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Don’t Avoid The Scale After Thanksgiving, It’s Mostly Just Water Weight

We talked about this fairly recently on the Daily Tonic, but holiday weight gain is real. The average American will put on most of the weight they will gain throughout 2022 over the next couple of months. 

Admittedly, the final quarter of the year can be a tough time to work on optimizing your health and nutrition. Halloween candy, apple pie, and Christmas cookies aren’t exactly the most conducive to optimal health. Plus, the New Year becomes such a tempting reset point on the calendar that we all tend to loosen up the reins, expecting to get back on track once January 1st comes around. 

What difference will another few weeks of eating like a child make, ammaright? We’ve all gone through some version of that inner dialogue in the past and used it as our excuse for not getting rid of the Halloween candy still lying around the house or grabbing that extra slice of pie. 

So maybe this is the year you plan to take better care of yourself through the holidays. Perhaps this year, you have decided to keep a close eye on your food choices and their impact on your body weight through the end of the year. You are weighing yourself regularly and watching for unwanted weight gain.

Great. That is commendable, but things can get a little bit dicey here. Say you have a holiday party at work, or Thanksgiving dinner comes around, and you step on the scale the next day. To your disappointment, the scale reads two, three, or even four pounds heavier than it did the day before.

It’s just water weight, here’s why

This is not ideal, but it is important to note that your body cannot turn excess calories into that much body fat overnight. That fluctuation on the scale and why you might feel or look a little puffier is primarily due to water weight. 

When we consume a lot of carbohydrates in a single day, our body tries to store those carbohydrates in our muscles and our liver. However, our body needs water to store those carbs. Say, for example, you consume 400 grams of carbohydrates over Thanksgiving Day. Your body will need about 3.5 lbs of water to store all those carbs in your body effectively. 

This means that instead of pushing out all that liquid in your urine, your body will retain water and use it to spread out and store all those excess carbs throughout your body. Some extra calories from those carbs will be stored as body fat, but the amount of actual fat our body can put on after a single day of overeating is negligible. 

The key takeaway? The reason the scale will fluctuate after a big meal isn’t that you are immediately putting on body fat. If your big meal was especially carb-heavy, you can attribute most of the weight gain to water weight, not body fat.

Don’t make binge eating a longterm habit

These kinds of fluctuations can make keeping track of the scale a double-edged sword through the holiday season. While it can be a great tool to keep you on track and make sure things don’t spiral out of control between now and the end of the year, it is important to note that big day-to-day fluctuations will happen, but they are not because of fat gain. 

The best thing you can do after a big meal or a single day of overindulging is to make sure that you get in some physical activity the next day. Use all those carbs that are now stored in your muscles and don’t leave them there to get converted into body fat. So skip the Turkey Trot this year and instead go for a long run or hit the weights the day AFTER the big meal instead of the morning of. 

But most importantly, don’t let a single day derail you from staying consistent between now and the end of the year. It is ok to indulge on the big days, as long as you are able to get back on track the day after!

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