There are workouts and their are eating regimens. In the ideal world, both would make the number on your scale go down. But what if but you see yourself getting smaller while progress toward that arbitrary weight loss number you put into your head isn't happening at the same time? Here are a few reasons to pause and take note:
(1) If you’ve been watching your food intake, one of the most likely reasons your scale either crept up or stayed the same is inflammation. Working out causes little tears in your muscle fibers called microtrauma, which is why you feel sore after a workout. Your body heals these little tears, making the fibers tougher than they originally were, resulting in your becoming stronger and fitter. During this adaptation period your body releases various substances that flood the area in the form of healing white blood cells, opening up blood vessels to flush out debris and toxins. There’s so much going in that area that it swells up, or inflames, and this response carries its own physical weight that can show up on the scale. But there is good news. When inflammation is allowed to occur in a healthy way, it’s only temporary.
I have said many times that maintaining a healthy, protein-rich diet and allowing for adequate rest and recovery speeds things up, but the key is to keep calm and carry on. If you’re new to fitness (or maybe your exercise was limited taking walks or doing yoga) there’s going to be a lot of adaptation going on and therefore a noticeable level of inflammation. It should subside in a couple weeks.
(2) A more commonly held belief (but less-likely) reason you’re gaining weight or failing to drop it is that you’re building muscle faster than you’re shedding fat. This is pretty hard to do, and the general consensus in the fitness community is that the most weight someone new to fitness will gain in muscle is only about two pounds a month. I’ve trained women who were frustrated because they felt their new exercise regime was making their thighs appear larger. Increased muscle under adipose tissue was pushing out the fat, making the legs increase in diameter. But the trick here is patience. Once the remaining fat burns off (and this happens ONLY is you stick with it) thick legs give way to toned legs.
(3) Are you telling me one thing about your diet and doing another? If so, you can be putting on more fat while starting a new exercise regimen. Yes, exercise burns calories, but it also increases the release of a hormone that promotes hunger. So if you’re not watching the nature and portion sizes of your food, you’re probably eating more. Even at a lower calorie count, poor food choices can cause all kinds of issues, usually centered on hormonal imbalances that cause your body to hold onto fat.
4. You are stressed. Exercise puts your body into stress mode. That’s not a bad thing if done with proper nutritional support, rest, and recovery. Under the right conditions the stress caused by exercise toughens you up, fortifying your body. But piling exercise on top of the stress you may already be feeling at home or at work and this balance will be lost. That’s why I encourage my clients to examine all of this carefully and even enroll in yoga classes to help them bring some balance to their lives. I never want exercise to become part of the problem instead of part of the solution!
(5) Alcohol is the silent, seemingly harmless killer of weight loss. If you drink any form of (nutritiously-empty) alcohol on a daily basis—in addition to other unhealthy habits you have yet to tackle — exercise will tax your body and actually cause weight gain in a couple different ways. You can end up with chronic inflammation as well as promote an increase of the release of the stress hormone (cortisol) that leads to fat accumulation—particularly around your mid-section.
To sum up, the scale may not seem to match the size you are or will become. Toning up may create the need to buy smaller clothing sizes without seeing a significant drop in weight, which may puzzle you or even de-motivate you. Don’t let it! Give your body time to work things out — literally. After all, the size you started out at did not happen in a vacuum. You (unwittingly) worked at it. It’s most important to take a step back and examine other aspects of your life that need fine-tuning. Personal trainers are not miracle workers. We’re just here to guide you. It’s up to you to do the rest.