Editor's Note: This post was originally published in May 2014 and has been updated and revamped for accuracy.
If your fitness goal is weight loss, you should be exercising 4-5 times a week and eating a healthy balanced diet. But what if you’re already doing both of these things and still not losing weight? There may be some hidden causes for this frustrating dilemma. So we asked, which is more important in the battle between the pounds: weight loss vs muscle gain? Actually, both are important when striving for overall fitness, it’s simply a matter of finding a balance and changing your mindset on how you view the two.
You’re replacing fat with muscle.
This may be a hard fact to wrap your mind around, but as your body loses fat and replaces it with muscle, you may notice a cessation in weight loss. In fact, you may even begin gaining weight again. Do not be discouraged. You’re body is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do; building strong muscles and reducing the size of fat cells. Try to remember what’s happening inside your body, and focus less on the scale.
It’s easy to convince ourselves that “if I’m exercising more, then I can treat myself to ____.” when in actuality, you still need to stick to your healthy eating to keep your body weight headed in the right direction. If you’re not sure how many calories you should be consuming for weight loss, try a calorie calculator to help guide you.
You’re not exercising as hard as you thought.
The next time you exercise, pay close attention to your heart rate. Weight loss happens when your heart rate is kept at a steady rapid pace. To find out what your target beats per minute should be, use a heart rate calculator. It’s okay to listen to music while working out, or even perusing a magazine on the treadmill, as long as you’re not letting yourself get distracted from what you’re actually doing with your body.
You’ve hit a plateau.
It’s very common for people who are losing weight to come to a point of stagnation. It’s super frustrating and many people give up at this point, thinking this is as good as it’s going to get for them. The key to breaking through this point is to add variety to your workouts. Some great ways to mix things up is with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), plyometrics (Plyo), cross training, or a new group fitness class such bootcamp, cardio dance or cycling.
You’re stressed out.
Stress is hard enough as is, and it’s like salt on a wound to know that stressing out can cause weight gain! Your body’s natural flight-or-fight response to stress is an increase in cortisol levels. “Cortisol increases the flow of glucose (as well as protein and fat) from your tissues and into the bloodstream to increase energy and physical readiness to handle the stressful situation or threat.” (www.cortisol.com) Take a deep breath, relax a little, and find ways to avoid the stress.
Bottom line, your weight loss is tied to more than just regular workouts and healthy eating. Being conscious of these underlying reasons will help you reach your fitness goals, whether it’s to bulk up or slim down.