You were diligently counting macros, tracking every workout, drinking water, and quickly shedding pounds—until something happened. You stopped losing weight. The scale crept up by half a pound, then one pound, two pounds, and now you’re up five pounds. And you don’t know how it happened.
First, take a breath. Second, reality check: Five pounds isn’t the end of the world. (And if you’ve been working out diligently, there’s a good chance it’s just a result of additional muscle mass.)
Point is: If you’ve started gaining weight again after a promising period of weight loss, your first task is to understand learn why you gained weight in order to start shedding fat and inches again. The next step: doing something about it.
To help you through the process, we talked to Caroline Apovian, M.D., president of The Obesity Society and director of nutrition and weight management at The Boston Medical Center, as well as Mascha Davis, M.P.H., R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are their top tips to reverse weight gain and start reaching your goals again.
1. CUT THE CARBS (AND PRIORITIZE THE RIGHT ONES).
Okay, you knew we were going to say that, right? That’s because it works—within reason.
“Focus more on protein intake and reducing the carbohydrates and fats, while increasing your intake of protein and vegetables,” Apovian says.
We’re not saying you need to follow a low-carb diet. Simply track your carbs and make sure your macros are balanced. If you think your meal plan is carb-heavy and you could add in more veggies and protein, try it for a week or two and see if that impacts the scale.
Also, above all, aim for quality carbs. Cutting your carbs won’t work if the only carbs you eat are from cupcakes.
2. MAKE SURE YOU’RE GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP.
We know: Easier said than done, but it’s more important to your weight, health, and waistline than you might think. If your weight started to creep up around the time that you began binge-watching a new show late at night, or if you started waking up ridiculously early to squeeze in a hardcore workout, your body might be fighting you in the battle of weight loss.
“If my clients aren’t losing weight and are experiencing gains, I look at their entire lives and ask how they’re sleeping,” says Davis. A ton of research over the past decade has linked a lack of sleep to weight gain, particularly due to hormone changes, she says. “When you’re in a sleep deficit, your levels of ghrelin will be higher, which is the hormone that makes you feel hungrier,” says Davis. So even if you woke up for the sake of exercising, your body might be primed for hunger the rest of the day.
“Some of my clients think it’s better to sacrifice sleep they need by getting up an hour earlier to get to the gym—but they don’t realize that this is sabotaging their goals,” Davis says.
“Getting at least seven to eight hours a night is very important,” Apovian says. “It’s better to sleep than to get up early and exercise if you haven’t had enough sleep. It’s so important [for your health] to get those eight hours.”
Remember, you don’t need to do an hour of exercise in the morning if that’s the only time you think you can fit it in. Break it down into 15- to 20-minute mini bursts of exercise throughout the day. You’ll spike energy after these workouts and you’ll get to sleep in a bit more, so it’s a win-win for your body.
“I encourage my nutrition clients to focus on mindful eating and intuitive eating,” says Davis. “Don’t eat when you’re distracted. If you have the TV on, [or are eating lunch at your desk while reading this] you’re not clued into your [hunger cues], and the triggers that cause you to [overeat],” she says.
Research also supports that claim that using mindful eating techniques may help with weight loss, because you may be less likely to overeat when you realize you’re full.
Try eating without the distraction of a TV, book, newspaper, your phone, or computer for one meal. Then do it for a full day of meals. Ultimately, try to practice this technique for a week. You may find that you’re fuller sooner than you think, and that you’ve just effortlessly kick-started weight loss again.
4. INCREASE YOUR TRAINING INTENSITY.
Chances are, unless you’ve been following a progressive training routine—like our 12 Weeks to a Competition Body training program—then your workouts may have become, well, too routine (which is to say, easy) for your body. And when that happens, your body will stop adapting.
“Intensify your resistance exercise, either by adding a day, or increasing the weight, or increasing the reps,” suggests Apovian. High-intensity exercise has been shown to reduce body fat, so even if your weight remains status quo, you’ll lose inches and dress sizes.
5. STOP ELIMINATING FOOD GROUPS.
“When I’m working with a new client and they’ve started to gain weight, I ask about their diets,” says Davis. “Were they on a fad diet? Are they doing something extreme where they’re cutting out an entire food group? Are they following a very low-carb diet? I don’t promote any fad diets because I think what happens a lot of the time is that people start to feel deprived and then they’ll overdo it later.