Dieting, Working Out, and Gaining Weight? Here’s Why It May Happen

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So you’ve decided to try to lose weight. You’re putting in time at the gym and trying to eat healthier, but it seems like all your hard work is only leading to weight gain. How can this be? Unfortunately this scenario is not uncommon and can lead to giving up on habits that are important for improving overall health. Let’s discuss some reasons why you might see the scale going up after starting a weight loss program. 

You’re Eating More

You’ve worked so hard at the gym and on your way out, the smoothie bar is calling to you. This habit, or similarly rewarding yourself with dessert or a high calorie meal, could be sabotaging your efforts to lose weight. It’s easy to overestimate how many calories we burn exercising and if we turn around and consume all of those calories or more, it will likely lead to weight gain. Tracking your food intake with an app is one way to stay accountable to what you’re consuming and has been shown to be effective for losing weight. 

Additionally, decreasing how much food you eat can trigger changes in your hormones that promote hunger, which can make sticking to a diet difficult. There are ways you can feel full on fewer calories, though. Eating an adequate amount of protein throughout the day, drinking plenty of water, and filling up on non-starchy vegetables are a few ways you can change your diet to reduce your calorie intake, but feel less hungry. There are also FDA-approved prescription medications that address some of these changes in appetite to help people with excess weight stick to a lower calorie diet. They are not appropriate for everyone, though, so you will need to speak to a healthcare professional to determine if they are an option for you.  

Water Retention After Exercise

When you exercise, especially if this includes strength training, you actually break down your muscle fibers and rebuild them. This process of breaking down or damaging muscle fibers causes your muscles to retain water and swell as part of the healing process. Since water weighs something, you may notice weight gain after exercise. Don’t get too concerned about this, though, because it’s not that you’re gaining fat, which is what we’re really concerned about when it comes to your health. Long-term, exercise will help to promote weight loss and weight loss maintenance, as well as bring about many other health benefits, so stick with it! 

Muscle Weight Gain

How many of you have heard the phrase “muscle weighs more than fat”? The reality is that muscle is more dense than fat, so the way that it occupies space in our body is different from how fat occupies space in our body. When we perform exercises meant to increase lean muscle mass (using free weights, weight machines, or bodyweight exercises like squats for example), we may see differences in the way that we look or how our pants fit without actually seeing changes on the scale. With enough strength training and appropriate dietary changes there may even be a gain in the amount of lean muscle mass you have that leads to an increase in the number on the scale. This, however, would take months, so it is not likely the cause if you’re noticing weight gain early on in an exercise program. 

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Your Workout and Diet Plan are Not Appropriate for your Goals

There is a lot of information out there about how to change your diet and exercise routine in order to lose weight. But it’s not one-size-fits-all. If you’ve been trying to lose weight with diet and exercise alone, but not having success or even gaining weight, it may be time to seek professional assistance. A Registered Dietitian is a great resource to assist you with creating a diet individualized to your lifestyle and goals while an obesity medicine specialist can look at your overall health picture and determine if there is a medical reason for why you’re gaining weight. Additionally, they can discuss more intensive treatment options like FDA-approved medications, if appropriate. 

Whatever approach you take, just be sure the changes you’re making with your lifestyle feel sustainable. Even if results are happening more slowly, they are going to be more likely to give you long-term success versus going on a diet or participating in a very intense exercise program for a few weeks and then stopping. 

How Form Health Can Help You Lose Weight

At Form Health, we consider all the factors contributing to weight gain, not just some of them. We create a personalized program that caters specifically to the individual. Our doctors and registered dietitians will create a tailored weight loss program based on a person’s medical history. Form Health’s main goal is to help each patient reach their weight and health goals. Motivation can be tough to maintain, but with the support from your doctor and dietitian, perseverance and progress will be easier to keep up throughout your weight loss journey.  Take our quiz to find out if you’re a candidate today.

Questions about medical weight loss? Schedule a free call with an enrollment specialist to learn more.

About the Author: Brooke Marsico, PA-C, completed her physician assistant training at Midwestern University in 2011. She began her practice in the field of Obesity Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago where she practiced from 2016 to 2021. She went on to treat patients living with obesity at Cleveland Clinic from 2021 to 2022 prior to joining the team at Form Health. Brooke is passionate about helping patients living with obesity achieve meaningful weight loss and improve their health. Her practice focuses on individualized behavioral and pharmacological intervention to help patients reach their goals. She is also experienced in managing patients who have a history of bariatric surgery.

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