You’ve got it all planned out.
You’ve entered into a transformation challenge, prepped your meals, and got your training plan squared away.
It seems like everything is on the right track, and the first few weeks during your weight loss journey you’ve experienced some modest success.
However, after a few weeks, you’ve reached a plateau and the number on the scale is going in the wrong direction.
Your diet is seemingly on point as is your training.
Today, we discuss 5 under-the-radar reasons you might be gaining weight during your transformation challenge.
5 Sneaky Causes of Weight Gain
#1 Lack of Sleep
At this point, it seems like we’re beating a dead horse, but it can never be emphasized heavily (or frequently) enough -- if you want to see results from your training and dieting efforts you MUST get enough sleep each and every night.
Not getting enough sleep disrupts energy metabolism, impairs recovery, and hinders performance, both mentally and physically.
Additionally, not getting enough sleep also reduces motivation to exercise and general movement the following day, both of which decrease the amount of calories you burn throughout the day directly affecting your daily energy balance (which ultimately impacts weight loss).[2,3]
But, it gets worse.
Sleep deprivation also disrupts hormone balance and production in the body. Not getting enough sleep has been shown to reduce levels of leptin (the satiety hormone) in the body and increase levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin.[1,2,3]
Basically, not getting enough sleep can make you move less during the day, while feeling less satisfied at mealtime, which ultimately can lead to the overconsumption of calories (and by extension weight gain).
The bottom line here is that you need to get quality sleep each night (7-9 hours). If you need help getting to sleep, try:
- Establishing a bedtime ritual
- Setting an alarm to “power down” for the night
- Eliminating blue light 2 hours before bed
- Making your room as dark as possible
- Keep your room cool (66-68℉)
- Listening to relaxing music
- Having a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea
You can also try using a nighttime recovery/sleep aid, such as 1UP Recharge PM Burner or Beauty Dream PM to help quiet a hyper-active nervous system and support fat burning while you rest, recover, and recharge.
#2 Too Much Stress
Stress can take many forms in life, and not all stress is created equal.
By that, we mean not all stress is inherently bad, and some certain forms of stress can actually be beneficial.
Case in point, resistance training.
It provides powerful stress to the physiology which gives our muscles the signals to ramp up protein synthesis to become bigger and stronger.
Additionally, we’ve all been under a tight deadline at work, and for some individuals, this countdown clock actually makes them perform at a higher level.
However, stress isn’t always good.
The kind of stress that impedes fat loss and promotes weight gain is chronic stress, which can be brought on by a number of lifestyle factors including relationships, finances, and careers.
Chronic stress leads to prolonged elevations of the stress hormone, cortisol, which is also experienced with sleep deprivation.
It comes as no surprise then that chronic stress leads to many of the same outcomes as sleep deprivation (which itself is a major stressor to the body), including[4,5,6]:
- Disrupted energy metabolism
- Increased cravings for high-calorie foods
- Decreased performance
- Lack of motivation
- Impaired sleep
- Stunted recovery
- Impaired fat loss
- Insulin resistance
While it’s not possible to entirely remove stress from your life, and if we’re being honest, you wouldn’t want to do that, you can take steps to reduce which stressors you expose yourself to as well as how you manage your response to these stress exposures.
When you feel stressed, try to remove yourself from the situation, or remove those things from your life that make you stressed (to the reasonable extent possible that you can).
Additionally, it also helps to adjust your mindset.
For instance, instead of getting frustrated that you’re stuck in traffic, view it as an opportunity to listen to some good music or an enjoyable podcast.
Other stress-mitigation techniques include going for walks in nature, yoga, stretching, meditation, breathing drills, and listening to soothing music.
Taking time to unplug and refresh can do wonders to lower cortisol and help keep weight gain at bay.
#3 Weekend Cheat Days
Cheat meals are used by dieters primarily as a way to ease the psychological burden of dieting by enjoying one meal per week that isn’t tracked or planned. You’re allowed to eat whatever you want without regret, remorse, or guilt.
Over the years, cheat meals have evolved into cheat days whereby an individual will spend an entire day eating whatever they want.
Understand though, that cheat days can (and will) undo an entire week of hard work in the gym and kitchen.
Let’s say for instance that you run a 500-calorie deficit each day, which would lead to ~one pound of fat loss per week (since a pound of fat contains ~3500 calories).
If you overdo it on a cheat day (let alone a cheat weekend), you can erase all of the hard work you’ve done during the week and actually gain weight.
Cheat meals are OK once in a while as a reward or to give your mind and body a break from the rigors of dieting, but keep it reasonable and planned (what meal and what day you’ll have it).
It’s far too easy to let a cheat meal turn into a cheat day, which then turns into a cheat weekend, thereby erasing all of your hard work and effort.
And, this will only lead to the vicious on-again, off-again dieting cycle which rarely results in success.
Cheat meals can have their place in a weight loss program, but they can also be the gateway to demise.
#4 Lack of Portion Control
At the end of the day, calories are king when it comes to weight loss, regardless of how “clean” or “dirty” they may seem
Many individuals think that just because they’re technically eating “clean” they will automatically lose weight.
However, clean foods still contain calories, and it is possible to overeat clean foods, which means you’re consuming more calories than your body requires (resulting in weight gain).
For example, two foods that are commonly viewed as “healthy” and should be included in any health-promoting diet are nuts and olive oil. Both do have their own unique benefits, but both are very high in calories.
A 1-ounce serving of nuts has between 160-200 calories, depending on the variety of nut you’re consuming. Many individuals think that since nuts are “healthy”, they can eat them with reckless abandon, and before they realize it, they’ve consumed upwards of 500 calories worth of nuts.
The bottom line here is that even if you only consume healthy foods, you still need to be mindful of portion sizes and how much you’re eating. It’s true that it is typically harder to overeat when you’re only consuming whole, minimally processed foods (due to their higher protein, fiber, and water contents), but it’s still very much possible to over consume them.
Therefore, to help keep portion sizes in check, you can try any/all of the following:
- Use a food scale
- Use smaller plates/utensils
- Take your time when eating
- Drink water before a meal
- Have a protein shake before a meal
- Take a break before going back for seconds to give your brain time to register whether you’ve had enough to eat or not.
#5 Food Sensitivities / Intolerances
Food sensitivities and intolerances have been a hot topic the past few years ever since the explosion of the paleo diet and all the worry over “anti-nutrients” in grains, legumes, etc.
While the buzz around anti-nutrients has been massively overblown by “gurus”, food intolerance is a very real thing, though the percentage of people affected by it are smaller than you’ve been led to believe.
Also, realize that a food sensitivity or intolerance is NOT the same thing as a food allergy, which can be lethal.
Side effects of food intolerances can include:
- Weight gain
If you suspect that you may have a food sensitivity, try removing it from your diet for two weeks and seeing how your body responds. If you notice less discomfort, then there’s a good chance your body may not jive with that particular food.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can never eat that food again, it just means it may not be right for you right now.
The human gut is in constant flux, so what may work for you today may not next year or five years from now. This is why it’s important to focus on eating whole foods and being mindful of what you put into your body.
Weight loss takes time, patience, and dedication both in the gym and in the kitchen. Even then, there still might be something that’s keeping you from losing weight as quickly as you’d like.
Use the tips in this article to keep aware of potential pitfalls during your transformation challenge and get the results you want when you want them!
- Schmid SM, Hallschmid M, Jauch-Chara K, Born J, Schultes B. A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men. J Sleep Res. 2008;17(3):331-334. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00662.x
- Donga E, van Dijk M, van Dijk JG, et al. A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;95(6):2963-2968. doi:10.1210/jc.2009-2430
- Knutson KL, Spiegel K, Penev P, Van Cauter E. The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep Med Rev. 2007;11(3):163-178. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2007.01.002
- Stefanaki, C., Pervanidou, P., Boschiero, D. et al. Chronic stress and body composition disorders: implications for health and disease. Hormones 17, 33–43 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42000-018-0023-7
- Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Joshi K. Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017;22(1):96-106. doi:10.1177/2156587216641830
- Yan YX, Xiao HB, Wang SS, et al. Investigation of the Relationship Between Chronic Stress and Insulin Resistance in a Chinese Population. J Epidemiol. 2016;26(7):355-360. doi:10.2188/jea.JE20150183
- Peng M. How does plate size affect estimated satiation and intake for individuals in normal-weight and overweight groups?. Obes Sci Pract. 2017;3(3):282-288. Published 2017 Jun 27. doi:10.1002/osp4.119