Troubleshooting Weight Loss, Pt. 3

Posted December 12, 2013 by

In part 1 we talked about how it’s crucial to actually be in a calorie deficit in order to see weight loss of any sort, and why many people are unknowingly not eating fewer calories than they burn each day.

In part 2, we talked about the concept of “sneaking calories”, which really is just an adjunct to part 1 because it allows people to inadvertently overeat calories, erasing any deficit they had planned for.

There are times where you’re doing everything correctly, working out hard and yet, the scale doesn’t budge, or worse yet, goes UP… what is the deal???

Weight Loss Hiccup #3: Lean mass/water gain is masking fat loss.

Newsflash for women: y’all have these things every month called periods. During that time, many women gain water weight and bloat—and have been experiencing that effect ever since they started having periods.

Yet, I cannot count the number of times I have had a frantic female client who has gained a lb or 2 when they expected to lose weight and has no idea why… and then when I ask if they are on their period, they say yes. Uh… HELLOOOO????!

In all seriousness though, hormonal changes in the body can affect the amount of water you retain. If you retain water, well, water has weight to it right? So if there’s more being held by your body than normal, logic would tell you that it will cause you to gain weight—which will partially and may fully cancel out any weight loss due to fat loss from that same period (no pun intended) of time.

In situations like this you have to ask yourself, what are you REALLY trying to accomplish here? Blind, generic “weight loss” or specifically, fat loss? Hopefully the latter.

If you usually gain 4 lbs of water weight during your period, and while on your fat loss program you gain 2 lbs during your period… doesn’t that mean that you likely lost 2 lbs of fat otherwise? So, why on earth would you be upset about an inevitable, temporary gain of general weight, when in fact you achieved the exact goal you’re shooting for at the same time (that being fat loss)?

It’s not always about the period though, nor is this issue only experienced by women. Weight gain unassociated to fat gain also occurs in many deconditioned (i.e. untrained) individuals when they first start working out—particularly those who in the past had been quite a bit more muscular than they are currently.

Why is this? Well, to overly-simplify physiology for the sake of this analogy, think of your muscles as water balloons. As a balloon fills with water, it expands, and as the water leaves the balloon, it shrinks, right? Well, when you begin using your muscles for weight lifting, they begin to “stock up” on glycogen (stored energy), each gram of which brings along several grams of water along with it. As described above, increased water retention means increased weight—irrespective of whatever fat loss might be occurring.

Athletes who were previously muscular and well-trained have an even higher potential to see this phenomenon in action when first restarting their fitness routines after a long period (like years) off. This is one of the components of what gym goers refer to as “muscle memory” (although the nervous system also plays a large part in that).

If you’re gaining fluids (or even tissue) in your muscles and that is causing you to gain weight (or stay at the same weight), that isn’t something to be upset about.

The vast majority of us want to be leaner, and have more muscle—yes women, I know I know, but you don’t want to be bulky—but trust me, I have trained enough females to know that when they lean out, areas they previously thought were “bulky” were often just areas that stored a lot of fat—not necessarily areas that were highly muscular.

So, if you are in fact staying the same weight, but your inches are dropping, you’re looking leaner in the mirror and clothes are fitting looser, you can rest assured that you are losing fat and gaining lean mass in place of it.

I would actually recommend celebrating this occurrence, because outside of folks who are just starting out with fitness, this really doesn’t occur. As you become more advanced you will miss the days where you could simultaneously lose fat and gain muscle—TRUST ME 😉

So, make sure in addition to your weight, you are tracking your circumference measurements, taking progress photos and observing how clothing fits—these tell a more accurate tale of what is going on with body composition than weight alone does.

Next time we will talk about the fourth possible obstacle to weight loss—having a shitty program!

Click here for part 4

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