With the holidays safely behind us, hopefully everyone is getting their fitness and nutrition back on track. That is, if you are like most people, you ease up a bit and cheat a little more than normal. Unless you are among the lucky minority, you probably picked up a couple extra numbers on the scale.
My holiday results were a bit of a mixed bag this year. I managed to get through Thanksgiving and Christmas with everything holding pretty steady. With what feels like an endless stream of cookies and social gatherings, coming out the other side with steady measurements feels like a big win. And then there was New Years.
We were invited to a New Year’s Eve gathering at a neighbors house. With social gatherings comes a lot of potholes in the road to maintaining a healthy lifestyles. That’s not the fault of the wonderful people we spent the evening with. I knew the evening was going to be tough, and adjusted my meals, but it still ended poorly by nobody’s fault but my own. But the scale ended up on a number worse than I expected.
I gained 5 pounds the week after that New Year’s party, and it put me in a pretty rotten mood. How could this be? I binged a little, but it was mostly little bites of things (and a fair bit of wine, don’t judge). I still got in all of my workouts that week, and was pretty on point on my nutrition. Why do the gods of health and fitness hate me? WHY!
Take a deep breath. Don’t panic, everything will be fine. That weight gain is probably not fat. In my case, there were other variables at play that I had to consider. With reflection, I know where my 5 pounds came from that week, and it wasn’t all New Year’s eve. Unfortunately, there are time when we do not know where the weight gain came from. There are times when you feel like your diet is on point, your workouts are effective, and you still gain weight in a week, or worse, overnight.
As anyone who has been working on weight loss for a long time quickly discovers, weight loss isn’t linear. There are a number of influences on your weight, day to day, or week to week. Hydration, strenuous exercise, eating later than normal, menses, constipation, etc. Whatever the case, unplanned or unexpected weight gain is no need to panic or take extreme measures.
Weight Loss vs Fat Loss
When talking about “weight loss” most people are really talking about “fat loss.” However, when people think about weight gain, they are actually concerned about fat gain. The good news is, that weight you gained in a very short time is not fat, but likely weight in the form of water. Is it possible to gain 5 pounds in a week? Yes! However, if going by calories alone, theoretically, to gain 5 pounds of fat in a week would mean I would have had to binge an extra 17500 calories that week. However, that’s not just any calories, those calories would have to come from some pretty unhealthy sources.
The human metabolism is not a perfect system, so all calories are not the same. Different macronutrients are more efficiently converted to sugar/glucose, and thus stored as fat, than others. Therefore, what you eat has more influence on fat storage, than does overeating. Don’t get me wrong, overeating is very much a key component to obesity, but it’s really hard to overeat broccoli. So unless those excess calories come primarily from fat and simple carbs, those 5 pounds are very unlikely fat. And if you consider, for a moment, that a pint of Hagen Daz ice cream is 1000 calories, or a large pepperoni pizza is about 2500, you get a pretty good idea of the sheer volume of food you have to eat to make up all of those extra calories. And again, metabolism isn’t a simple math equation. Even 17 1/2 pints of Hagen Daz isn’t 17500 excess calories because your body will use some of it for energy.
Getting Back on Track
Taking a positive step forward is where many “dieters” fail. They allow themselves to use one bad decision, or one bad meal, to justify a string of them. What’s important to remember is, that in the context of a healthy lifestyle, increased caloric intake is perfectly normal, and even encouraged. “Cheat meal,” or “refeeds” as some fitness people like to call them, are actually good for the metabolism. They tells the brain and metabolism that food is not scarce, and it doesn’t need to hang on to energy for later. When these types of meals are expected, such as Thanksgiving or social gatherings, as long as you manage them well and get back on track right away, there is little to regret. When you start stringing together multiple unhealthy meals is where things go wrong.
A small weight gain should never be a reason to worry, or worse yet, throw all of your progress out the window. If you had a bit of a binge, flush it immediately and get back on track. Don’t dwell on how much you ate, but if you can’t resist, focus instead on what it is you ate.
If it is an unexplained weight gain, the single most important thing you can do for yourself is to not change anything. Keep doing what you what got you there. Keeping weighing in, or keep tracking your meals. If you’ve stopped tracking, like I did, start tracking again. The accountability is good, and a refresher to help you make sure you are where you think you are can make a huge difference.
What strategies do you use when you had an unplanned or unexpected weight gain?