Like our skin, our mood and our sleep schedules, our weight fluctuates depending on what's happening in our lives. While being mindful of our health is important for our overall vitality, it's important to remember a higher number on the scale isn't the sole factor for determining our wellbeing.
More importantly, weight gain isn't always a bad thing.
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A shift in your workout routine, a hormonal cycle or a period of rest can all cause you to gain a few — or more than a few — pounds. When this happens, it's wise to take pause, consider why you've seen an uptick and then reassure yourself it's a natural, normal part of living a full life.
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Here, we spoke with registered dietitians and certified personal trainers to pinpoint situations where most people will experience weight gain, and asked them to share some tips for cutting ourselves some slack and celebrating our bodies through all of its stages.
1. You’ve Been Drinking More Than Usual
Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: After a long day of back-to-back Zoom meetings and no time to take a breath of fresh air, you pour yourself a glass of wine to cope. One pour turns into two, and you repeat this nightly routine throughout the week.
Many people tend to drink more when they're going through a period of stress, and this often comes with the side effect of weight gain. For one thing, alcohol is a system depressant, says DJ Blatner, RD, which means it numbs you and can make you feel sluggish, resulting in an inactive routine.
Plus, extra alcohol means extra calories, and these can add up quickly if you're not being mindful of your consumption.
So, if you've gained more weight than you'd like, consider it a wake-up call, and explore new stress-reducing techniques that could replace alcohol or pair nicely with drinking in moderation. After you've had your one glass of the night, Blatner suggests testing other avenues for relaxation, including going for a walk, meditation, breath work, journaling and online therapy.
2. You Started a New Workout Routine
Perhaps there are cycles during your life when fitness is a real focus of yours, and other moments when it becomes less of a priority. These on-and-off periods are likely to influence your weight.
More specifically, if you've recently invested in a workout routine that includes weight lifting, you may be perplexed to see the number on the scale increasing. Despite your expectations, personal trainer and dietitian Leah Barron, RD, CPT, says putting on a few pounds could be a sign you're heading in the right direction.
When we exercise, we create microtears in our muscles, and our body works to heal them. This results in increased muscle mass in the long-term, but in the short-term, Barron says there is often an increase in inflammation and water retention as the muscles adapt, causing weight gain.
"Try not to let this phase you," she urges. "If your goal is weight loss, then lifting weights is one of the best things you can do. Instead of focusing on the end result, stay focused on consistency in the process."
3. You Have Your Period
This monthly visitor comes with its own set of symptoms, reactions and cravings, yet some of us may still struggle to cope with period-related weight gain.
Blatner says that because of significant hormone fluctuations, many people will experience a shift on the scale before and after their menstrual cycle, thanks to water retention, bloating and constipation.
A few days after the last day of your period, the additional weight naturally evens out, so it isn't a reason to worry, Blatner reassures. If you're uncomfortable and you would like some relief in the thick of it, however, she suggests upping your water intake and making every effort to move, whether by way of a long walk or a yoga session. These will help to reduce your symptoms and release some of the bloat.
4. You Have an Underlying Health Condition
While some aspects of your weight are within your control, others are not, including underlying health conditions or medications you take to live a full life.
Insulin resistance, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and other hormone-related diagnoses can contribute to weight gain or make it more challenging to lose pounds, says Tamar Samuels, RD, dietitian and co-founder of Culina Health. Antipsychotic and antidepressant medications can do the same.
"In the case of insulin resistance and PCOS, impaired glucose metabolism causes elevated insulin, which contributes to fat storage and increased hunger," says Samuels. "Some medications have side effects that increase appetite, fluid retention, fat storage, slowed metabolism and fatigue."
As frustrating as it can feel to be dealing with weight gain along with side effects, Samuels suggests shifting your focus to feeling better, having more energy, doing things that bring you joy and other areas of your life that are fulfilling. Try to celebrate these non-scale wins as a way to keep your mood and energy positive.
If you believe your situation can be improved, seek the support of your doctor, a dietitian or a therapist who specializes in your condition to explore your options. Samuels recommends asking these questions:
- Can you switch medications now or in the future?
- Are there nutrition and lifestyle interventions that can support weight loss?
- Is there a medication that might help support weight loss?
5. You’re Getting a Little Older
Another lap around the sun — and another few pounds up on the scale. Meh. Though getting older may be a tough pill to swallow, it's important to remember that everyone experiences the same struggles with every new candle on the birthday cake. In other words: you are not alone.
"This is normal; you are normal. Your body is amazing and has done so much for you throughout your life."
As Blatner explains, weight gain (or trouble losing weight) is a natural part of aging due to hormonal fluctuations and changing muscle mass. Rather than fixating on one number, she recommends turning your focus to a well-rounded fitness routine to maintain flexibility, strength and stamina.
Incorporating weight-bearing exercises can help maintain your figure as you grow wiser, says Beth Nicely, CPT. Building lean muscle can change your resting metabolism, helping you burn fat long after we have worked out. And as a bonus, weight-bearing exercise adds power and durability to your ligaments, tendons and bones, which become more fragile with every passing year.
"This is normal; you are normal. Your body is amazing and has done so much for you throughout your life," she continues. "Let's keep it strong!"
6. You’re Pregnant
Pregnancy is a life-altering experience that doesn't just result in added weight, but requires it. Remember: You are growing a human that needs you to pack on some pounds.
Blatner explains most people will gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy, but it's not all fat. It's all of the other stuff that you need to sustain the fetus's nine-month development.
Here's a breakdown based on a 30-pound weight gain from Blatner:
- 7.5 pounds: Average baby weight at birth
- 1.5 pounds: Average placenta weight
- 4 pounds: Increased fluid volume
- 2 pounds: Weight of the uterus
- 2 pounds: Weight of breast tissue
- 4 pounds: Increased blood volume
- 7 pounds: Maternal stores of fat, protein and other nutrients
- 2 pounds: Amniotic fluid
7. You’re Living Through a Pandemic
You don't need us to tell you that living through an unprecedented time period is stressful, confusing and exhausting. What you may need is a gentle reminder that fitting into last year's jeans doesn't need to be a priority right now; taking care of your own mental health is way more important.
Higher anxiety levels can cause us to battle sleep, which can affect our appetite and lead us to crave comfort foods, says dietitian Samantha Cassetty, RD. These foods tend to be higher in calories.
Since we can't change the state of the world, Cassetty says we should start with shifting our own day-to-day routines to include more mindfulness. She recommends beginning with achievable goals.
"Maybe you could eat more veggies at dinner or cook a meal three or four nights a week. Or maybe you'd like to have fruit with snacks," she says. "There are several healthy behaviors that are easy to work on when you feel overwhelmed. And the good news is, when you've successfully managed one, it makes you feel ready to take on another. And in the end, they add up."
8. You're a Human Being
Dietitian Sheri Vettel, RD, who writes for the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, says it best: the number on the scale isn't an accurate picture of your overall health (even if that is what diet culture would have you believe).
"Your wellbeing extends well beyond your weight, and there is not one ideal body size that is realistic — or even safe — for everyone to aspire to. We are all unique, and that is beautiful," she says.
Step one in accepting weight fluctuations is listening to our bodies. And step two is patting ourselves on the back for merely making it through another day.
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