Good results take time, and weight loss is no exception. But what if you’re doing everything right, but the scales don’t change at all?
Or worse, what if your weight is actually creeping up? You quite rightly don’t want to starve yourself, so you might try and work out more. Shockingly, that makes it worse. What now?
Exercise, just like diet, is a crucial part of losing weight. Not everyone notices weight gain due to working out, but it can happen. In this article, we’ll discuss the science of weight loss and exercise, the reasons behind weight gain due to exercise, and more importantly, how you can find a good balance.
The Science Behind Working Out for Weight Loss
Let’s not deny it - most of us don’t really enjoy working out. Still, there’s no arguing with the health benefits of exercise, and how much it can aid healthy weight loss.
The simple facts are that exercise stresses the body and that stress allows us to become stronger. Our heart, lungs, and muscles work harder, building up stamina and resistance. Tiny tears in our muscles are formed while we work out, but those tears quickly repair, allowing for stronger muscles.
Exercise burns calories. Weight loss hinges on losing more calories than you take in. So, the results should be simple, right?
Unfortunately not. Working out needs to stress your body, but you shouldn’t push past your limits. If you do, you’ll increase the amount of cortisol in your body (which we’ll discuss later). Too much cortisol causes our bodies to hang onto weight. Too much exercise can lead to our bodies stripping protein-rich muscle for energy, instead of that pesky fat.
Another serious side effect could come from not allowing your body to rest. No rest days mean that the tiny tears in your muscles don’t have time to repair. Far from repairing and allowing you to get stronger, they’ll tear more.
When it comes to working out, you need to find the right balance for yourself. Too much exercise or too little won’t result in the kind of weight loss you’re looking for.
Working Out: Less Is More?
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It regulates our fight and flight responses, but it also has a variety of uses in the body:
- Regulates blood pressure
- Increases blood sugar levels
- Controls how the body uses carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
- Boosts energy so we can handle stress
- Lowers inflammation in the body
- Controls the sleep and waking cycle
While having high cortisol is bad for us, low cortisol is just as harmful. Our cortisol levels should be at their highest when we wake up in the morning, leaving us alert and ready for the day. By the time we’re ready for sleep, our cortisol levels should be at their lowest.
Here are some symptoms that could indicate your cortisol levels are too high:
- Memory issues (particularly short term memory)
- Tired, but alert and unable to sleep
- Poor metabolism, leading to weight gain, especially belly fat
- Lower immune system
- Mood swings
- Anxiety or depression
Simply put, stress raises our cortisol levels. This is because the hormone is designed to help us deal with stress.
Stress can come from a jam-packed, busy life, a stressful job, an anxiety disorder, or - you’ve guessed it - overexercising. Working out too much or not taking rest days puts our bodies under too much stress, triggering a spike in cortisol.
Over time, cortisol will cause us to actually gain weight, particularly the dreaded belly fat. Too much cortisol puts stress on our bodies, leading to possible health issues further down the line.
Reasons Why Working Out Could Be Causing You to Gain Weight
There are plenty of reasons why working out could cause you to lose weight, and not all of them are centered around too much cortisol.
- You’re focused on weight loss, not fat loss
Keeping an eye on the scales is a good way to monitor your progress, but it shouldn’t be the only indicator you use. Weight fluctuates from day to day, and even from hour to hour. If you weigh yourself in the morning and again in the evening, you’ll notice a big difference! This is perfectly normal.
In fact, you could be shedding fat and gaining muscle, which is exactly what we want. However, muscle weighs more than fat. Try and focus on how you look and feel, not necessarily on the number on the scale.
- Your body is too stressed (leading to a cortisol spike)
Over-exercising or not giving your body rest days means that you’re going to get stressed. Tiny injuries caused by exercise don’t have a chance to heal, making it more likely that you’ll suffer a bigger injury later.
Overall, too much exercising will lead to high levels of cortisol in your body. Aside from causing health issues later, it will make you gain weight, or struggle to lose fat.
- Exercise is making you more hungry than before
Working out makes us hungry, and that’s perfectly normal. However, if you’re finishing a workout session and bingeing on all your favorite, unhealthy foods, that’s going to undo all the good your workout has done.
- You’re not eating the right diet
Weight loss needs a two-pronged attack. Exercise and diet are both important, but diet is especially crucial. Eating an unhealthy diet means that your workout is virtually useless. In fact, if you’re not getting the nutrients and energy you need from your diet, you could find yourself gaining weight.
- An inflammatory response
The tiny tears in our muscles are healed by an inflammatory response. This allows our muscles to build up stronger than before (presuming you schedule proper rest days and nutrition). However, it’s logical to assume that the inflammatory process leads to soreness and a build-up of fluid. At least in the short term, this could lead to weight gain.
Finding the Balance
Before you throw away your running shoes forever, hold on a moment. Yes, too much exercise is bad for you, but so is not enough.
Take the time to find out what works for you. Eating well is just as important as exercise. Always take rest days during the week. When it comes down to it, obtaining optimal health comes down to finding your balance, as well as assessing how your body feels. Tune into this. Everyone is different but when you find your balance, great things can happen.