Why working out causes weight gain. (And what to do about it).

If you ask most people, they’ll tell you that working out regularly will keep them healthy and slim. But that’s only true if you work out the right way. While the experts agree that a regular workout is key to optimal health, they don’t agree about how to do it.

I’m sure you’ve been there. You go to the gym to get in shape, but after a few weeks you’ve gained a few pounds. It’s frustrating, I know, but it happens to anyone who works out regularly. And there’s no way of preventing it, unless you decide to stop working out. The problem is the process of weight gain. It’s the body’s way of adapting to the exercise that causes it. And it is this process that we need to focus on in order to lose weight and keep it off.

There is no doubt that working out regularly has many benefits, including weight loss, a stronger immune system, and a better mood. However, when it comes to health, it is also true that working out too much can have serious consequences. Why? Because extreme exercise, especially long-lasting cardio, can cause weight gain.

You’ve undoubtedly heard that exercising makes you acquire weight (instead of loss). Yes, it is correct. If you think of working out as a chore, you’re more likely to make bad food choices and ruin your hard work. However, if you like physical exercise, you will get greater benefits faster.


I recently dined with my girlfriend at a beachfront restaurant. We sat outside, beneath a canopy of trees, with a view of the sea.

There were a few families and other tables surrounding us. Kids had abandoned their chairs and were playing on the beach after becoming bored with adult conversation.

A four-year-old girl flew by us, ricocheted against a tree, and came to a halt near our table.

She was holding an imagined sword and battling off a swarm of imaginary ninjas or pirates, and she seemed to be winning due to her lightning-fast reflexes and karate chops.

She sprang triumphantly to her feet, hurtled over a stone retaining wall, and raced away after a sequence of kicks, rolls, and sound effects.

Physical activity is enjoyable for most children. It’s a natural aspect of the game, and it’s how you move about. It’s what you do for pleasure, to go home from school, or to get away from a pirate gang.

They don’t move about because they don’t want to, but because they have to. It’s enjoyable for them to roam about.

Leave childhood behind and go into maturity.

Something changes when we reach adulthood.

We no longer engage in swordfights with pirates. Our email inboxes are a battleground for us. (Which aren’t the most enjoyable opponents.)

We go to work in automobiles or trains, where we sit at workstations. We go home at the end of the day and settle down to unwind.

Our bodies adjust when movement becomes a lesser component of our day. Joints become stiffer. Changes in posture. Metabolisms change throughout time.

We gained weight. This does not sit well with us. We reintroduced activity into our life in the hopes of bringing about transformation.

The treatment plan is simple: exercise.

We don’t do this as adults by cartwheeling across the beach and kicking a fictitious ninja in the face. We do it via a process known as exercise.

We work out at home, either with a DVD or a rusty pair of dumbbells.

Alternatively, we may join a gym. In which we hamster on treadmills in front of TVs. Alternatively, a wall.

Alternatively, we might attempt to remain outdoors and exercise by jogging, walking, or riding a bike.

However, there is an issue.

Exercise is ineffective.

To save you time, this article discusses how a slew of studies have shown that individuals who exercise consistently (even with a top-notch program) without changing their eating habits don’t lose much—if any—weight.

(Exercising may lead to weight gain in certain people.)

Thousands of dollars may be spent. Countless hours have passed. They are capable of putting in long hours. And a strong desire to do the right thing.

Nonetheless, after a few months, the scale will have hardly moved. They may lose a little fat and gain a little muscle, but it’s not a significant difference.

Of course, this isn’t to say that exercise has no effect. It increases fitness, produces significant metabolic changes, and improves cognitive function and mood while preserving lean muscle mass and bone density. This is crucial information.

It is possible to combine exercise and diet to achieve success.

Nutrition is an apparent component of this problem. When exercise is coupled with a healthy diet, the effects may be astounding. In our coaching programs, we’ve seen this tens of thousands of times.

In certain instances, weight reduction may be accomplished only via nutrition. Not so much if you don’t eat right.

When you combine the two, the consequences may be life-altering.

However, this remains perplexing.

How is it that exercise, which has a huge physiological impact, has no effect on our bodies if we don’t alter our diets?

Compensation based on hedonics

The word “hedonism,” which relates to the pursuit of pleasure, may be familiar to you.

According to the hedonic compensation hypothesis, if we feel like we’ve “missed out” on pleasure in one area, we try to make up for it another. (Thus the mental process of “I’ve had a bad day; I deserve a reward.”)

Researchers looked at three separate studies in 2014 to see why exercise alone doesn’t always result in weight reduction.

They discovered that seeing a physical activity as “fun” rather than “exercise” resulted in:

  • During meals, they ate less junk food.
  • When given a snack from a self-serve container, people ate less sweets.
  • People preferred “healthy” snacks to “unhealthy” snacks.

In other words, since exercise is not considered enjoyable, individuals seek enjoyment elsewhere.

What they discovered

Study No. 1 People who think of movement as “workout” rather than “pleasure” consume more calories from sweet desserts.

Participants strolled around a university campus for 30 minutes. Half of them were informed that the walk would be for exercise, while the other half were told that it would be for enjoyment. Following their walk, both groups were given a complimentary lunch, which included both “good” and “unhealthy” choices.

The First Study’s Findings Everyone consumed the same number of calories. However, there was a difference in the kind of calories consumed. People in the exercise group were given bigger amounts of the “junk food” choices and ate more from them than those in the fun group.

Study #2 When individuals think of movement as exercise rather than pleasure, they eat more sweets.

In a separate research, a group of people were invited to walk again—some for exercise, and others for pleasure (sightseeing).

Afterwards, participants were invited to help themselves from a large bowl of M&M candies by scooping some of them into a Ziploc bag.

Study #2 Results The people in the exercise group served themselves substantially more M&Ms (372 calories worth, on average) than the people who had done the same physical activity but with a ‘fun’ mindset (166 calories, average).

Study No. 3 The less enjoyment runners experience during a race, the more likely they are to pick a candy bar over a healthy choice afterward.

A third research looked at runners participating in a relay event, in which participants took turns running between 5 and 7 kilometers.

After finishing the race, runners were offered the option of a “relatively healthy” cereal bar or a “relatively unhealthy” chocolate bar, as well as a questionnaire on how they felt about the event.

Results of Study #3 The runners who were having the most fun throughout the race were also the ones who were more inclined to choose for the nutritious snack. When you like the race less, you’re more likely to choose the unhealthy food.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

Understanding the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic incentives may help you better grasp this workout vs. enjoyment issue.

  • Intrinsic incentives imply that we act for reasons beyond our control. Like having a good time. Or it may be a source of fascination. Alternatively, there’s the pleasure of learning. Or the calm satisfaction of completing a problem. We feel good about performing such things even if no one sees us doing them. And, regardless of the outcome, we love the whole process.
  • We perform things for external validation, assessment, or approval, which is known as extrinsic incentives. A trophy or a medal, for example. Alternatively, popular acclaim. Or a calorie counter or a timer. Others may compliment you by stating, “Wow, you did a great job!”

When an activity is intrinsically gratifying, we don’t feel the need to compensate—or be compensated—for completing it, according to activity engagement theory. The reward is the action itself.

When we accomplish something that is intrinsically gratifying, though, we will automatically seek an external reward. We don’t typically enjoy the process because we’re so concerned with the end product and ensuring that other people or things notice it.

Of course, this makes sense. After all, we don’t work 40 hours a week in an office for the pure pleasure of gazing at a bright white square in a cubicle. We want the money and perhaps the social prestige that comes with becoming Assistant Vice Manager for the 11th District.

On the other hand, we don’t typically anticipate any kind of acknowledgment or reward for engaging in our favorite pastime. We simply like doing things like quilting, fly tying, paint-by-numbers, and anything else we’re interested in.

This is one of the reasons why exercise alone is ineffective and why exercise combined with dietary counseling is effective.

We’re seldom sweating it out at the gym because “Gosh, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing with my time right now than pushups,” but rather because of the long-term benefits.

And when our incentive needs to come from somewhere other than the action itself, we’re more prone to fall victim to the hedonic compensation that these studies point to.

To put it another way, we’ll feel (even if subconsciously) as though we “deserve a reward” for doing the drudgery of exercising.

The good news is that by including nutrition coaching or just being more conscious of your eating habits, you may avoid hedonic compensation and make a variety of other beneficial improvements.

Changing the word “exercise” to “fun”

But what if we exercise and the compensating urge isn’t there since we had a good time doing it? Remember that the participants in these experiments were performing the same physical activity; they simply thought about it differently.

The whole process gets simpler when movement becomes inherently gratifying.

We’re more inclined to completely participate and exert ourselves. (Imagine how eager you are to dive for a frisbee if you like Ultimate, or how excited you are to tackle the double-black-diamond run if you enjoy snowsports.)

We no longer need to “white knuckle willpower” our way out of the hedonic compensating effect if we like what we do.

Nutrition is still important, but instead of concentrating our efforts on avoiding bad things (“Don’t eat the cookie, don’t eat the cookie…”), we may instead devote more of our energy to pursuing good outcomes (“Let’s try out this new Gourmet Nutrition recipe!”).

We get better outcomes. We’re much happy now. It’s a pleasure to be active.

That’s a significant change.

We can improve the effectiveness of exercise by making it more pleasant.

To put it another way, making your physical exercise enjoyable isn’t a luxury. It’s a potent—and maybe even necessary—long-term weight-loss approach.

Trainers and coaches should be aware of the following: Organize your training to focus on increasing your abilities.

Making exercise pleasant is a delicate line to tread as a coach, since you must create exercises that are both entertaining and achieve your session’s physical objectives. You must strike a balance between internal motivation and outward goals.

Deliberate practice, which involves concentrated involvement and continuous feedback on a difficult activity, is the link between work and play. Even though it isn’t completely playable, many find it encouraging to feel like they are improving.

Try these suggestions to help your customers enjoy thoughtful practice:

  • Draw your client’s attention to particular aspects of the activity, such as how their knees or hips move throughout a workout. This allows customers to become more aware of their own skill improvement, which may be very beneficial.
  • Make sure your customers understand and can carry out your request. Otherwise, you’re setting them up for disappointment and frustration.
  • Work at a “desirable difficulty” level that makes the effort hard but yet allowing customers to be successful in general. Winning is enjoyable!
  • Give them quick feedback on how well they’re doing (either from you or through their own self-monitoring). Insecurity and worry are alleviated by clarity.
  • Assist them in seeing their long-term (weeks and months) as well as short-term development (within the workout). Make a point of recognizing and applauding every improvement, no matter how little.

What should I do next?

Consider what you may like.

Everyone has their own views about what constitutes “fun” or “intrinsically gratifying” movement. Experiment. Experiment with different things.

Make the software, not the other way around, suit you.

Use your body, your lifestyle, your schedule, and your hobbies to your advantage. Do what you’re passionate about.

Build on your achievements.

Like a bloodhound, sniff out pleasure and happiness. Look for little wins and pleasures everywhere you go. Then build on top of them.

Make it a social event.

Training is more enjoyable with friends, whether it’s taking turns under the bar in a squat rack or getting out for a morning run. We’ll frequently push ourselves harder than we would if we were training alone.

Instead of exercising, consider “movement.” Get out of the gym and have some fun.

Hiking, bicycling, strolling, running about with your kids in the park, or virtually any activity may provide the same training benefits as going to the gym, plus they’re more likely to be enjoyable in their own right.

Instead than calculating sets, repetitions, and rest periods, consider playing instead of exercising.

You don’t have to give up formal exercise, of course. Gym workouts may improve your enjoyable activities by improving movement patterns, boosting strength and general fitness, or assisting in the rehabilitation of ailments that may prohibit you from playing. Consider the connection between exercise and play. They collaborate to improve each component.

Make it a game for everyone.

To you, what is a game? Is it a friendly rivalry? Having a good time? Are you trying to beat the clock? Making absurd wagers such as “I bet I can hit the basket if I throw backwards over my head”? (Or how about “The floor is covered with alligators and boiling lava, so you can’t walk on it” from your childhood?) Add anything that makes things more “game-like.”

Finding your favorite physical activities doesn’t have to be difficult. Consider it an opportunity to have some fun, experience the pleasure of movement, and let your inner child out for a time. You may not want to quit once you start playing.

Better eating, moving, and living.

The realm of health and fitness may be perplexing at times. It doesn’t have to be that way, however.


It will teach you the optimal diet, exercise, and lifestyle methods that are specific to you.


The fact is that the human body is a machine. If you want it to function well and to do the things you want, you should work out. But at the same time, the fact is that working out makes you gain weight. Why is that? Well, there are a few reasons.  There are some people who fear that working out will ruin their bodies. But the truth is that working out is not bad for your body. Because you are working out, your body is getting stronger, which means it will be able to perform better in the long run.. Read more about why can working out actually cause you to gain weight instead of lose it and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I keep from gaining weight when I exercise?

You should try to eat a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and lean protein.

Can working out too much make you gain weight?

Yes, working out too much can make you gain weight.

Is it normal to gain weight before losing?

It is not normal to gain weight before you lose.

Related Tags

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • gaining weight while working out and eating healthy
  • working out and gaining weight instead of losing
  • working out but gaining weight in stomach
  • is it normal to gain weight when you start working out
  • gaining weight while working out and dieting

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