Why You Can Gain Weight Even if You Exercise

I regularly get asked how it is possible to gain weight in spite of a regular workout schedule. The person asking is usually on the verge of giving up exercise because he or she is frustrated at having nothing to show for hours spent toiling at the gym. I don’t blame them for feeling that way but quitting is not the answer because exercise has many more benefits besides weight loss.

The most common reason for the weight gain is simply that more calories are being consumed than calories burned. Exercise will not help you lose weight if you do not change your eating habits. Point in fact, there are many aerobic instructors who are overweight in spite of teaching five to seven classes a week. They are fit but they still have excess fat.

People assume that just because they are exercising, they will automatically lose weight. It’s as if exercise can somehow magically make you lose weight just by doing it. But I assure you even if you do several hours of vigorous exercise every day, if you eat more than you burn, you will still gain weight. There is no class, machine, workout program or gym in the world that will help you lose weight if you consume more calories than your body needs. It’s that simple.

Eating mistakes
People believe that whatever excess calories they eat today, they will be able to burn tomorrow by doing more exercise than normal. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Here’s a real-life example from a reader’s ‘true confession’ of a midnight splurge: Four slices of thin-crust pepperoni pizza, a 12-ounce soft drink, one scoop of ice cream, and a bag of potato chips. That is approximately 2,000 calories. To burn that many calories, you would have to do about two and a half hours of high intensity aerobic exercise (around 400 calories per 30-minut session). What do you think actually happens the next day? Not all the calories from the binge are burned because it is unrealistic to exercise that long at that intensity and, therefore, the excess calories are stored as fat.

Another mistake is believing that as long as they eat low-fat or non-fat food, they can easily burn it through exercise because “its only sugar”. Huge servings of pasta, bread or rice are usually the culprits here. I once knew someone who couldn’t lose weight in spite of a heavy workout schedule. It turned out that eating three servings of rice at lunch and dinner was a common occurrence for her. Not only that, her version of a ‘serving’ was one cup. In reality, she was eating six cups of rice a day or 1,200 calories just in rice. Since rice was not the only type of food she was eating, she was definitely eating more than she could exercise away. No wonder she couldn’t lose weight.

Now that low-carb diets are the craze, the same mistake is being made probably by the same people who used to be low-fat believers. The truth is that whether calories come from protein, fat, or carbohydrates, if you eat more than you need, you will put on weight.

Exercise mistakes
I see so many people cheating themselves by not giving their all when they exercise. They spend a lot of time at the gym but most of the minutes are spent chit-chatting with staff or classmates. Others are working out at very low intensities when they are capable of challenging themselves at a higher level and thus, burning more calories. So, the frequency and duration of their workouts is appropriate but the intensity is sorely lacking.

Other people think they are exercising regularly when, in reality, their workout attendance is few and far in between. Many years ago, I had a client who was lamenting that she wasn’t losing weight in spite of exercising “regularly”. Of course, when her attendance records for the year were laid out in front of her in black-and-white she promptly had to look for another excuse because it was very obvious that there wasn’t even one month when she had come more than six times.

The right kind of weight gain from exercise
It is possible to become smaller in measurements but gain weight on the scale because you are losing fat and gaining muscle. This happens especially when people do weight training. This is a desirable change in body composition and is cause to rejoice because more muscle means a higher metabolism. However, some people are so weight conscious that even if they lose inches and drop to a smaller clothes size they are not happy because they weigh a few pounds more. They need an attitude adjustment, otherwise, they may quit exercising thinking it’s not worth it when they are really on the right track.

Eating habits just as important as exercise habits
There is no way you can maintain your weight even with a regular workout schedule if you are constantly eating high calorie foods like desserts, cakes, pies, ice cream, burgers, fries, chips, soft drinks, bacon, longganisa, etc. High-calorie food should be eaten infrequently in small portions.

Don't eat gigantic servings of white bread, pasta or rice. Your daily diet should consist of normal portions of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, lean meat, chicken, fish, and low-fat dairy products.

Like someone once said, “Diet as if you were not exercising and exercise as if you were not dieting."

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