Proud2Bme | Dear KJ: My Weight Fluctuates – Help!

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Dear KJ: My Weight Fluctuates – Help!

"Dear KJ" is a weekly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin "KJ" Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012). Her work and writing have been featured by Good Morning America, 20/20The Colbert Report, USA Today, People, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, NPR's "Tell Me More," and "On Air with Ryan Seacrest," among others. Find her at

Suzanne asks: What advice would you give to someone whose weight fluctuates?

It’s hard to know exactly what advice to give someone who is experiencing weight fluctuations without knowing more details, but here are some thoughts. First of all, our weight can fluctuate several pounds in just ONE DAY, simply due to how hydrated we are, how much salt we’ve had in our meals and how much food we have in our digestive system, among other things. Many women also experience weight fluctuations due to hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle.

In all of these cases the weight gained or lost is mostly water and waste products that our body produces in its normal functions. These changes on the scale can happen pretty quickly, and they are totally normal. Sure, it might feel physically uncomfortable to wear tighter clothing when at the higher end of this natural weight range, but the solution here is simply to wear your “comfy pants” and get on with your day. I promise that no one except you can tell much of a difference between the highs and the lows.

Alternatively, some people experience weight fluctuations due to increasing or decreasing muscle mass and/or to changes in how much fat tissue we hold in our bodies. Sometimes these changes are simply due to healthy physical maturation, as we have growth spurts and move through puberty and into adulthood. For girls, puberty brings with it increased fat tissue in certain areas of the body, including breast tissue, hips, thighs and stomach area.

This, again, is usually normal, though it can feel alarming to find that your body has changed, seemingly overnight. Finally, weight can also fluctuate due to changes in diet and exercise, whether intentional or not. It’s a good idea to visit the doctor to check in about physical changes during adolescence, especially if you have questions about weight fluctuations.

Our body generally lets us know when we’re at a healthy weight, because our weight will stabilize at a point in which we eat when hungry, stop when full and stay active (though you will still experience some of the ups and downs as I described in the first paragraph!). Sometimes our weight fluctuates because we are trying to weigh less than our bodies want us to weigh. Dieting and extreme exercise regimes can often lead to “yo-yo” dieting, in which we lose and gain weight again and again, in a nasty cycle of under-eating and over-eating. This is the type of weight cycling that is not normal, and is certainly not healthy. Whether it’s 5 pounds or 50, when we push our bodies outside of their healthy range of weights, our bodies don’t like it and fight to get back to where they belong.

So how do we deal with this? First, accept that your body is supposed to fluctuate a bit, across the day and across months. Make sure to have clothes that fit you comfortably during your lower and higher weight days, and try to avoid getting too caught up in being a certain clothing size. I’ve developed the strategy of having 80% of my clothes fit me at my “average” weight, with 10% a size up and 10% a size down. This way I’m covered (literally!) across my whole size spectrum!

If you are losing or gaining weight in greater extremes or if you find yourself trapped in a cycle of yo-yo dieting, it’s time to meet with your doctor and/or a therapist, who can help assess the situation more fully. 

Have questions for Dr. KJ? Post them in the comments below!

More by Dr. KJ:

Dear KJ: How Can I Take Care of My Body Without Depriving Myself?

Dear KJ: How Can I Overcome Emotional Eating?

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