The 24 Hour Myth of Weight Loss

Take Time to Decorate a Chicken Salad - French Clock Chicken Salad

“This chicken salad (!!) is decorated to look like a clock, with the hands set at the serving time.”

Since starting my own weight loss journey, I’ve been reading a number of blogs from other folks looking to lose weight. I keep hearing the same phrase over and over, and it goes something like this, “I had a really good day yesterday, but the scale didn’t change today.” There are a few variations, but essentially, there is an expectation that if we do something today (eat well, exercise, etc.) that it will pay off the next day.

Since this hasn’t at all been my experience, I started suspecting something was wrong with this line of thinking. It seems so logical on the outside – we do something, we sleep, and next day we see the effect. The truth is far more complicated.

Let’s start with eating. I had suspected that food stayed in our bodies longer than we thought, and in fact, I have proof. Now, I don’t mean to get too intimate with you, but I happen to love beets. And those of us who eat beets know when they are in our system, as they have the propensity to dye everything a rather vivid shade of magenta. This takes place over a couple of days, and that got me thinking. So, I did a little research (AKA looked it up on Google) and found an article on the Mayo Clinic website stating the average time for food to pass completely through the system was roughly 53 hours. There are some differences for men and women, and for the types of food you eat, but roughly, figure things take a couple of days.

So, let’s say you indulged on Monday, but decided to eat healthier on Tuesday. If you hop on the scale on Wednesday, you’re likely to still be seeing Monday’s splurge. Of course, that’s super simplified. Did you indulge on carbs? It might leave your system faster. Was it a big steak? It might hang out a bit longer. All of this is also effected by your own metabolism as well, so there just aren’t any guarantees.

I think exercise is the same way. I’ve read several books on running and on weight lifting and they all suggest that you want to give your body 48 hours to build muscle. That suggests that if you exercise your heart out on Sunday, you aren’t going to see a difference on Monday, which fits with my personal experience. In fact, a lot of times my weight goes up a bit after a run day because I make sure to drink water afterwords and stay hydrated. I may not see changes for a few days.

That’s why it may make sense to weigh yourself once a week – all this stuff fluctuates so much that people can get discouraged pretty quickly. Of course, if it is two days after “one of those crazy days” we all have, and you starve yourself before weighing in to make up for it, you might just end up really ticked off. You just have to keep everything in perspective.

As I’ve said before, I like to weigh every morning (just once a day at roughly the same time) and track it. I’ve seen patterns in my weight and that really helps me figure out what is going on. It’s never perfectly predictable, though. Sometimes I see changes 48 hours later, sometimes 36, sometimes not at all.

I think weight loss is a lot like investing in the stock market. The experts will all tell you that if you try to time your investments, you will ultimately lose money. The way to succeed is dollar cost averaging – basically putting in the same amount of money in, on a reliable schedule, all the time. You will get the highs and the lows, but over time, it works out for the best. With losing weight you have to do what works, and we all know what that is, right? You have take in few calories than you burn. What diet plan you use or what type of exercise you get doesn’t matter nearly as much as picking something that makes sense to you and sticking with it consistently.

Oh, and don’t expect changes the next day.

Photo credit: jbcurio

4 thoughts on “The 24 Hour Myth of Weight Loss

  1. I’ve noticed the same effect in my diet. It typically takes me 48 hours to notice the anticipated effects of a particular meal or exercise. Great post!

    • Thanks! I don’t know, but it seems like some people give up because they don’t see immediate results. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. (It would be fun if it did though!)

      • I wish it did. I, too, succumb to the instant reward system. 🙂 If you just keep it in your mind that it’s a 2 day reward, it functions similarly.

  2. I need to lose 18 pounds right now. We have a major event in July, so I’m making that the 10-pound milestone (lose the first 10 by then) and my birthday in September for the last 8. If I can achieve that, I think I’ll be satisfied with the progress. I hate slow results (HATE them!), but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that weight loss doesn’t work any other way.

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