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Written by Megan Ayala. Last Updated: May 19, 2022
Whenever you begin a new diet plan for weight loss, it’s usually exciting when you cut a few pounds in the first week of starting your diet.
But you might be questioning whether you’re shedding fat, or is it only water weight that you’re losing?
In this guide, you’ll find out ways to check whether you’re only dropping water weight, and what you can start to do to lose fat instead of just water.
Losing Water Weight vs “Real” Weight
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Although losing water weight will instantly show on your scale, this doesn’t mean you’ve lost fat. And since you must be reading this as a guide to your weight loss journey, you must understand the difference.
Continue reading to find out how you can tell you’re losing water weight, and not fat.
Signs You’re Losing Water Weight
If you’re setting out to lose weight, you want that weight to come from fat. The problem is that it can be difficult to know exactly where your weight loss is actually coming from—particularly at first. Watch out for these signs:
- You’re Following A Low-Carb Diet
Several studies have shown that sticking to a high-protein, low-carb diet can be an effective and safe way to slim down. (Low-carb means that you’re consuming like 60 grams of carbs daily.)
One study discovered that obese adolescents who restricted carbs to only 20 grams per day (and boosted protein consumption) lost more pounds in three months compared to those who restricted fat.
Some of that initial weight loss comes from water—specifically if you ingested a higher-carb diet beforehand. Once you eat carbs, your body converts them to glucose. It then combines those glucose molecules with some water molecules to create a compound known as glycogen.
You store glycogen in your muscles and liver to utilize whenever you require energy (e.g., during a high-intensity workout).
The more carbs you ingest and store as glycogen, then the more water you store, as well. Until you stop eating carbohydrates, that is. When you consume fewer carbohydrates, you use up your glycogen stores and then release a lot of that water.
If you’ve recently been on a low-carb diet, you can expect some pounds of your weight loss to come from water.
- Losing A Lot Of Weight Fast
If you’ve shed five pounds after only a week of an intense workout and diet plan, then most of that is also from water. Health experts recommend dropping around 500 calories daily to lose weight at a sustainable rate, and this is around 1-2 pounds weekly.
Unless you have a huge amount of weight to cut—e.g., 100 pounds or more—you cannot shed more than 1-2 pounds of pure fat that quickly.
Even if you avoid slashing carbs, restricting calories generally forces your body to utilize stored glycogen for energy—and when you use it, you tend to release water. And that’s why most of us see massive changes on the scale during the first few weeks of working to lose weight.
Rest assured, when your body adjusts to your new diet and workout routine throughout those first weeks, the actual weight you lose changes and comes more from fat instead. It’s worth knowing that your body doesn’t store/ keep an endless amount of water.
That means once you lose the excess, then there’s no more to lose.
- Weight Fluctuates Drastically Day-To-Day
Don’t freak out if your daily weigh-ins seem to be all over the place in the last few days. It’s quite difficult to lose and gain some body fat overnight. So most likely you’re dealing with fluctuating water weight.
Here’s a better way to look at it: If it takes cutting at least 500 calories daily for seven days to shed a single pound of fat, it will take more than a day of eating indulgently to obtain a whole pound of fat. And to do so, you’d need to eat around 3,500 calories more than your body requires.
That means if you normally eat 2,500 calories daily, that’s a whopping 6,000 calories!
But, whenever you dramatically change your diet day to day—say, by shifting from eating no carbs to consuming all the carbs, and then back again—you tend to quickly retain and discharge enough water that can throw off your scale reading.
Just get back to your normal way of eating and be patient; the scale will normalize soon.
- Clothes Don’t Fit Any Better Than Before
No matter what your scale tells you, your clothes will always say the truth about your weight loss. So if you’re just dropping water, you most likely won’t see much of a difference in the way your clothes fit. On the other hand, if you’re shedding fat—and inches—around your thighs, for instance, your clothes will feel much looser and you’ll know that you’re cutting down body fat.
Busting out the body fat calipers is another method of testing whether you are losing fat or just water. Apart from roughly estimating your body fat percentage, these pincers are an easy way to monitor your progress.
The only thing you need to do is to firmly pinch the chunk of the skin around an inch above the right hip bone using your fingers, then place that caliper over the skinfold. Ensure that you apply pressure until you can feel a click, and lastly check the body fat that’s reading on the tool.
How To Make Sure You’re Losing Fat
Now that you know whether you’re losing water weight, how can you ensure that you’re losing real weight?
- Eat A Well-Balanced Diet
While it’s tempting to cut all carbs and slash calories out of your life, this sets you up for failure. You’re only going to white-knuckle it with an intense diet for so long before giving out your willpower —and that happens much faster if you’ve slashed carbs entirely and feel so drained that you can’t exercise.
Instead, try filling your shopping cart with fruits, veggies, poultry, meat, and fiber-rich carbs such as starchy vegetables and whole grains. Focus on eating a balance of all the macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) your body requires and cut your caloric deficit to 500 calories daily, maximum.
- Lift Weights Regularly
As opposed to fat, muscle tissue is always metabolically active. That means it uses energy even while resting. So the more muscle you got, the more calories your system automatically uses daily (or the faster your metabolism is).
And if you haven’t already incorporated strength training into your regime, start by adding 2-3 full-body sessions weekly. To emphasize muscle growth, health experts recommend lifting a moderate weight for 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps and limiting your rest periods to 1-2 minutes.
- Get Enough Sleep
Never underestimate the significance of sleep when it comes to fat loss! Research proves that sleep deprivation greatly affects our satiety and hunger hormones.
For example, one small study discovered that when people slept for only four hours every night for five nights, they ingested 300 calories more daily than they did once they slept for nine hours every night for five nights. To ensure that your fat loss efforts are worthwhile, prioritize the recommended 7-9 hours of shut-eye every night.
Water weight can be frustrating because nobody likes to feel bloated. Fortunately, it’s a short-term issue. Since water weight can fluctuate day to day, weighing yourself every week is better than weighing yourself every day. Long-term changes in actual body weight usually result in a change to your lean muscle or fat, and this is what you want.