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I just started exercising…why am I gaining weight? Q & A


Interesting information I thought I would share with anyone who might be working hard at losing weight but finding themselves still gaining.

Question: I just started exercising…why am I gaining weight?

Answer: If you’ve noticed your weight going up after starting an exercise program, don’t panic! It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong, nor does it mean you’re going in the wrong direction. There can be some obvious and not-so-obvious reasons you’re gaining weight.

Your first step is to determine if what you’re gaining is actually fat or muscle. Muscle is more dense than fat, but it takes up less space…if you gain muscle, your scale weight may go up even as you’re slimming down. Rather than just using a scale to measure your progress, you can get your body fat tested on a regular basis to get a better idea of what you’re gaining and/or losing. If that isn’t an option, you can take measurements at different areas of the body…if you’re losing inches, you’re on the right track. For more, check out 4 Ways to Track Your Weight Loss Progress.

If you’ve measured yourself in different ways and realized you are gaining fat, take some time to go through the following possibilities – you may need to make some small changes in your diet to see better results.

1. Eating too many calories. It may seem obvious, but eating more calories than you burn causes weight gain. What some people don’t realize is that, after they start exercising, they may start eating more without being aware of it. Most people think they’re eating a healthy, low-calorie diet but, unless you’re keeping a detailed food journal, you just don’t know how many calories you’re really eating. Most people are surprised when they start keeping a journal and adding up the calories–it almost always turns out to be more than they thought. Before you quit exercising, take a week to keep a food journal. Add up your calories to get a sense of exactly what you’re eating…if it’s too much, you can start to make some changes in your diet to reduce your calories. And try to avoid the mindset that says you can eat whatever you want since you’re doing all this great exercise…to lose weight, you still need to monitor your calories.

2. Not eating enough calories. It may seem counterintuitive, but eating too little can actually stall your efforts to lose fat. As Cathy Leman, a registered dietician and creator of NutriFit! says, “…if there is a severe restriction in calories, the body may counteract this reduction by slowing down its metabolism.” Be sure you’re eating enough calories to sustain your body if you’ve increased your activity.

3. Not giving your body time to respond. Just because you start exercising doesn’t always mean your body will respond to that immediately. As Cathy Leman puts it, “…in some instances the body needs to sort of “recalibrate”‘ itself. Increased activity and new eating habits (taking in more or less calories) require the body to make adjustments.” Cathy recommends that you give yourself several weeks or months for your body to respond to what you’re doing.

4. Rule out any medical conditions. While thyroid problems are rare, they can definitely make weight loss difficult. There can also be medications you’re taking that could affect your body’s ability to lose weight. If you feel your food intake is reasonable and you’ve given your body enough time to see results and haven’t seen any (or are seeing unexplainable weight gain) see your doctor to rule any other causes.

5. You’re gaining muscle faster than you’re losing fat. If it seems that you’re getting bigger after you’ve started a weight training routine, it may be because you aren’t losing body fat as fast as you’re building muscle, which is a problem some people experience when they start exercising. Genetics could also be playing a role here…some people put on muscle more easily than others. If that’s the case for you, don’t stop training! Instead, you might simply adjust your program to make sure you’re getting enough cardio exercise to promote weight loss and focus your strength training workouts on muscular endurance by keeping the reps between 12-16.

Whatever the cause of your weight gain, don’t give up on exercise. It’s not only your ticket to weight loss, it’s also important for your health.

By Paige Waehner, About.com

Updated: May 31, 2006

About.com Health’s Disease and Condition content is reviewed by our Medical Review Board

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