Why Gaining Weight While Exercising Is Completely Normal & What You Can Do About It
“She said I was on the wrong track.”
That’s what my cousin’s text to me read. I didn’t need to hear her voice to sense her disappointment. She had just seen her new trainer and apparently had gained two pounds in the few weeks since she’d dedicated to a new exercise and diet regimen. My first instinct was to of course, go off, because I of all people knew how hard she had been working to achieve her weight goals. But instead, I resorted to who I am by nature, a researcher, and decided to show her proof of why her trainer’s discouraging feedback was first and foremost ugly yes, but more importantly, misguided and plain wrong.
Turns out, the phenomenon has little to do with being on “the wrong track.”
I really didn’t need research to tell me this though. I had experienced it first hand when I began working out rigorously again last year. You might remember that I discovered working out to be so much more than a means to those superficial “booty gains.” But since we’re talking about “booty gains,” how in the world do think you get those? They’re called gains for a reason. You have to GAIN to get them. And you would think any “trainer” who’s charging for their services would know this.
Now full disclaimer: I am not trained in physical fitness nor do I have a background in health sciences, etc. What I do have though is what all of us have, personal experience. And from personal experience, I would liken working out to that awkward adolescent phase we all went through. You know, those years when you had to literally grow into your body. Ugh, I don’t miss those times. For me it was my legs, and well, pretty much the rest of my body. I might have been compared to a pencil and called a stick because I was so skinny people thought my mom wasn’t feeding me enough. Sidenote: she was - I actually ate more than her back then. (“Mom, can I have some more flatuas and rice please?” :))
Anyway, the reason I liken exercising to adolescence is because both come with an adjusting period. We all had to grow into our bodies and had some awkward stages to overcome. It’s the same with exercise. Your body is adjusting to the stresses you put on it and as such, there will be noticeable, and often, uncomfortable evidence of this, especially in the beginning. And let’s be clear, the “beginning” can last for up to a year while you figure out what the heck you’re actually doing. Like which exercises work best for you and how your body responds to everything you’re putting it through. One thing I know for sure is what works for one person will not necessarily work for the other. I know we’ve all heard this so many times before but it’s true! We are all so different, and thus react differently to things, exercise and food regimens included.
According to Cleveland Clinic, inflammation caused by micro tears in your muscles fibers, along with new lean muscle pushing through unburned fat are just some reasons why someone might experience weight gain while exercising. And if that’s not enough to convince you, maybe this quote from a recent Shape magazine article will: “The scale says nothing about your fitness level or body composition.” Amen!
Granted, there are some obvious habits that no amount of exercise will overcome including:
Poor Eating Habits
Poor Sleeping Habits (yes, this makes a difference!)
High-Stress Levels (yup, this one too, #sorrynotsorry)
Higher Calorie Intake vs. Calories Burned
And the list goes on.
However, I would venture to say that there are many women that are more like the former: doing all the “right” things, and still seeing weight gain. I use “right things” loosely because I am a big believer that this “right” equation looks different for everyone.
Personally, I hadn’t realized just how much weight I had gained last year until our annual family outing to kick-off the summer came around. And what a bummer that was. I had been exercising since January and I thought for sure by the end of May I’d be set. Welp, I was wrong. And my family sure brought that to my attention. (You gotta love family!). Not in a bad way. I honestly just hadn’t taken note until they oh so subtly mentioned how much “hips” I was gaining, which is clearly not the norm for me. Needless to say, these newfound said hips were making a splash both in and out of the waterpark. *Swimsuits + awkward body phases = an insecurity nightmare!
When I got back home, I started weighing myself at the gym a lot more often than I had before and realized, they were right! I was the heaviest weight I had ever been in my life. But the reality was that I felt good. Even though my body was still adjusting to the random workout regimens I was putting it through, including apparently thinking I was training for a weightlifting competition at one point (don’t follow everything you see on Instagram lol), my body was working for me.
It was working. For me.
And if that wasn’t enough, leave it to Mom to always put things in perspective. “You’re beautiful Mama, don’t worry about the scale, base it off of how you feel.”
Isn’t that really the equation for life? And up until that session with her trainer, my cousin was feeling super sore yes, but good, for making the decision to take charge of her life and go after what she wanted. But one negative comment threatened to erase all the work she had been putting in and the emotional gains I had personally witnessed in this short time.
It infuriates me that people don’t realize how powerful words are. It infuriates me when women put other women down. We get enough of that from ourselves, we don’t need another peanut gallery. It infuriates me that we as women, especially brown women take these careless words so personally, completely forgetting how strong and resilient we were created to be.
Our bodies are incredible temples that work for us every single day. These amazing vessels adapt to any environment we put them in and if we can remember that above all else, maybe we can stop listening to what other people say or think of us and recognize the awesome body that consistently shows up for us every single day. And make the choice to show up for it, regardless of what anyone has to say, “professional” or not.
So if you’re one of the many women that are gaining weight while working out, take heart, you’re not alone and you ARE on the right track. Keep going because you’re awesome! And you will reap the benefits, more than you can imagine.