Gaining Weight Again? Here Are 9 Ways to Bounce Back.

Need to reverse weight gain quickly? Follow these expert-approved steps to shed pounds again.

Woman running on treadmill
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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.

Here’s how to burn more fat while you sleep.

3. Eliminate distractions while eating.

“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.

“Instead, I encourage my clients to focus on the really good things that they can have more of, like veggies and fruits, for example,” she says. “I examine how we can achieve that really good balance of all the macros. I want to make sure my clients are getting enough healthy, lean proteins, enough whole grains, healthy carbs, and eating plenty of veggies.”

Pro tip: Make sure your diet includes these 15 lean muscle-building foods.

6. Ramp up your fiber intake.

Surveys have found that 95% of Americans fall short of getting the recommended daily fiber intake; we should be getting about 25–30g a day from food, but instead we’re only getting about 15g daily.

Fiber is essential to maintaining a healthy weight, says Davis. “You can eat a lot of high-fiber foods, they’re filling, and they’re perfect for weight maintenance.”

Insoluble fiber can be found in fruits with edible peels, seeds, vegetables, whole grain products (like whole-wheat bread and whole-wheat pasta), brown rice, bulgur wheat, stone-ground corn meal, cereals, bran, rolled oats, and more. Soluble fiber, which might decrease blood cholesterol levels, can be found in fruits (such as oranges and grapefruit), vegetables, legumes (such as dry beans, lentils and peas), barley, oats, and oat bran. Both help you feel full faster and are great for keeping things moving in your digestive tract.

“For weight management, fiber is super important because it's filling without adding a lot of excess calories or fat,” Davis says. Try these protein bowl recipes that are packed with high-fiber veggies.

7. Watch your post-workout snacks.

Are you fueling your workouts with a high-calorie bar and a huge protein shake afterwards? While post-workout nutrition is important for muscle gains, you might be overdoing it if the scale has been creeping up since you’ve added these products to your meal plan.

“People who start a resistance exercise and aerobic program usually find that their hunger increases as well,” Apovian says. “Sometimes it's very obvious, other times not so obvious, and that's your body. It's not just energy intake and energy expenditure. Your body is going to try to keep your body weight where it is, so your hunger is going to increase.”  Simply put, you’re battling your body’s biological response because it doesn’t want to lose weight. (Blame our cavewoman ancestors, who really needed every calorie because losing weight was detrimental to survival).

Drink plenty of water and keep your post-workout snacks in check. If you’re a lot hungrier since starting a strength-training program, load up on low-calorie veggies and lean protein first.

“[Many protein bars] have a lot of calories for the amount of volume, so be aware if you’re eating them in addition to your meals,” Apovian says. “You might be better off eating a salad with a hard boiled egg instead of that protein bar.”

8. Don’t eat the same amount of food that you did at age 20.

Be mindful that as you age, your body burns fewer calories at rest.

“As you get older, you tend to lose muscle and gain fat,” Apovian says. So, even if you haven't gained weight, your body composition has changed to one that has more body fat, she says. “The more muscle you have, the higher your resting energy expenditure is.”

Remember, your resting energy expenditure is how many calories you’re burning if you’re simply lying in bed all day. For women, it’s usually between 1,200 to 1,500 calories. “As you get older, that resting energy expenditure goes down maybe to 1,000 to 1,100, and that means that you get to eat 200 calories less than you did when you were younger,” Apovian says. Bummer.

“The antidote would be to increase your lifting,” she says. “You need to do more resistance exercise than you did when you were younger to try to get back that muscle mass that you start losing around age 40. Studies have shown that it’s never too late, even if you've lost some muscle mass, to start building it up. Do resistance exercises at least two to three times a week for 45 minutes to an hour using all muscle groups,” Apovian recommends. Learn more about how to build muscle and burn fat in 30 days.

9. Get your hormones checked.

If you’re approaching menopause age, your weight gain might be due to hormone changes that impact your sleep and hunger levels, making it even more difficult for you to lose weight.

“[Weight gain] often happens during menopause because of hormone changes, plus it just happens to be a time of stress in their lives, their careers, or with their families,” Apovian says.

“Some women are able to take hormone replacement therapy,” Apovian says. “If your doctor says it’s a good idea, and you don't have a history of breast cancer in the immediate family, and you don't have a history of heart disease, you probably would be a candidate for hormone replacement therapy. That will give you back the estrogen you're losing, which will help your sleep pattern. It will also help ensure that your body composition is benefited. It can help you retain your body composition if you don't lose your estrogen. In my patients who are really trying to mitigate the weight gain that typically occurs during menopause, I do prescribe hormone replacement unless there's a contraindication due to their health history.”

Short of that? Try these no-diet weight loss hacks to accelerate weight loss.