Health & Wellness

Why those last 5 pounds really don't count

Why do we torment ourselves about those extra few pounds?

Being 5 pounds "overweight" is a problem that’s imperceptible to anyone else. Even if you wake up feeling flat-bellied and svelte, when you step on a bathroom scale, an extra pound or two can throw you into a funk for the rest of the day.

In reality, minor weight fluctuations are natural.

Your salty lunch

An extra pound could come from the 2 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce (1,400 milligrams of sodium) poured over sushi or 2 pickles (1,700 milligrams of sodium) consumed with lunch the previous day. Salt acts like a magnet to water, creating fluid weight gain, not fat weight gain.

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Your monthly cycle

For women, weight can also fluctuate during the month due to puffy menstrual pounds. Some people gain weight because of fluid retention related to menopause, arthritis, thyroid disease, allergic reactions or the medications they take.

Angeliki Jackson / TODAY
Minor weight fluctuations are normal and it's the "inner" or visceral fat that is more dangerous to your health.

Studies suggest a daily weigh-in can help keep off any weight you've lost. To avoid becoming too obsessed with the numbers, weigh on Friday and Mondays only. Weighing at the book-ends of the weekend can help prevent weekend diet-busters. If you weigh on a Friday and your weight is lower than expected, you may eat a little more liberally on the weekend. If Friday's number is higher than preferred, you're less likely to overdo it over the next two days. And if you have to weigh-in on Monday, you're also less likely to overeat over the weekend.

Also, weigh yourself at the same time of day, preferably without clothes, on the same scale, and with the scale in the same place.

Inner fat

Besides, it's not only the pounds that count. People can have a normal body-mass index and still be fat, researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found. This ‘inner fat’, known as visceral fat, is fat that surrounds your organs and is more dangerous for your health than external, or exogenous, fat.

There are methods to test your percentage of body fat through processes like underwater weighing or skin-fold caliper measurements, which can predict health risk (men with a body fat measurement over 23.2 percent of body fat, and women with 33.3 percent of body fat are at greater risk).

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While those extra few pounds may really only matter to you, there are some easy ways to keep them from adding up. Follow these tips to feel more comfortable in your clothes:

1. Use zipper-lock sandwich bags to measure snack foods more carefully. This is especially helpful when it comes to the handfuls of cereal, nuts, or pretzels that somehow find their way into your mouth throughout the course of the day. Each scoop doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but calories add up quicker than you realize. On average, a handful of cereal or pretzels is around 150 calories; that same amount of nuts could cost up to 300 calories.

2. Have a glass of wine with dinner instead of splitting a bottle with someone. This change could save at least 200 calories. To make it easier, have a glass of sparkling water to sip between sips of wine. This will help to keep you busy while waiting for your meal to arrive, without adding any calories.

3. Try to drink at least 8 cups of water each day. Aside from preventing constipation, water will help curtail fluid retention caused by the consumption of high sodium foods, as well as increase satiety.

RELATED: Should you drink warm or cold water when you wake up?

4. Pay close attention to the amount of oil you use. Although olive and canola oil are heart- healthy fats, at 2,000 calories a cup, every teaspoon counts. Dilute your favorite salad dressings down with rich balsamic vinegars and make use of cooking sprays and broths when preparing veggies and other savory dishes.

5. Being careful with portion sizes. It's one of the most important weight-loss strategies. Even highly nutritious foods can interfere with your diet.

6. Never weigh yourself more than once a day … max!

Try to be realistic about keeping within a certain weight range — about 5 pounds above and below your comfort zone — instead of dwelling on a specific number on the scale. Maintaining the exact weight can be difficult day after day. “Ideal” weight is the weight at which you look and feel the best, both physically and emotionally, even if it’s not a perfect number on your scale.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., is author of "Read It Before You Eat It." Follow her Better than Dieting blog

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