Why you can gain weight with an extra workout

“Health is not about the weight you lose, but the life you gain.”

Eat healthy, go to the gym, drink more water- but “don’t eat/drink this, moderate that, don’t lift too much, spend 5 hours at the gym, take back to back to back classes, eat before and after working out, try the new bootcamp - right after you’ve done your own workout.” Sound familiar? We get this really vague advice, and may very well be from well meaning people! Doctors, other professionals, friends & family who we admire & trust, trusted health websites, who really do want to help us. However, if we’re not hitting our health/weight goals, and/or we’re miserable in the process, then we need to rethink the ‘balls to the walls’/’if this isn’t working I’ll just work harder’ mentality.

Weight is a symptom that something is off- except as we know how interconnected our body is physiologically and emotionally, it’s never quite that simple as ‘what do I take to lose weight.’ Actually, those one hit wonders that have been on the market have landed people in the ER (in the better case scenario), and if there was a magic pill well, we’d know about it. The problem with weight gain, especially over the years, is that those cells act like three year olds who have not had enough sleep and keep nagging the other organs to listen to them and their own signals. And the body accommodates- fat cells are happy, us- not so much. The key is to gently redirect those fat cells/three year olds to not only calm down, but to where they feel safe doing so and won’t let it happen again.

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When it comes to working out, many times we think more is better, but we may actually be stressing our system. Cardio burns calories (which are not all created equally) in the short term, but it’s muscle that keeps calories burning for longer periods of time post workout. Ladies, you are not going to bulk up- your main hormone is estrogen and it’s not going to let you do that. In fact, much of what I do see in practice is too much estrogen (or too low progesterone), so no worries. Testosterone is one of the hormones that can increase size, and if you do have too much, then let’s just say there’s something not quite right and we should work together! :) Men, testosterone is your main hormone, yet as mentioned before, low testosterone is incredibly common and most of it is actually being metabolized into estrogen, so even if you do want to bulk up, it’s more of an uphill battle.

When you’re working out multiple days a week, and all hard/long workouts, your body does not have time to recover. And that’s stressful! Chances are that while you may enjoy it, deep down your self talk for being there isn’t the most body positive, which actually places further stress on our body (yes, sadness is a type of stress). And cortisol, our stress hormone, is 4 time more receptive to our abdomen. Not fun. I remember being on the elliptical back in college for 45 minutes straight, maybe a little variation, but kept pushing myself as I saw the calories burned increase. Sure it felt good as working out boosts endorphins, but it took a lot of mental energy to keep focused, and the negative self talk is typically what says post gym high.

Now, you can save time, do what you love (decreases stress!), and stay active without even realizing it! And get off that plateau:

  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)- It’s not about how long you’re at the gym, or how hard you’re working out, but how smart. We know this. Owning your life and how you spend your time isn’t about doing everything, but working smarter, not harder. HIIT has been studied for decades in being the most effective way to not only burn fat, but also keep your metabolism up. With any exercise, you go at a somewhat steady pace/weight, then for a fraction of that time you go as hard as you can. Do a few sets. A few years later I switched part of my workouts to about 10-15 minutes on the elliptical and would do a 2 minute warm up, 30 second high level/as fast as I can go, 1:30 min rest, and repeat. This builds muscle too. Better results & save time = winning!

  • Take a day off, or a yoga or pilates class- That cortisol piece you read about earlier? Well we also need it to survive, so we definitely need it. Yet chances are there may be some stress in work, social life, or even on lab tests (we can adapt to stress, which is why it can show up as internal but not emotional), or not getting enough sleep, that there is a such thing as working out too much. If you feel the need to sleep after a workout, your body is telling you to chill out. A day off means you can recover, and actually go back even stronger! Yoga, tai chi, or pilates, to name a few, help restoring muscles, decreases stress, and may just be the missing factor to weight loss efforts.

  • Do what you love- You’re making this part of your lifestyle. Weight loss can be difficult from the habitual side because it challenges us to change up our life and routine, and that’s uncomfortable! Seriously.. our brain really likes things to stay put. However, when you do what you love, you’re not really thinking about weight because you’re happy (puts our system at ease). Check out some classes at the gym you enjoy, or maybe you’d like to try some of the machines. Consider speaking to a personal trainer (or a few), as it can be incredibly empowering too to find the right exercises that give you results and you enjoy performing. Perhaps there’s a private workout studio (great place to meet people too), or depending on where you live- bike rentals, ponds/water, a trip to a ski lodge or beach, etc.

Your body knows what’s right, and sometimes the hardest piece in all of this is that we do need to turn inwards and trust ourselves. We’re not conditioned.. we want to be knowledgable and in control and empowered, etc. Yet one of the hardest but most beneficial actions we can take is to ask for help. Even if we’re doing ‘things right’ and we ask for help, it doesn’t mean they’re all wrong/bad, it just means that perhaps they need to be modified to fit us. And consistency is key (it lets our brain know it will be fine).. which is why making it part of our lifestyle is so important! Fast forward after college to now, and even though I was pretty happy with my gym routine, I felt like I was at a plateau and frustrated. We search for services we don't quite want to do ourselves, or need guidance/want to learn. It’s then we learn even more and become even more confident in our ability! See how changing up your fitness routine can benefit your health - check out my Instagram.