The Science of Scale Fluctuations (Part 2)

(This is a continuation of the previous post. Find Part 1 here.)

Weight Loss Isn’t Linear

Like I previously stated, there are so many ways you can change the course of your weigh-ins. Unless you eat the exact same thing every day and do the exact same things, in the same place while moving at the same pace, you are going to land on a different number from day to day.

If you are looking for change, then you have to watch the overall pattern to understand where you really fall. That is of course, if you think the scale should matter in the first place. That’s a different story though, isn’t it?

The problem is that weight loss isn’t linear. Fat loss has shown to be more linear, but weight loss isn’t at all. What this means is that weight loss hardly ever has a constant downward progression. There are usually two main determining factors for this.

1. Body Fat Percentage

2. Severity of Deficit

If you provide the same percentage of deficit for a male at 29% body fat and a male at 12% body fat, you are going to see a much faster rate of weight loss for the male with larger body fat. Larger bodies store more water along with their fat and muscle mass. As you increase in fat and muscle, water will also increase at a steady rate. This is why scale numbers can increase so quickly for some people as weight is added.

You don’t normally gain six pounds of fat when you go up six pounds on the scale. Depending on the setup of your body, you can gain two pounds of fat and four pounds of water; and therefore, the reverse is also true.

With deficit severity, if you provided two females at 30% body fat with the exact same deficit, they will, on average, lose at roughly the same rate. If you put one in a more extreme deficit, at least initially, the one with the larger deficit is going to lose more excess water and reflect more linear numbers on the scale, at least in the beginning.

Larger deficits can cause stalls or plateaus at a faster pace, and since re-feeds and breaks are needed to help aid that, you will gain back the water you lost. Still, depending on how severe the diet and the situation, the majority of the time a more severe deficit (>800) is going to provide more linear results.

The “Whoosh” Factor

The “whoosh” happens when you are watching your weight day in and day out, and there are little to small changes even with big deficits; then one day out of nowhere, the scale will drop dramatically lower than it had been registering. This is known as a “whoosh.”

The “whoosh” can happen for any number of reasons—no one knows for sure. One idea, and the one that makes the most sense, is that as fat cells empty, they refill with water. After a certain point and time, under unknown conditions, these cells lose the water within and the “whoosh” is born.

The exact trigger that brings this about is unknown. Some hypothesize that it is much like water and carb loading. The body loads that area with stored fat, the fat leaves but the body isn’t sure yet that these areas don’t need to stay big and open for storage. So to protect itself, it fills cells with water and doesn’t extract it until it is positive that all systems are a go.

There has been a lot of correlations with re-feeds and “whooshes;” there has also been a lot of experiments with trying to time them. I myself have found them to be hit and miss. The best method thus far is in The Water Manual in the section, “Method: Water-Only Manipulation.It appears that using this method is best at triggering the “whoosh,” and that even with the weight regain that is sure to follow after depletion, the overall trend goes down.

For those of you who own the book and would like to give it a shot if you feel you are retaining, feel free to report your results to me. If you want the manual, it comes as a part of the Fat Loss Troubleshoot.

I will say that in order to see constant steady drops, maintaining an adequate intake of minerals is key. With the right vitamins and electrolyte drinks, I have found that you will experience less stalls, therefore you experience less “whooshes.”

The Missing Pounds

In this last section I want you to pull together all the information you have learned to understand how you can lose pounds of fat, but never see them reflected on the scale.

Below I am going to write out three different scenarios. I will tell you my conclusion at the end, but first it is up to you to figure out what the problem is on your own. I used to do this all the time in my, “What Did They Do Wrong” series. Perhaps I should bring it back?

Case #1 – Bob

Bob is 5’8″, weighs 270 pounds, and is at 39% body fat. He has an average daily deficit of 20%. On weekdays he hits lower numbers than on weekends which puts him in a bounce situation. In the beginning, he saw more linear loss but has been stuck at the same weight for four weeks. What could be a logical reason for Bob weighing the same?

Case #2 – Jane

Jane is 5’4″, weighs 131 pounds, and her body fat percentage is unknown. Jane teaches an aerobics class every night at her gym. She has been struggling for years to lose her final few pounds of body fat. Over the past eight weeks, Jane started a lifting program and is really progressing in her weights. She basically eats the same thing everyday so she knows the stall is not being caused by her food intake. She barely sees any movement on the scale; it has remained basically the same for seven weeks. Seven weeks is way too long, what is wrong here?

Case #3 – Carol

Carol has been dieting for 12 weeks. She is 5’7″ and weighs 244 pounds. She has been eating five to six meals per day, training four times per week, and following a food point system. She started Week 1 at 240 lbs. She is up four pounds. What is the problem?

The Answers:

Case #1 – Bob

Bob just isn’t in that large of a deficit. A deficit of 20% overall can mean little visual scale loss, especially if on the weekends he is eating higher sodium filled foods which is very common.

Case #2 – Jane

The average woman with effort and newbie gains can gain approximately a half pound of muscle per week. That rate can be faster for a beginner especially. Also remember, increased training means an increase in glycogen storage. So it would seem that Jane is actually doing very well to be staying the same weight instead of it increasing. It is likely or at least very possible that Jane put on a few pounds of muscle and water, and dropped some body fat. We also have to take into account her already lean level which will increase her chance for muscle gains and body fat loss at the same time.

Case #3 – Carol

Carol is likely eating too much. She is also not tracking her food intake diligently. On top of that, the more aggressive the training for obese individuals, the worse they are going to retain water. If she is new to training, she could have added a little muscle as well. If Carol targeted her intake better and hit a more aggressive deficit, she would likely start to see the scale move.

So, how did you do? Did you master the logic of scale fluctuations?


  1. shari
    June 30, 2009 at 5:52 am

    That was a great follow-up leigh Thank you!
    I like the “what did they do wrong” yes lets bring it back.
    Also it was a good reminder to look at my water manuel! I think I will pull that out today.

  2. Sheila
    June 30, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Love the information, Leigh, keep it coming.  In the flts, you list efa pills as part of the meal plans.  I had already been taking 3 tbsp. of Udo’s oil blend a day based on two other training programs.  However, when I compared the fat and calories between the pills and the liquid form, I did notice I was taking in alot more fat/calories (although I was restricting starchy carbs to 2-3x daily).  Udo’s website indicates we should get 1 tbsp. per 50 lbs of bodyweight.  So my question is should I be taking in the smaller amount of fat via the pill form or is it ok to continue with the liquid form; if so, how much per day?  Thanks so much for your advice — I am going through menopause and the old methods don’t seem to be working anymore.  The internet is full of former “BFL” winners who are now all experts and I’m so frustrated with their narrowmindedness.  It is so refreshing to have your input.  Keep up with your creative endeavors as well —  you are talented and the world needs more of your expression.  Sheila         

  3. Sinead
    June 30, 2009 at 7:03 am

    great follow up article, Leigh! I’d like to see the “what did they do wrong” feature more often, too; it’s a good way to let us troubleshoot for ourselves and see if we can see what the problems are. Maybe when we hit those problems ourselves, we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on. (by the way, I got Bob and Carol right!)

  4. Kim W
    June 30, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Leigh, Great part 2….and love the what did they do wrong part. I wasn’t around when you did it in the past, and would love to see it pop in and out of your blog!

  5. etana finkler
    June 30, 2009 at 8:41 am

    I think the lightbulb is switching on…

  6. Carra
    June 30, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Neat articles.

    So how long would you say is too long to wait until you make a change if you aren’t seeing results. 9-10 weeks?

  7. Anna
    June 30, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Awesome follow-up, Leigh. It’s amazing how often sometimes I need to hear something said to start finally “absorbing” it, so-to-speak. It’s so helpful to have these situations broken down.

  8. Amanda
    June 30, 2009 at 9:28 am

    I’d also love to see the “What did they do wrong” feature! I’m another person who wasn’t around for the first series, but it sounds great. 🙂

  9. RJ
    June 30, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Great series Leigh!   I think scale fluctuation/water weight is a very important subject for people to understand that want to “lose 10 pounds”  too many people stop their efforts when they hit this goal, not understanding that it will spring right back due to water fluctuations

  10. Matt
    June 30, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Great stuff Leigh.

  11. Greg
    June 30, 2009 at 11:12 am

    You mention that it doesn’t matter what the scale says unless you need to make weight. Can I use the water maunal for figuring that out?

  12. jeanne
    June 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Perfect set of articles on this Leigh. I will make sure to pass it around.

  13. Jessie
    June 30, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    I am giving this to my wife. Actually I am going to nail this to the bathroom scale for my wife. Actually I am going to throw the scale out and leave the print out of this article in its place. LOL

  14. Leigh Peele
    June 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Glad everyone is digging the article.  I will make sure to throw in more of the “what did they do wrong?” bits in the future.

    Greg-Yes you can use the Water manual for making a weight class.



  15. Susan
    June 30, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I love this article! the whoosh part was very interesting, that seems to happen to me quite a bit, just this past couple of weeks, I weighed 169 then two days ago, I hit 168, this morning I was 165.8! now it may not stick around perhaps I was a bit dehydrated or whatnot, but past experience has been that it will only lower from there, but it seems to be delayed for sure…a week, sometimes two no change, then boom two pounds overnight! weird…anyhoo, thanks for the info, very cool!

  16. Muscle Guy
    July 1, 2009 at 4:54 am

    I am not clear with your “whoosh factor”, it  would be nice of you, if you please try to explain it in a bit detail.

  17. Jim Doolittle
    July 1, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Good set of articles. I log nutrition and exercise at I have noticed quite a few people there who have weight loss that is nearly perfectly linear. Doesn’t seem plausible to me and I won’t call them on it because their progess pics do show definite progress. In some cases, I think they are simply not reporting values that go up relative to previous value but there are other people who weigh nearly daily and show the same trend.

  18. RG
    July 1, 2009 at 10:00 am

    So, I had a related experience today. As I mentioned elsewhere I’ve been dieting for ~10 weeks, and it’s gotten slow and I’m getting frustrated and wondering if I should just call myself done. I was hoping for another 4-8 pounds, but maybe my body knows something. I had a 1.5 pound whoosh on Friday and then ate a muffin, kept craving food and giving in. On Sunday I wrote what felt like an irritable comment here and I gave myself a talking to “that is not okay” and decided it was time to listen to my body. I ate some french bread pizza because I had the ingredients for it, and then Monday and Tuesday I kept eating carbs – a box of pretzels – plus 1/2 a bag of chocolate, 60 g of protein each day, a bag of broccoli, 2 pints of blueberries, high-fiber granola bars. Not complete junk, but close and basically what I “felt like”. I didn’t count calories though in my head I remembered it so I could look at the package later. I slept fitfully last night, and my morning had a 2 pound whoosh. That’s 3 days out of 5 of eating “whatever” at close to goal weight, lots of carbs, and looking at the calories I’d expect maintenance or a small gain. Maybe I’m allergic to chocolate? I’m expecting those pounds to reappear in the same way that excess salt pounds disappear, though it shows up in inches. I am hypo and female so I think something funny is going on hormonally and am wondering if I need to lower my thyroid med for weight loss, so I’ll make an appt to get that checked.

  19. Mike
    July 1, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Hey Leigh, remember that poem I wrote to you, “The Whoosh that Wouldn’t”? You still have it somewhere? If you do, care to post it? I can’t locate it at the moment. I think folks would get a kick out of it. 🙂 Wonder if you could find an image to accompany it, I’m thinking like a Dr Seuss character with a spigot sticking out of his stomach. 🙂

  20. Laura
    July 1, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Great article Leigh. I’ll have to go back and read the water manual. I honestly haven’t because I figured it was geared more towards competing with the water manipulation. I’ll have to give it a shot one of these days & report back. The fat cell theory is really interesting.

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  22. Jim Doolittle
    July 8, 2009 at 5:24 am

    Had a woosh this morning! Last night I was 199.6lb and this morning I was 192.4lb. had a BM but that doesn’t account for all that. My waist looks smaller as well. Weird!

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