I find it hard to pick my all-time favourite pizza, but if the mood takes me I do love the smooch destroying combination of anchovies, capers, garlic, and black olives. I ate such a pizza in the middle of a diet a couple of years ago. Because I’d set calories across the week to allow for the indulgence, I wasn’t worried about the pizza messing up my diet which had been humming along nicely up to this point. What I wasn’t expecting was for my weight to change drastically after just one meal out, but when I stepped on the scales the next morning, I was 7 pounds heavier.
A big part of the conversations I have with clients involves reassuring them that fluctuations in weight are normal, but even I was rattled by this monumental jump. Suddenly I was heavier than when I started the diet in the first place. Was it really possible that I could have gained fat after one pizza and a couple of beers? After a momentary flap, I started to think more clearly. My weight gain wasn’t down to an energy surplus, it was all about sodium.
If you’ve ever been for a meal, woken up way heavier and been convinced that your weight gain has been down to the excess calories, know this: It’s possible to put on enormous amounts of weight without gaining a single gram of fat. No one likes gaining weight unexpectedly. Understanding why it happens goes a long way to making you a much happier dieter.
When your weight has jumped up 1, 2, or 3 kilograms overnight it can be difficult not to panic. However, before you lose your shit, some simple maths can be the first step in reassuring yourself that the weight isn’t all fat.
- There are around 7,700 calories in 1kg of fat.
- Let’s say you woke up 2kg heavier after eating a pizza like mine.
- For all of that weight to be fat, you’d have to have eaten 15,400 calories over the number of calories you need to maintain your weight.
- In one meal, there is literally zero chance of this happening.
- There might be up to 2,000 calories in a really hench pizza, and if you had a few drinks and even a dessert you might hit 3000 in one meal.
- Even if you ate 4,500 calories in one day, after you’ve taken away the calories that you’d burn during the day, you’re not coming close to hitting 2kg worth of fat.
As I have already mentioned, sodium is a different kettle of fish. Big jumps in sodium intake cause big jumps in weight. Especially when drinking large amounts of fluid is involved. These jumps aren’t random or strange, they’re just down to your body wanting to keep things in order.
The reason for the change in weight is water retention. Our bodies want to keep their sodium levels in a similar range and any large deviation in the amount we eat will have an effect. Think about a tablespoon of salt for instance. One tablespoon in a small glass of water or a swimming pool is still one tablespoon, but the concentration of the sodium in the water is vastly different. Your body wants to maintain it’s favoured concentration and will do what it can to make that work.
- Eat a load of salty food and you’ll notice you get thirstier. So much so that you might be driven to drink way more water than usual. This water will be retained to keep the concentration the same.
- If you reduce the amount of sodium in your diet drastically, you’ll usually lose a couple of kilos as your body tries to get rid of water to make sure that the concentration of sodium in fluid stays regular.
It’s worth pointing out that nothing bad is happening with sodium-induced weight gain. A high sodium diet isn’t unhealthy in the first place, and water retention doesn’t affect fat loss.
Lastly, it’s important to realise that the extra water retention after eating salty food is very temporary. Although you can be way heavier the first day, over the next day or two you’ll notice your weight returning to normal. Still, large jumps in water weight can still freak people out, and if you know that’s the case for you, consider doing the following:
- Avoid eating the foods that are really high in sodium. Simple I know, but it’s worth remembering.
- Stay off the scales for 3 days or so. If you know that you’re going to feel bad if you see your weight spike, just stay off the scales for a bit.
- If you’re one of my clients, I might get you to weigh in every day and put your numbers into a spreadsheet. This might sound like something only a number nerd would do, but looking at your weight on a macro level keeps you focused on the bigger picture, and two-day weight spikes mean less than they might otherwise.
Your weight can change massively without you gaining a single gram of fat. A combination of high sodium foods and drinking more fluid means you can wake up more than 3kg over what you were the day before. The key to dealing with the spike in weight is in understanding that none of it is fat gain. If it happens to you, be patient and the water weight will be gone in a couple of days.
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