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Who hasn't already heard everything about belly fat? After all, "belly fat" is the most over-used keyword on the Internet. However, this article, which doesn't promote any particular product, holds information you probably have not seen before.

There's always something new to learn about weight loss. Let's start with a question that you almost never seen in pitches for weight loss products, the common observation that people often gain weight, rather than losing weight, when they start working out on a regular basis.

Q. Help! I'm exercising but I'm gaining weight instead of losing. What am I doing wrong?

A. Exercising results in innumerable health benefits, but weight loss is not necessarily one of them. One study found that people who exercise lose only about a third as many pounds as would have been predicted by measuring calories. Exercise physiologists at Arizona State University in Phoenix conducting a clinical trial to understand the relationship between exercise and weight loss found that in most cases exercising more results in gaining, rather than losing, weight.

The Arizona State University researchers recruited 80 women, all of whom were overweight to varying degrees, none of whom had exercised in the past year. The researchers had the women work out on treadmills at about 80 percent of their maximum possible exercise rate for 30 minutes per session three times a week for 12 weeks.

At the end of the 12-week exercise program, all of the women were significantly more fit. However, 70 percent of the women had gained weight. Moreover, the weight these women gained was not new muscle. It was new fat, for some women, as much as 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of fat mass added during the 12 weeks they were working out hard.

A few of the women, however, actually lost weight during the 12-week intervention. Taking a closer look at the data, the researchers made a very important observation. Women who were losing weight at the end of the first four weeks continued to lose weight during the rest of the program. Women who were not losing weight at the end of the first four weeks tended not to lose weight or even to gain weight during the rest of the clinical trial.

These data suggest that it is important to check the results of your exercise program after four weeks. If you aren't losing weight at the end of a month, you should try another approach.

Staying on the wrong program too long may even cause you to gain weight. If that is the case, then you may have to lose weight by dieting.

Q. What makes the difference between weight gain and weight loss among people who exercise?

Most people gain weight, and gain weight in the form of fat, when they work out on a regular basis, for the simple reason that working out makes them hungry. They eat snacks on the way home from the gym, or they eat larger portions at the next meal, or they reward themselves with food for meeting their exercise goals. "Calorie compensators," as researchers call these people, enjoy better cardiovascular fitness as the result of working out, but they don't lose or weight or lose fat.

Q. Does this mean that some people should not work out at all?

Some people respond better to resistance exercise, or weight lifting, in combination with gentle exercise to maintain flexibility, than they do to heavy aerobic exercise.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Melanson EL, Keadle SK, Donnelly JE, Braun B, King NA. Resistance to exercise-induced weight loss: compensatory behavioral adaptations. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Aug.45(8). 1600-9. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31828ba942.
  • Nackers LM, Ross KM, Perri MG. The association between rate of initial weight loss and long-term success in obesity treatment: does slow and steady win the race? Int J Behav Med 2010. 17:161-167,
  • Photo courtesy of Butz.2013 via Flickr:
  • Photo courtesy of ~Twon~ via Flickr:

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