight stalls, or worse, it goes UP!


Ok, you’ve been there, I’ve been there, and 9 times out of 10 when this happens people think that the diet doesn’t work, or their metabolism is broken, or they need a supplement, or a special workout… something to get them out of this problem.

Here’s the thing… it’s NOT a problem. Weight fluctuations are NORMAL. Fluctuating 1-2% of your body weight is completely normal, and this has nothing to do with fat loss or gain.

The biggest reason people quit diets is because of frustration with weight fluctuations.

What many people don’t realize is how incredibly normal it is to have your weight fluctuate. This is frustrating because, as humans, we like to feel in control, we like to know what’s going to happen and why. We want to believe that if we do A and B, getting to point C is a straight guaranteed line.

That’s just not how life works though, is it? We would love to just have our weight go down all the time, and intellectually most people know that’s not the case, but you NEED to look at your weight as a trend. Day to day is data, over time (at least 2-4 weeks) is the trend.

Today we’re looking at types of weight change, reasons why our weight fluctuates, and trends in fluctuation. Let’s go.

There are basically 2 ways our weight changes, it’s either Acute or Chronic. We will see this better in trends, but for now, let’s just define them.

Acute = daily and cyclic changes. These are ups, downs and stalls that happen every few days, and also throughout the day.

Chronic = trend over time. Starting at 2-4 weeks, we begin to see a trend over time. If you are in a fat loss phase, that trend should be downward. If you are in maintenance, that trend should be linear. If you are bulking, that trend should be upwards.

We need to separate our emotions from the acute changes in our weight. We will see that acute changes are not indicators of progress or success. Chronic trends are where we need to put our attention and effort.

REASONS FOR WEIGHT FLUCTUATION that are not related to fat.
Most people think that if their weight changes, it’s a reflection of fat loss or gain. That is not true. MOST of the time, meaning 90%+ time, acute fluctuations in weight are not related to fat. Let’s look at a few reasons why your weight fluctuates.

Salt intake
Eating more salt than what’s usual for you will increase your weight due to water retention. The opposite is also true. If you eat less salt than what’s usual for you you will decrease your weight due to less water retention.

Carb intake
Carbs act like a sponge. More carbs = more water. Less carbs = less water. This is why on diets like Keto people lose weight quickly at first. Initially you’re losing a lot of water, then it suddenly stops, because at some point you’ll stop losing water and start losing fat, which is MUCH slower.

Eating later at night than usual
Eating late is not bad in itself, but when you eat later than you are used to eating, there is more food in your system, so you’ll be heavier the next morning. If you always eat roughly at the same time and weigh in at the same time in the morning, this fluctuation doesn’t happen, regardless of how late you eat.

Weigh in earlier than usual
Same idea as above. If you weigh in earlier than you usually do, you’ll have more food in your system, so you’ll weigh more.

Bowel movements
Food stays in our system for 2-5 days. That weight increase may just be that you have to poop! It’s not fat, it’s food in your system.

Menstrual cycle
For women, it is essential to remember that our bodies have a natural cycle that impacts our weight. Some women have a weight fluctuation of up to 10 pounds, simply due to their cycle. For women, pay attention to your cycle, and learn how that pattern works in your body. During your cycle you will have periods of more and less hunger, more and less water retention, more and less energy. That’s normal, that’s not fat gain.

When you lift weights you essentially damage your muscles. What makes muscles grow is the process of damage and repair, which makes your body uptake nutrients and water. When you lift heavy, especially big groups such as legs, your weight can increase.

Let me start by saying that stress isn’t bad in itself, stress is part of life, and some stress is normal. The problem comes with excess and chronic stress. There’s a lot of marketing here, a lot of programs are sold saying their diet or program will eliminate your stress. It’s not the stress itself that makes you gain fat, it’s not adrenalin or cortisol that makes you fat, it’s your stress response that dictates fat gain. If you’re a stress eater, you’ll be eating more calories.

That being said, cortisol increase leads to water retention, and the scale goes up. With less stress you hold on to less water. Stress doesn’t make you gain fat, but it does retain water.

The takeaway here is that when your weight fluctuates, take a step back. Stop being so emotional and judgmental of yourself. LOOK AT THE DATA. If your nutrition and movement are on track, go through these options, it’s likely one of these things making your weight fluctuate, and not fat gain. Stay the course.

Weight management is not linear. Although these trends are pictured with straight lines, this is an illustration. The actual lines are wiggly, and follow trends.

Whether you are losing, maintaining or bulking, it’s the trend line that matters, not the individual cycles. Here are 3 common ways our weight fluctuates in a trend:

1. Ladder
This trend is when there is a drop, followed by a stall, then a gain. Drop, stall, gain in a cycle.

Maybe the loss is a few days or a week, same with the gain. This pattern is SUPER common. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, this is normal.

Most people quit on the stall or gain. People rarely give up when the weight is going down, but many many give up when it stalls or goes up. You need to detach emotions from the scale. This is NORMAL in a deficit. Look at the reasons we listed above and keep going.

2. Staircase
This is a stall and drop cycle. People use the word plateau, I hate that word. I only use plateau for maintenance, you want that plateau, but that’s a different story.

So many people quit on these stalls. This is where people start to look for a special exercise or supplements to “get out of the plateau”. It’s not a plateau, it’s how you trend. Nothing needs to change. Stay consistent and don’t change anything, you’ll se a downward pattern.

3. Roller coaster
This is also normal. Big loss, spike, stall cycle. Also, people quit in the spike or stall. Stay the course.

Here’s the truth. You’re not going to lose weight every single day or week.

These before and after photos on social media and big programs are fun, but they are not the norm. A pound a week is 52 pounds a year!!! Most people don’t need to lose all that. Also, it’s well documented that people who lose quickly tend to gain it back, and then some.

It’s important to understand that slow and steady works better long term. It takes more patience, but what do you really want? To lose the weight or to lose it forever? If you want long term weight loss you need to understand that fluctuations are normal, and the you can sustain your wins better if you don’t rush.

If you want support in your journey, be sure to check out my coaching options HERE.

Would you like a PDF with a simple checklist for you to download and go through when you see a spike? Download “It’s Not Fat” here.