Can Exercise Cause Weight Gain? Here’s Why Your Workouts Aren’t Helping You Lose Weight

There are two things people say they’re going to try changing when they want to lose weight: their diet, and their fitness routine. Most people go on an immediate search for the best weight loss diets and workout programs that promise fast, easy weight loss.

So it’s understandable why so many individuals can’t stick to a diet or a new workout for more than a month at most. When they don’t instantly start losing weight, they get frustrated and assume what they’re doing isn’t working.

But there’s nothing more frustrating than starting a workout routine you can stick to, only to gain three pounds within the first two weeks. Is that possible? Are you doing it right? Yes. And … maybe. Maybe not.

Working out, but gaining weight instead of losing it? Don’t worry. There’s likely an explanation.

What causes weight gain? It’s not just physical inactivity

Weight gain

Weight gain | Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

A poor diet and lack of exercise are both major causes of weight gain. But they aren’t the only reasons a person can gain weight — which might explain why, despite your new workout routine, you’ve not only failed to lose weight, but have actually gained some.

First, have you been sleeping OK lately? Not getting enough hours of sleep from night to night is a known cause of weight gain in some people.

Hormonal changes can also contribute to weight gain. When your body produces too much of the hormone cortisol (stress hormone), for example, you’re more likely to gain weight or have trouble losing it.

Certain medications can also make it harder to lose weight. Steroids and antidepressants are just a few that, whether due to changes in hormones or other factors, can lead to weight gain. Some health conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome and hypothyroidism are also possible culprits.

If you’ve recently started exercising and the number on the scale has gone up, keep in mind that it’s actually common to gain weight when you first start working out. Your body has to go through a few hard-to-miss changes internally before you might begin noticing results.

These things aren’t necessarily in your control. But some factors, such as the following, are.

Working out and gaining weight: What you’re doing wrong

There are a handful of reasons you could be gaining weight despite a recent increase in physical activity. Chances are, it’s either because of your overall physical activity (not just your timed workouts), your diet, or the types of workouts you’re choosing.

When it comes to physical activity, how much you move in a day often matters most. It’s possible that because you’re working out for a set 30 minutes in the morning, for example, you’re moving less in the afternoon because “you already got your workout in” and remain mostly sedentary the rest of the day.

Also, an intense workout might allow you to justify a second serving of dinner or an added dessert when you shouldn’t have either one.

One of the biggest exercise myths preventing people from losing weight is the assumption that when you work out, you can eat whatever — and however much — you want. But weight loss isn’t just about calories in, calories out. You can’t eat more when you burn more. That’s not how calories work.

Together, diet and exercise make sure you’re not only burning off extra calories, but putting quality calories back in as well. It’s not about choosing one or the other — especially if losing weight is your ultimate end goal.

It’s also possible you’re just not choosing the best workouts for weight loss. Some workouts have many health benefits but won’t necessarily help you lose weight.

These are the worst workouts for weight loss

Relaxation exercises

Relaxation exercises | Ridofranz/Getty images

What matters most of all when it comes to fitness is that you’re engaging in some type of physical activity. But if you’re trying to lose weight, the activities you choose matters a bit more. Some workouts aren’t effective for weight loss, and that could be the reason why you aren’t dropping pounds.

  • Running. If your morning jog is the only workout you do throughout the week, you’re probably not going to have as much weight loss success as you’re expecting. Alternate between running and strength workouts for more effective muscle gain and fat loss.
  • Yoga. This form of exercise has plenty of health benefits — including strength-building. But the best workouts for weight loss are the ones that require you to actively work more than just one part of your body at a time.
  • Indoor cycling. While cycling can be an effective weight loss strategy for many people, it’s not necessarily the best route for beginners. The same goes for programs such as CrossFit. High-intensity workouts are effective, but not if you don’t have the strength and endurance necessary to get the most out of them.

If you’ve only been working out for a few weeks and are frustrated with your weight, take a deep breath. There is no such thing as “fast” weight loss that lasts. If you’re doing it right, results will come in time. But if it’s been a few months, consider changing up your fitness regimen … and/or your diet.

And if those small changes don’t work, consider talking with your doctor about other possible roadblocks, such as any medications you’re taking or an underlying health condition you might be experiencing symptoms of.

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