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Here’s How to Deal with Unexpected Weight Gain
by Deanna deBara

The number on the scale is just that—a number. And while that number isn’t necessarily a reflection of your health (and definitely isn’t a reflection of your worth!), seeing it go up, especially when it’s unexpected or unwanted, can be a challenging experience.

Here are a few tips to help you deal with unexpected weight gain, get your mind and body in the right place for you, and not let a number on the scale derail you from hitting your health and fitness goals:

Don’t beat yourself up

Your first instinct when you see a higher-than-you’d-like number on the scale might be to start beating yourself up about your weight gain. But it’s extremely important to fight that instinct. “From a mental health perspective, it’s important to not beat yourself up too much if you’ve gained weight,” says New York-based psychotherapist Paige Rechtman. “Shaming yourself is not motivating, and can make you feel worse.”

Instead of beating yourself up for unexpected weight gain (which can be extremely unmotivating—and, ironically, can make it harder to lose that weight), try practicing a little self compassion. Remind yourself that weight is in a constant state of flux, and even if you’re not where you’d like to be, your body is perfect exactly the way it is. When you accept yourself and your body exactly where you are, it can be easier to find the motivation to make positive choices for your health and fitness.

“We all have an inner critic that will shame us and criticize us for not being perfect,” says Rechtman. “Learning how to quiet that inner voice, and instead, turn up the voice that cultivates self-love and forgiveness takes practice but can help a person cope not just with weight gain, but other ways too.”

Switch up your workouts

You 100 percent don’t need to focus on losing your unexpected weight gain; again, the number of the scale isn’t a reflection of your overall health. But if you do decide you want to lose the weight, mixing it up in the gym can be a great place to start.

Your body adapts to exercise over time, which can make it less effective. So, “one way to ‘reset’ the body after a weight gain is to change up your workouts,” says Adrianne Delgado, RD, LDN. Not only will switching up your workout routine make your body work harder (which can help support weight loss), but it can also make it easier to find the motivation to get to the gym.

“Find a new routine, try a new fitness class or new piece of equipment,” says Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer Nick Occhipinti. “The novelty of a new fitness endeavor can be great motivation to get moving again after some time off or unwanted weight gain.”

Just remember to be patient with yourself as you’re adjusting to your new workout regimen. “If you have gained a significant amount of weight in your time off from the gym, your body may move a little differently than before; that is okay and [to be] expected,” says Occhipinti. “Ease back into your routine by warming up thoroughly and find exercises or machines that fit your body.”

Make sure you’re getting enough calories

Lowering your caloric intake can help you get rid of your unexpected or unwanted weight gain. But cutting your calories too much can actually have the opposite effect—especially if you’re hitting it hard at the gym.

“As you increase the intensity and frequency of your workouts, your body may need more calories than you previously were consuming,” says Delgado. “Eating too low of a calorie intake can lead your body’s metabolism to slow down and have a reverse effect on your weight goals.”

Make sure to figure out your personal caloric needs—and then make sure you’re getting enough high-quality calories (including carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats) to support your workouts and your weight loss goals. 

Stop focusing on the number on the scale—and start focusing on how you feel

When you gain weight—especially if it’s unwanted or unexpected—it can be easy to obsess over the number on your scale. But health isn’t about a number or a particular weight; it’s about taking care of your mind and body.

Stop focusing on the number—and instead, focus on how eating well and exercising makes you feel.

“I want my clients to get in tune with their body, their mood, and their relationship with exercise and food as they go through their training programs. I want my clients to feel energized, happy, healthy, and strong after and during their workouts,” says Occhipinti. “Focusing on this instead of weight loss is a constant reminder that exercise is a celebration of the amazing things our bodies are capable of and a powerful means to achieve health and happiness.”

“Being mindful of how you feel can be much more effective in creating healthy self-care habits instead of trying to attain a certain weight,” says Rechtman. “Think less about how you want to look and instead focus on how you want to feel.”

Remember, your health journey is a marathon, not a sprint—and focusing on your health and happiness in the long-term (instead of a number on the scale in the short-term) can help inspire you to make the right choices for you and your health. “When you realize this journey is about the long haul and creating consistent habits, it can decrease the stress around the scale number and help you enjoy the process,” says Delgado. 

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.