This week, nearly half of all Americans will resolve to make 2016 the year they get fitter, faster and reach their feel-great weights. Indeed, weight loss and exercising continue to be among the most popular New Year’s vows, according to a Marist Poll.
It would be wonderful if the pounds melted off as soon as we ramped up our workouts and swore off sweets.
But many people find that weight loss isn’t that simple or that linear.
They get stuck in a weight-watching purgatory — dragging themselves through workouts and scrutinizing food labels — while the numbers on the bathroom scale stall or inch upward.
“I hear people say this all the time,” says Tom McGlynn, founder of Runcoach, which trains 1,500 area runners annually for the Marine Corps Marathon, Historic Half Marathon and Cherry Blossom 10-Miler.
To be sure, some of the initial weight gain is often due to water retention, says Jim White, a Virginia Beach-based dietitian and exercise physiologist.
When you lift weights or run up a hill, the muscle fibers tear. The body responds by producing fluids full of white blood cells and nutrients to heal those fibers so you get stronger, says White.
But for more people, the forces that drive the weight gain are much more complex. Here are some common weight-loss traps and how to avoid them.
You Do Too Much Too Soon
Many people try to overhaul their diets while simultaneously logging monster workout sessions at a pace that’s unsustainable. “People get all excited about counting calories, they overexercise and undereat, and it ends up being too much restriction,” says exercise physiologist Jenny Hadfield, founder of coachjenny.com. “Three weeks after they start, they can’t manage it, and the scale tips the other way.” Without adequate fueling, workouts become a waste of time; with no energy to push their bodies faster, harder and longer, people can’t make substantial fitness gains.
And the body rebels, Hadfield says. “When we drastically reduce calorie consumption and combine that with higher levels of exercise, the body adapts by lowering our metabolic rates.” So you may drop pounds at first, but eventually you regain the weight, and then some. And there’s new evidence that excess restriction messes with the body’s hunger mechanism. In a study published in the December 2015 issue of eLife, when rats’ meal times were limited, levels of the fullness hormone ghrelin plummeted and they ate twice as much.