It's natural to assume that exercise can help you achieve your fitness goals like running a 5K or weight loss. But if you've been exercising religiously and have noticed that the numbers on the scale have gone up, you may be concerned and rightfully so.
It is possible to lose weight without exercise but the reason is complicated. To find out why working out can lead to weight gain and why you might lose weight without exercise, POPSUGAR spoke to Rondel King, MS CSCS, an exercise physiologist at NYU Langone's Sports Performance Center.
Why Exercise Causes Weight Gain
If you've been going hard in the gym and have noticed that you're weight has increased, you shouldn't panic. According to Rondel, "If you're an individual and you're exercising and you're gaining more weight, it can be weight in the form of gaining muscle ... so the scale will play a trick on you." If you're lifting weights, you're going to burn fat and build muscle, and you can potentially put on weight because of this. If you find that you're gaining fat with exercise, Rondel said, "It can mean that you're stressing your body too much and you have that stress response [called overtraining]." Overtraining is exactly what it sounds like. You're working out too much which puts an excessive amount of stress on your body. When this happens, your body elicits a stress response which can lead to weight gain, Rondel explained. The most obvious symptoms of overtraining are disrupted sleep, disrupted energy levels, a decrease in performance, and consistently becoming sick.
Why You May Lose Weight When You're Not Exercising
Just because you gain weight from strength training doesn't mean there's anything wrong. Instead of letting the scale dictate your success, consider how you feel and how you look. Cutting back on exercise may lead to minor weight loss but we don't recommend nixing exercise from your workout plan in order to lose weight.
Instead, you've got to find a balance between training and rest days to prevent excessively stressing your body. If you've lost weight without exercise, it may be because you're losing muscle mass. Second, your stress hormones may have leveled out and as a result led to weight loss. You could potentially have a metabolic disease that can cause your weight to fluctuate, and in that case we recommend speaking to an expert like an endocrinologist. Once you've figured out the exercise end of things, you've also got to look at your diet.
Nutrition Also Affects Weight Loss
We say it all the time but you cannot outwork a bad diet. What we mean by this is that no matter what you do for exercise if your nutrition isn't on point, you more than likely won't obtain the results you're after. We also can't stress enough that diet is not universal. What may work for you may not work someone else. In general, we recommend eating more minimally-processed whole foods. If you're looking for specific nutrition advice, we suggest reading this post on what you should eat to lose weight and working with a registered dietitian.
Remember, the scale doesn't necessarily paint the entire picture. If your goal is to lose weight, we recommend doing a combination of strength training and cardio three to five days a week. If you're experiencing any symptoms of overtraining, scale back and allow your body to recover in order to lose weight. When in doubt, reach out to a personal trainer or another specialist that can help guide you.