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Sunday, 8 April 2007

Water Weight Woes

The most wonderful thing about living a low-carb life is the wide range of tasty, nutritious food that you can choose to eat. The cost is reasonable low -- you only have to give up a limited range of food [sugar, flour, pasta, rice, starchy vegetables] in exchange for the things that are decadent and satisfying -- meat, cheese, nuts, mayonnaise etc.

Only problem is that when you go off plan it has instant catastrophic results on the scales.

If I was still a Weight Watchers girl, I could have eaten that small Caramello Koala yesterday, that insignificant serve of fries, and a handful of potato crisps without it probably affecting the scales at all. If I had eaten salad and veges the rest of the day, I might have even continued to lose weight. I have been known to eat junk food all day long, within my points, and still lost weight that week.

Here in low carb land, that is not possible. I am no expert on the science but as soon as my carbs go above a certain limit [which I haven't worked out precisely yet] I gain a significant amount of weight on the scales the next day.

First of all, when I say significant, I mean about 1-2kg which is not really that significant at all. It is only a huge number in my head. I don't look any different, my clothes exactly the same, but my body is storing glycogen which holds on to water.
Glycogen is the fuel tank of stored carbohydrate in the liver and muscle tissue.
Glycogen stores can fluctuate your weight by 4-5 pounds without changing your amount of body fat.

Lucky for me I am a seasoned dieter who know what eating too many carbohydrates does to the scales the next day, but I am aware of how devastating this overnight "weight" gain could be. It is no wonder that people watching their carbs get so disheartened when they decide to have only one meal off plan and then see all their "fat" return in one foul swoop.

Of course it does point out that this new high on the scales is probably my real weight and I am somewhat delusional in thinking I weigh 2kg less that I actually do. But in the end it is all relative.

I know that if I go back to limiting my carbs today, the weight will slip quietly away over the next couple of days. Easy on, easy off. Just glycogen which is much easier to deplete than fat -- limit your carbs and the glycogen molecule will be used up taking 3 of its water friends with it. None of this 3,500 calorie deficit for 1 pound of fat agony.

But if I didn't know this, I could quite easily spiral out of control, crying "what is the point of this way of eating if I gain all this fat from just one little slip up when I was still within my normal calories for the day?" That is why this lifestyle is sometimes seen as unsustainable.

You see I have learnt there are consequences. If I overeat with too much low carb food [total calories] I will stop losing weight and might even gain a small amount [less than 500g]. But if I eat off plan, no matter what the calories, the evil scales will herald the arrival of significant amounts of water.

I need to tough this out. I don't gain back all the fat I've lost by eating chips and chocolate on one single day -- I gain water.

Easy on -- easy off -- don't give up the fight!


  1. It is so funny how differently we all process fuel - I know another blogger who is on a low fat food plan - can eat carbs like crazy - no impact - but for her - fat packs on the pounds. Have a great Holiday Weekend.

  2. If you haven't ever visited her site - check out her line of progress pictures - I loved it. she also has a lot of info on tummy tucks - with pictures (on her side bar) - I always swore that I would never do that - but lately have wondered about it - when I saw her pix (before) - I am wondering if I really can get mine flat with pilates and yoga work - because her before's look like my befores (in my mind) and I realized how far I have come.

  3. My own experience is that when I eat lots of either sugar or dry foods (bread etc) then my weight will increase the next day. My theory is that the dry food will require me to drink more, hence the weight gain. Similarly for sugar, it makes me thirsty and up goes the weight the next day.

  4. I sure know what you mean with the water weight gain!! I'm on a forum and you frequently see posts from newbies freaking out because they gained after a small, but high carb splurge.

    I tend to retain fluid, and high carb just makes it much worse.

  5. I'm glad you realize it's just water. So many people freak out. I gained 4 lbs in two days because of a couple of "indulgences". But once I got back on plan it took just a couple of days to get it off. Now I'm back at my lowest weight and waiting for the scale to drop again.

    It's all really the mindset we are in. We can't let the "I can't do this" thought pattern have free run in our minds. It will do us in everytime!

    Have a great week!

  6. Hey Katie

    When I am in ketosis I like to think of my weight to be just a tad under my true weight. The reason being is in order to reach ketosis you loose all your glycogen stores (sugar) from your muscles and liver. These stores hold somewhere around 3-4 times their weight in water.

    This is why you get the big woosh in the first few days as you enter ketosis and why you regain overnight after leaving ketosis. All it is, is your muscles refilling with water and glycogen.

    This isn't a bad thing, it will give your muscles a more fuller look and give you a bit more strength.

    When people reach goal and hit maintanance they get too scared to eat too much because of that initial gain. Personally I wouldn't worry about that initial overnight gain unless you are eating something that isn't agreeing with you and you feel bloated. It is whether you continue to gain that I'd worry about.

    Hope I just made sense lol