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Inches and body weight don't tell the whole picture

Too often people focus their attention so much on the scale that they lose track of the overall goals - getting fitter, losing body fat and improving health.

In fact, often when beginning an optimal program, weight doesn't change initially while inches come off and clothes feel looser.

Unfortunately, your scale doesn't tell the full story. When you begin an exercise program you often stimulate the storage of carbohydrates in your muscles in the form of glycogen. For every gram of glycogen stored in the body approximately 2.7 grams of water are also stored. So a significant amount of weight can be gained as a result of going from a partially depleted state to a fully "compensated" one.

Another factor stimulating glycogen storage is an increased carbohydrate content in the diet. When fat content is reduced in the diet more carbohydrates are eaten. A common response to a switch from a high-fat, low-fiber diet to a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet is an increase in weight as a result of higher glycogen stores.

While both factors, exercise and diet, stimulate glycogen storage they also aid in fat loss. So, while you might be losing fat and inches, you may be staying stable in your body weight or possibly gaining slightly during the initial weeks of transition into a new program.

You are losing fat, getting leaner, losing inches, getting fitter, and most importantly getting healthier.

While a scale can give a sense of how your doing on the program it doesn't tell you what is actually occurring in terms of body composition changes - how your body fat levels are changing, if you have gained some lean muscle in response to exercise, if you are depleted or hydrated (your glycogen and water levels), etc.

Taking body weight measurements once a week for tracking purposes - or possibly daily for closer monitoring - is alright as long as it doesn't adversely effect your motivation or psychological outlook. Just realize what limitations a bathroom scale has and don't let it adversely affect the positive changes which are taking place in your body due to a new program.

Written by Dr. Sternlicht for on 3.18.06