Gaining weight is frustrating, isn’t it?
We’ve all been here, right? You’ve dedicated yourself to shedding a few pounds so you get on board with a new diet.
You clear out the cupboards so there are no distractions, you go shopping to get all the right things in, you plan out your week with amazing, fresh, healthy meals and stick to it, too. You get back to working out, getting a sweat on and getting more steps in.
You’re snacking on fruit, eating more veg, cutting back on the guilty pleasures and everything is going well. You’re making progress, you’re looking better, feeling better and feel like you’re really getting it this time.
Then, you step on the scales one day and feel like you’ve been slapped in the face. You’ve GAINED weight this week! What gives? You’ve been doing everything right so the scale should still be going down, right?
Well, yeah. And to be honest, it probably still is, on the whole.
It’s just that you basically caught the scales at a bad time. See your weight is always changing. It’s always going up and down. And your weight isn’t just based on how much body fat you’re holding on to.
That’s a really important distinction to make. There’s a really important difference between weight loss, and fat loss.
To explain the difference, let’s look at it the opposite way, and think about gaining weight. A lot of us panic when we’ve gained a couple of pounds. But I could gain a couple of pounds in less than a minute.
How? Easy. By drinking a litre of water. A litre of water weighs 2.2 lbs. So if I drink that, I now weigh an extra 2.2 lbs. But I didn’t just gain an extra 2 lbs of fat, did I?
You might think this is a silly example, but it’s not. This is basically the same kind of thing that’s happening most of the time when you’ve gained weight unexpectedly. We just forget how simple it is when we see that number go up.
So, here’s 7 reasons you might gain weight even though you’re doing everything right. Make sure you listen to the end to hear about our top two solutions to unexpected weight gain.
1: You Haven’t Peed Yet
Thinking back to our example of how easy it is to gain 2 lbs, this one’s obvious.
If you’ve started drinking more water – which is a good thing to do – and you haven’t peed it out yet, then that water is still inside you.
So actually, you might have gained weight BECAUSE you’re doing things right!
But don’t worry, if you regularly drink this much water, your body will get used to how much you’re consuming now and it’ll all level out.
In fact, how much water you have or haven’t peed out is something you’re about to become very familiar with.
2: You Ate More Carbs Than Usual
One change that dieters often make is to reduce their carbohydrate intake. Depending on how extreme the reduction is, this can result in a large loss of what’s known as water weight.
I bet you’ve heard of water weight before, but never quite understood what it actually meant. I know I didn’t until recently.
Water weight is literally what it says on the tin. It’s weight that exists due to water, not fat. Just like in our example of drinking water again.
Only this time it’s a little bit different. See, our bodies store carbohydrates in our liver and muscles in a form called glycogen. It’s an easy way to access sugar for energy and it gets refilled once it’s used. Glycogen carries water with it, almost like a protective barrier. For every gram of glycogen your body holds, it also holds between 3-4 grams of water.
If you stop consuming so many carbohydrates, those glycogen stores get used up without being replenished. Meaning we lose the weight of the glycogen itself, and 3-4 times as much weight from the water that was held with it.
Now, if you suddenly have a higher carb meal than usual, all those glycogen stores will be replenished, they’ll hold on to the corresponding water, so less water leaves your body and you’ve gained that water weight.
But again, don’t worry. You haven’t gained fat. There’s just a bit more water inside you than normal because it’s being held up by the glycogen instead of being peed out. Which is absolutely fine. If you go for a workout as planned tomorrow you’ll use up all the glycogen again and be right back to normal.
I mean, do sweat, though. It usually makes for a better workout.
3: You Ate More Salt Than Usual
There’s going to be a running theme here, and I’ll be surprised if you don’t work out what it is.
Your body has lots of delicate systems that it likes to keep in balance. One of those balances is the balance between salt and water.
Cast your mind back to high school chemistry and biology. We all remember chemistry classes, stirring salt in beakers of hot and cold water to see which one it dissolves in faster. Then finding out in biology that there’s this cool thing called osmosis where your body passes salt across tissues to even out the electrolyte balance.
That’s a slightly more sciency way of saying your body likes it’s water to be a certain level of salty.
If you suddenly eat more salt than usual, suddenly everything inside is too salty. So, your body holds on to a bit more water than usual to balance out the salt level.
Again, a bit less water gets peed out because your body is holding on to it to balance out the salt level.
You haven’t gained fat, you just didn’t pee out as much water as you usually do.
This is an easy one to do without realising, too. So many packed and processed foods have salt added to them. Even fresh chicken does sometimes. So if you stayed completely within your calories but ate slightly different foods, you might have increased your salt intake without even knowing it.
4: You Ate More Food Than Usual
This one’s basically the same as our very first example of drinking a litre of water.
You eat roughly the same amount of food every day. So as in our example of water, that amount of food goes down into your stomach, and you gain that much weight, just because the food is inside you now.
The food gets digested, what isn’t used becomes poop, and then it leaves your body and you lose that weight.
Bear in mind that this isn’t a 1 for 1 process where every meal is eaten, processed, and excreted before the next. There’s usually something somewhere inside your digestive system making it’s way through.
If you have a bigger meal than usual, that meal is going to weigh more as it passes through your digestive system.
Not only that, but the fact that there is more food means it’ll take longer to be processed.
So if you’ve had a bigger meal than usual, and that meal hasn’t passed all the way through yet, then yes, of course the scales will show a higher weight than usual.
But not because you’ve gained fat. Just because there’s more food still inside you than there usually is.
5: You Started Eating More Fibre
Here’s another one where your weight might go up BECAUSE you’re doing the right things.
Fibre is great. It keeps you regular, moves things through your gut to keep it healthy and that in turn brings tons of benefits.
But to move things through your gut, that fibre basically forms a bit of a ball to push things through.
And that ball is watery.
So once again, you’re peeing out less water because it’s being held by the fibre in your gut.
But you didn’t gain fat. There’s just more water inside you than usual.
Are you picking up on that theme yet?
6: Your Period Is Coming Up
Ladies, this one’s obviously for you. As your period approaches you tend to crave more salty foods. Thinking back to reason number 3, we know straight away why this might result in it seeming like you’ve gained weight. When actually, all you’ve done is hold on to some water.
Many women also crave chocolate on their period. And hey, if you want some chocolate, go for it.
Just like at the end of our point on salt, if you opted to indulge in a little chocolate, but still made it fit your calorie goals because you wanted to stay on track, you might gain weight as water weight because of the increased carbohydrate intake.
But again, you haven’t gained fat. You’re just holding on to more water than usual because of the additional salt and carbohydrate intake.
7: You Had A Tough Workout
Here’s another one where doing the right things can result in gaining weight. But spoiler alert: it’s just water again.
When we exercise we basically damage our bodies a little bit. Then they rebuild and repair themselves stronger than they were before.
Your body basically says to itself: “god damn that was difficult, if that happens again I need to be ready.”
So it makes your bones, muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and whatever else stronger to be ready for the next time it’s asked to go through that workout.
If we still lived in caves that workout might have been running away from a lion. That’s life or death. You just did some hill sprints, but the survival instincts of your body doesn’t know that.
It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.
But anyway, when your body is doing that repair work, part of the process is to create inflammation. Have you ever been to the doctors after an injury or when you’ve noticed some swelling and they’ve said: “yeah… it looks pretty enflamed…”?
Enflaming things, creating inflammation is your body’s way of protecting that area while it fixes things and makes them better. It’s sort of like it’s cordoning off the area to make sure things don’t get worse.
Inflammation is essentially swelling. Have you ever had a really tough workout and noticed how your skin is all red and kind of puffy after? That’s the inflammation. It’s puffy because it’s filled with water, and you can probably guess where this is going.
While your body is doing all the repair work from your workout it’s going to be holding on to more water than usual. So you didn’t gain fat by working out. That would be insane. You’re just holding on to more water than usual while your body recovers. Water that would normally be peed out, but it isn’t.
This Is All A Good Thing
All of these reasons could make it feel like the world is against you when you’re trying to lose weight. If there are so many ways I could gain weight, what’s the point of even trying to lose it?
But remember, you’re not trying to just lose weight. You’re trying to lose fat. So don’t panic when the scale goes a different way than what you expected. It’s more than likely you’re just holding on to more water than usual or there’s more food in your belly than usual.
Don’t lose your head when the scale goes up even though you’re doing everything right. Remember, in the case of drinking more water, eating more fibre and working out your weight might go up precisely BECAUSE you’re doing the right things.
But that doesn’t mean you haven’t lost fat. You probably still have, it’s just that the scale doesn’t show it.
The scale is often a pretty poor reflection of your progress in that way. That brings us on to our top two solutions for handling unexpected weight gain.
Solution: Focus On The Trends, Not The Numbers
The first solution is to shift your focus from weekly numbers to longer term trends.
We just learned about 7 reasons your weight might go up when you don’t expect it to. Most of the time our weight goes up because we’ve just measured it at the wrong time. Maybe after a saltier meal, or a higher carb one, or a tough workout.
That can be disheartening. But that’s only if you measure your progress on a week to week basis.
This is a long term game, which means we should really be looking at long term changes.
Most apps you can use to track your weight these days will show you your results on a graph, just like it does in the Nutri-iQ app. You can see the numbers plotted on a graph with a nice line showing you the direction those numbers are going.
If you can disconnect from focusing on week-to-week numbers and instead focus on these long term trends it’s so much easier to keep yourself from losing your head. If you maintain or gain one week it’s no big deal, because next week it’ll probably go back down again.
Overcoming that first time of keeping your head straight is difficult, because it’s not what you’re used to doing. But once you see those up and down numbers on a graph, where the trend keeps coming down overall, it’s easier to let the next momentary gain roll off your back.
A huge part of the success on this journey is the mental shifts we make.
Solution: Use An Average Weigh In
Our second solution is another mental shift, from a single weekly weigh in to a weekly average.
Like we’ve said, sometimes you catch the scales on the wrong day and things look like they’ve gone the wrong way.
But if we weigh on more than one day, and average them out, that unexpected result kind of fades away.
If you normally weigh on a Monday, try weighing on a Thursday too. By Thursday the oopsies of the weekend have often settled down and things have gone back to normal.
This is another way to shift your focus from single numbers, single pieces of data, to longer term results.
Some people like to see the graphs, some people like the weekly average approach. Try them both, and see what works for you.
What Do You Think?
Now we want to hear YOUR thoughts on unexpected weight gain. Did these 7 reasons make sense to you? Do you think remembering these and using our solutions will help you keep your head on straight next time the scales go up? Or have you found your own ways of staying on track when the scales aren’t playing along?
Let us know in the comments below!