Gaining Instead of Losing
March 30, 2004 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Oddball question about diet/exercise and weightloss.
(More inside, obviously)

About a month ago I began a new diet and exercise program, not so much for dramatic weight-loss (not really possible for me due to the side effects of medication I take) but more to just become more active and aware of what I eat, stress release, and to get ready for spring. I now go to the gym three to four days a week (cardio and some weights), and am eating a balanced diet of between 1400 - 1800 calories per day, mostly home-made from scratch foods, omitting troublesome ingredients like the dreaded HFCS, etc. No Atkins, but not 100% veggie either. In that time, I've gained about ten pounds -- and not just muscle mass, either ... jeans that were loose are now tight, bras don't fit, etc...

I've been to see my MD and had my thyroid levels checked and double checked -- they're 100% normal. I'm not pregnant. My MD is at a loss and extensive Googling of diet and exercise related sites reveals nothing. Has anyone else ever experienced anything like this? I'm pretty much hating the whole gym and restrictive diet thing to begin with (although not quite as much as I thought I would) and I can't really aford to stay with this for another month if I'm going to gain another ten pounds.

Any suggestions on what could be causing this? Hidden ingredients to look for? Oddball medical things for my MD to check out? I'm at my wits end!
posted by anastasiav to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
I now go to the gym three to four days a week (cardio and some weights)

I think you will need to elaborate a bit here. What kind of cardio are you doing and for how long? Are you breaking a sweat? And the weights, are you lifting low weights for lots of reps? 1 exercise per day or 10? 1 set per exercise or 3? Other than the number on the scale, what changes are you seeing? Are you sore after working out? Are you gaining in strength and flexibility? Can your gym take a bodyfat measurement? The scale is like a snapshot, it only gives you a very static, one-dimensional picture of progress (or lack thereof).
posted by vito90 at 2:11 PM on March 30, 2004

Check the hacker's diet. It's not a joke, it's very well thought out regiment for loosing weight through dieting (I thought coke and microwave popcorn too, until I read it). One good tip from there, to Vito's point regarding scales: Weigh yourself daily (same bat time, same bat channel). Chart it in excel. Use a moving average to smooth out the bumps and you'll have an excellent tool for watching your weight.

If you're consistently putting on weight, it's almost definitely because you're eating more calories than you burn. You can't get heavier without adding something to yourself, and it's almost definitely food.

You might want to use something like Nutridiary to track everything that goes in. Down to butter on the bread, etc etc, just for a week or two. Worst case scenario: you now have a thorough log of what you ate to take to the nutritionist.

As for hidden ingredients: start with the fat heavy ones: anything that's an oil, cheeses, other diary, sauces, nuts, non-lean meat. Fat's easy to blow it on because you don't need much to blow it, and b) lots of time it's used as an adjunct to an otherwise lightweight meal. Also, all the news of 'healthy fats' has overshadowed the fact that a healthy fat has just as many calories as a 'bad fat'.

Do you have an estimate on what your basal metabolism is? There are a couple of exercise regiments you can use to try and boost it so you burn more calories during the rest of the day.
posted by daver at 2:41 PM on March 30, 2004 [1 favorite]

You could be right on with "it's not all muscle," but the culprit might not be fat, either. I suspect water, which is a typical problem for people who undergo fairly drastic changes in diet and exercise. A month is a long time, but your medications might be a factor here. Don't worry that it's fat-- it would be fairly difficult to gain 10 pounds in a month if you were eating poorly and sedentary, much less if you're exercising and eating 1600 calories a day.

Try this-- one night when you're staying home, drink a TON of water. Get to the annoying, peeing-every-20-minutes phase. This will also make you expel some already-stored fluid. Then see how your clothes feel the next day. If they're better, talk to your doctor about what you can do about keeping your internal fluid level at a more comfortable place.

This will also help you to make gains in your cardio because water weight makes you work that much harder.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:18 PM on March 30, 2004

Some random thoughts:

Are the gym bunnies insisting you drink protein shakes? It wouldn't surprise me if the cheaper products vary wildly from their stated composition.

I weight about 80kg, normally. If I've had an extended layoff, and go back the gym, and do a higher rep regime (15 reps per set) I can gain 2kg or so in a week, simply from increase in muscle volume - I gather it's storage of glycogen and water in the muscle. It goes away as I reduce reps per set and my body adjusts. That wouldn't explain all your weight gain, but it might explain some of it.

I think Mayor Curley is giving good advice.

Also, you say : "not just muscle mass, either ... jeans that were loose are now tight, bras don't fit, etc..."

I'm not sure what you're expecting, but when I gain 5 pounds of muscle, my clothes are tighter. You are probably also standing straighter, your shoulders are probably held wider, your chest is probably more inflated.

The only real way to measure your fat %age is to render you down for tallow. Since you probably don't want to do that, I suggest Accu-measure calipers. They allow you to take consistent measurements. Consistent skinfold measurements are as objective a guide as you can easily get.

If you have a co-operative friend, get some "before" pics taken too. You may surprise yourself in a couple of months if you compare.

Lastly, let me recommend Krista's fantastic stumptuous site. Inspirational, practical, no-bullshit weights stuff for women and men alike.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:16 PM on March 30, 2004

Long shot: I had a friend that would kick into starvation level at 1700 calories, although 1400 is the commonly quoted figure. Maybe you just have a higher starvation level than most people. I heartily recommend getting a body fat % from your gym to give you a better yardstick than just weight.
posted by brool at 6:22 PM on March 30, 2004

Here's a link to them calipers I was talking about. Cheap plastic, but that's ok. I have no idea whether they are really that accurate compared to weighing in a water tank (the gold standard for fat %age measurement) but they do allow consistent measures, and that's actually what's important.

I forgot to say above: good for you. Starting to exercise, and sticking with it for a month, is a real achievement - all the more so when it seems like your body is pushing back. Don't be disheartened, and be proud of your willpower. In the long term - even in a couple of months - you will feel so much better for what you are doing now. Best of luck to yer.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:34 PM on March 30, 2004

After discussion with my gf: google your drugs. Just because your doctor is baffled, doesn't mean that there aren't documented side-effects that would explain it.

Other helpful sites: did you know about It will calculate your expenditure, and provides an online food diary that automatically calculates your energy and macronutrient intake. It is amazingly easy to underestimate your intake without a food diary.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:29 AM on March 31, 2004

Weight training can do it. Not just because of increased muscle-apparently when one starts weight training there is water retention in the muscles as well. It happened to me.

My suggestion is to make sure you are drinking enough water. And I second the suggestion re checking the meds.
posted by konolia at 6:11 AM on March 31, 2004

The new stress of an exercize routine is considerable and takes some time to get used to.

First, I wouldn't expect immediate results.

Second, while your body is getting used to the initial stress, I would not restrict your calories too much. Eat more now. Taper later.

Every time I start a new routine, or one I have not practiced for some time, I seem to "bloat up" and gain weight. Then it passes when the initial stress of the routine becomes just an "everyday thing."

I'd say, be moderate in your exercize till you get used to it, get PLENTY of sleep, eat more when you're hungry, don't beat yourself up, and hang in there. It's tough to go wrong with this approach.
posted by Shane at 6:27 AM on March 31, 2004

Thank you so much everyone for all your help and kind words and nifty pointers to sites I'd never seen before.

I'm going to work on the water-weight idea from a couple of angles, and also increase calories to about 2000 per day, to see if that does anything.
posted by anastasiav at 4:23 PM on March 31, 2004

You've received some really good feedback here already. I would add that you can avoid the "starvation" mode effect by eating every three hours, five times per day. This will keep your metabolism steady.

I'm a big fan of Atkins. I lost 100 lbs following that diet AND working out six days per week.
posted by Juicylicious at 5:40 PM on March 31, 2004

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