Q: I lost around 30lbs very quickly by doing over an hour of cardio/day, 7 days/week, and severely restricting calories. When I hit a plateau, I increased cardio further and decreased cals to lose the last 12lbs. Eventually 15 of those pounds came back. I found out about EM2WL, and began a reset, and I've gained a LOT of weight. Is being up 20 pounds ‘normal'? Is it normal to lift and not fit into any clothes? Am I eating too much and that's why I feel so bloated and puffy? I'm just at a loss and feeling pretty down on myself. I'm right back where I started…
A: As much as I hate to be the messenger…yes, it is normal to be gaining weight during reset. Because you were undereating for so long, it takes a while for your body to regulate (which is why we recommend metabolism resets). When we diet using extreme caloric deficits and excessive cardio, the weight that is lost comes not merely from fat, and water, but also from muscle, joints, tendons, ligaments, and brain tissue. We also deplete our bodies of much needed vitamins and nutrients. So when we increase calories, coming from an extended period of undereating, our bodies will often first retain everything, assuming that this is merely a binge. During this period of retaining, your body is seeking to replenish the nutrient deficit, as well as balance out mineral deficiencies. As noted in the Biology of Human Starvation (see our synopsis), a period of OVERfeeding is often necessary before proper balance is restored. Because most people just starting out on a reset are petrified of eating more, this re-feed period is a bit understated. Many will only eat the bare minimum (TDEE) and often undercut/skew that amount, for fear of gaining. But recall that Dr. Keys made it clear that during a refeed, calories must be in abundance in order to rehabilitate properly. This is why many choose to use their reset as a period of bulking, to purposely overfeed and rebuild lost bone and muscle. This gives their reset purpose, and helps them to have something to focus on other than waiting for the cut.
None of this means that the reset process is exceptionally pleasant, although you will surely notice some unexpected benefits. You will feel bloating and discomfort as you retain water while your body is forced to figure out how to gather the nutrition it needs while digesting larger amounts of food properly. Once your body understands that proper nourishment is a mainstay, it will then look to replenish the areas that have been depleted. The rebuilding process is necessary and essential to your well-being. However, weight gain can be less drastic when food intake is increased slowly, and done for a much longer, realistic, time frame. Rushing the reset is often the cause of unnecessarily high weight gain, causing one to quit early, and results in an unsuccessful cut. Skipping the reset altogether is also a reason why you'll see many struggle in the beginning of their cut.
You are lifting heavier now, in addition to eating more, which will assist in rebuilding any muscle that has atrophied. Exercises that create strong muscles will also increase bone mass. Healing will always be your body's primary goal (unfortunately, it doesn't really care about your physique goals), although some fat loss may be happening simultaneously. As the body begins to rebuild the muscle/bone/brain tissue, etc., this will show as “gain” on the scale. But you will have so many things going on that solely judging by the scale will not give you the full story. This will seem very frustrating at first, but you will still likely notice positive changes in the mirror, pictures, and the tape measure during this time. As the rebuilding slows, you will eventually see scale movement as well.
It is most important to remember that what you are dealing with now, is what you would have dealt with anyway, the minute you tried to eat “normal” again. The fact that you are gaining weight on what should be your maintenance level calories, shows that your metabolism had completely slowed to meet the lower calorie level. This is the point of the reset. This is something that you were bound to experience, regardless. In order to keep losing, you would have kept lowering cals and slowing the metabolism further, constantly recreating your maintenance level. This means that anytime your calorie intake exceeded this level, you would gain.
So for some, the first 4-6 weeks or so may bring gain and then a gradual release as the body gains trust. But for those who have drastically undereaten for a length of time, this process can take longer. This is especially true if someone needed a reset, yet refrained from taking one (the body will attempt it's own reset by simply resetting to the cut level calories being given). We must always remember that when we chose drastic measures to lose weight, there will be consequences. Losing the wrong “type” of weight, just for the sake of seeing the scale move, tears our body down and causes it to lose trust in us. A body that does not trust us is left to it's own devices to nurture itself, deciding what will stay (fat) and what can go (muscle, etc). It also means that the loss was not true. When a loss is not true, it is essentially temporary, and we can typically expect to gain it all back…and more.
The #1 reason that weight gain during a metabolism reset is surprising for most of us, is because we forget that it's only ONE phase of the journey. The Reset Phase is about healing, not fat loss (that's a whole ‘nother phase!). For more info on the 5 phases click here.