Ask Calorie Ken: When Does Two Pounds Matter?

Knowing when a change in your weight is a fluke or a trend.

By , Columnist

After being the poster boy for compliance during my first year of the CALERIE Study, when I weighed in for my 15-month visit—a visit that coincided with the end of the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year's food bacchanal—it was a bit of a surprise to Christy, my counselor, that my weight graph showed a sharp rise.

After a year of always being below the 50th percentile line - the lovely green best case scenario target weight line - my "actual" weight line took a sharp climb and was poised precipitously smack in the middle of that safe green line and the yellow trouble line.

I came back to my office, printed out the graph, and mentioned to a coworker that I was in the food dog house. I showed her the chart, and she asked what the increase meant. I told her two pounds, and she told me to get my skinny ass out of her sight and quit whining.

I wasn't whining. Not really. I was concerned. Genuinely concerned. But she thought I was over-reacting. I mean, when does two pounds really matter?

Does two pounds matter the day after you've changed your life and are making better choices that have already resulted in a two-pound weight loss? Psychologically, yes, but physiologically, not really. It's probably just water, or the fact that your last three meals were filled with better, more tasty, fiber-rich foods with fewer calories. It doesn't matter until that two pounds represents consistently lower high and low numbers which might happen on day one or two, but probably not until day five or ten.

So, did it really matter in my case that I gained two pounds? I mean, I was at Doyle's in Jamaica Plain before my weigh in, and I had their Sunday night turkey and dressing special and two pints of Bud Light, so my body hadn't really processed it all out of my system because it had only been ten hours, right? I mean, maybe my co-worker was right...so what!

Well, so what, indeed, and it is a big so what, for the two pounds that I gained hadn't happened overnight, and I knew it. I knew that, from the time of my 14-month visit right around Thanksgiving, this two pounds wasn't just two pounds at one moment in time. It was the result of a trend, and the trend mattered.

Your weight fluctuates morning to night. Weigh yourself twice daily at the same times each day, and you'll see trends. I always weigh two to four pounds more in the evening than I do after my morning constitutional. I'm pretty regular, so unless something has messed up my schedule or system, I lose a pound just by going to the bathroom.

TMI? Maybe, but I know my body, and if you want to manage your weight effectively, you will need to know yours too. Since achieving my target weight, I had been confident that my morning post-poop weight would be 166-168, and my evening weight would be 170-172. Sometime in mid-December, however, that changed. My morning weight was averaging 170-171, and my evening weight was averaging 172-175.

So, the little spike in the chart wasn't a fluke. It was evidence of a trend, and when two pounds is evidence of a trend instead of part of a normal pattern, that is when it matters. That is when it is time to take corrective action, not when that two pounds is two more pounds and then two more pounds after that.

When I e-mailed Christy after our session asking for the "honesty" chart, she responded, "Don't get too fixed on the numbers...remember, we just want to see a downward change. At this point, you are now in maintenance, so small fluctuations are normal, but be mindful that they can indicate a need to tighten things up a bit (which you seem to be very insightful and aware of). Keep up the good work!!"

No judgment; just positive reinforcement. Calorie Ken encourages you to know your body. Know the difference between a point-in-time weight change and a trend, and you will know when two pounds matters.

___________________

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For two years, Ken Brooks (Calorie Ken) was a volunteer in the Tufts University CALERIE Study. He is now a nutrition evangelist. Send your nutrition, weight management, general health and exercise questions to calorieken@gmail.com.

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