Getting Fatter After Going to the Gym

If you've been working out but you feel fatter, try not to get discouraged. You can get plenty of benefits from exercise with or without weight changes, and a few modifications could help the scale move downward.

Not every gym-based exercise will lead to weight loss. (Image: FluxFactory/E+/GettyImages)

If your exercise routine isn't moving the scale in the right direction, or your clothes still feel tight, don't give up. Analyze a few possible reasons you could be going to the gym but getting fatter. Then, you can make informed decisions and continue on the path toward your goals.

Relying on Exercise Alone

When you start a new type of exercise or get back to it after a long time away, your muscles may not be used to the types of movements you do. The Cleveland Clinic reports that it's normal to gain a little bit of weight when you start training muscles in a new way because they adapt to keep you from getting hurt.

As your body adapts to the stress of your workouts, the muscles retain water and may even become inflamed. This effect can mean you lost weight but feel fatter for a short time. After your body adjusts, your weight should drop if your ratio of calories in and calories out is appropriate.

While exercise can be an important component of a weight loss plan, it's not a free pass to eat whatever you want. Although there are many programs to help people lose weight, they all come down to consuming fewer calories than you burn. Physical activity does help increase your energy expenditure, but it doesn't torch as many calories as you may think.

For example, someone who weighs 150 pounds and rides the stationary bike for 30 minutes burns about 170 calories. According to the Mayo Clinic, you need to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound.

So, the 150-pound person who does the above workout would have to perform more than 20 of those exercise sessions before losing a single pound. That is, if the person ate exactly what he or she needed to fuel the rest of the day.

Eating Too Many Calories

The reverse of the 3,500-calorie rule is true as well. Eating 3,500 calories more than you need causes you to gain one pound. Water retention and other factors can make your weight fluctuate, but their effects are negligible. When you add up the calories from a little nibble of this and an extra pinch of that, it's easier to eat 3,500 calories than to burn that amount in the gym.

Of course, you don't have to burn all your calories at the gym. Your body uses energy as you go about your daily life. That amount is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). If you stay below your TDEE, your body will have to burn existing tissue (fat) to keep you going.

Use a reliable calorie calculator to determine your TDEE. Then, you can track calories on an app or food journal to determine how much energy you consume. If you are sure you're consuming less than your TDEE and you continue to gain weight, you may need to talk to your doctor.

Health Conditions and Medications

If you have been working out but gaining belly fat, even with correct calorie counts, other factors may be to blame. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that certain medical conditions can cause people to gain weight, including:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Cushing's disease
  • Genetic mutations

Some of these conditions may explain why you're working out but gaining weight in the stomach. Certain medications can also cause you to pack on pounds. Some of the most common culprits include:

  • Diabetes medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Birth control pills
  • Prednisone
  • Antipsychotics
  • Epilepsy medications
  • Beta-blockers

If you take any of these medications and believe they're responsible for your weight gain, continue to take them as prescribed. Then, go see your physician to discuss your concerns. He or she may be able to adjust your dosage or recommend a different treatment. Furthermore, your doctor may perform additional tests to find out what's causing your problem.

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