Nothing strikes fear in your heart like gaining weight when you’re doing everything in your power to lose weight.
What in the world is going on?!
First, keep calm and carry on with your efforts: If you’re following a program that focuses on proper nutrition and fitness, results will come.
(One important exception: Your thyroid regulates your metabolism, so if you have an underlying issue, like hypothyroidism, consult your health care provider for treatment that’s appropriate for your situation.)
Now, let’s look at the common reasons why you’re gaining weight and strategies to get the number on the scale going in the right direction.
1. You’re Stressed Out
You’ve probably heard that cortisol can make you fat, but it’s not quite that simple. Cortisol is a performance-enhancing stress hormone that serves an important function in survival situations. (Ever heard of the “fight-or-flight response“? That’s cortisol kick-starting the burst of energy you need to fight/outrun a saber-toothed tiger back in the day.)
Nowadays, that saber-toothed tiger is life: traffic, work, family, more traffic, chores, etc. When you’re under too much daily stress, your body shifts into a state of chronic high alert/cortisol release, which may have a variety of repercussions, including water retention and accumulation of abdominal fat.
On that note, the beginning of a diet and/or exercise program is a “survival” situation, thus causing cortisol release. But before you swear off fitness, keep in mind that while temporary water retention isn’t uncommon at the start of a new workout, the chances of accumulating abdominal fat while doing a well-designed fitness program the way it was intended to be done are almost zilch.
In addition to exercise’s psychologically calming effect, your body should adapt to the stress, and your metabolism will be elevated, leading to weight loss.
What to Do: Be patient, grasshopper. There’s no hard-and-fast timeline on how long it will take your body to adapt. So don’t freak out if your friend or workout partner is losing weight and you aren’t; your body will adapt when it’s good and ready.
2. You’re Chronically Not Eating Enough
Your natural reaction to weight gain is to eat less. Makes sense, right? In addition, a short period of strategic undereating can help you break bad eating habits and help your body adjust to eating clean.
But severe undereating for an extended period of time boosts cortisol production, which can put you in that chronic cortisol release state we talked about earlier. Chronically undereating can also slow your metabolism; your head knows why you’re eating fewer calories, but your body doesn’t, so it’s shifting into a lower gear to conserve energy.
What to Do: Eat more. Try increasing your calories by three hundred. Odds are, you’ll feel it working pretty quickly.
3. You’re Doing the Exact Same Workout
If you’re doing the same workouts at the same intensity, you’re not forcing your body to adapt, which leads to changes in your metabolism. In other words, you’re hitting the dreaded plateau.
Technically, a plateau doesn’t fall under “gaining weight,” but a proper nutrition and exercise program should be continually forcing your body to adapt. Otherwise, your metabolism won’t continue to remain elevated, which is the goal of most weight-loss programs.
It’s vital that you stick to a program and not change it repeatedly based on your daily results — as long as it keeps challenging you.
What to Do: Choose workouts that get harder as you move through them. Adopt additional strategies to bust that plateau, like keeping a food and exercise log, and making sure you’re allowing your body time to recover and rebuild.
4. Your Metabolism Has Slowed Down
You’re working out and eating right, but that number on the scale is inching up and up, not down. Odds are, your metabolism has slowed down in order to deal with the smaller amount of calories you’re taking in. You’re starving your now-fit body, so it’s doing what it needs to do to survive.
Another reason your metabolism could be slowing? You’re getting older. (Don’t stop reading, youngsters; this will be you some day). As you get older, your metabolism slows down for a variety of reasons, so it’s important to take that into account if you find yourself gaining weight.
What to Do: There are a couple of different ways to give your metabolism a kick in the rear to get it back up to speed, like eating more (see #2) or zigzagging your calorie intake, which is alternating “more food” days with “less food” days.
If aging is your issue, you don’t have to go on a special geriatric eating plan; there are simple nutritional tweaks you can make, like cutting back on sugar and eating enough protein, that will give your metabolism an extra boost.
5. You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
It’s a well-known fact that pretty much everyone is sleep-deprived. For some people, it’s a badge of honor — “Oh, man, I got FOUR hours of sleep last night!” But that badge can quickly turn to bulge if it’s happening every night.
Your stomach produces a hormone called ghrelin, which tells you that you’re hungry — and constant lack of sleep can crank up that production process. Not only that, when you’re tired, you’re more likely to make bad food choices. Getting enough sleep can also reduce your cortisol levels (see #1) and provide energy for your increasingly difficult workouts (see #3).
What to Do: Get more sleep. And yes, it’s easier said than done for some folks, but skip the OTC sleepy pills and try natural sleep remedies like turning down the heat, skipping fatty foods before bedtime, and of course, exercising consistently.
So the moral of today’s lesson is to trust your fitness and nutrition program. There is no quick fix that will magically melt away the pounds. Body transformation is based on making healthy lifestyle changes and maintaining those changes over the long-term. Do that and you’ll never need to ask yourself why you’re gaining weight again.