What To Understand About This Weight Gain Transformation

There's science behind why some people gain weight but do not change clothing sizes.

Your body size and weight do not reflect your health or your value as a person. Still, a stigma exists around weight gain, and the media demonizes fat. You may have been taught to focus on the scale's number rather than what's actually going on in your body.

Health-wise, understanding your muscle-to-fat ratio is more important than how much you weigh, according to a study published in March 2016 in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. That research found that muscle-to-fat ratio can indicate metabolic syndrome (MetS), a cluster of diseases that include insulin resistance, abdominal obesity, and hypertension. By the way, your muscle-to-fat ratio is different than your body mass index (BMI), which, the CDC notes, is not a good diagnostic tool for disease risk.

Gaining and losing weight does not always mean your body measurements will change. It's possible to gain weight but wear around the same clothing size. Gaining muscle is a common body change people notice after switching up their fitness routine or lifestyle habits, and it can cause you to gain weight because muscle is denser than fat.

For example, in May 2018, fitness influencer Victoria Winterford shared a weight gain transformation photo on Instagram, posting two images in a black bikini. In one, Winterford had gained 22 pounds but continued to wear size 8 clothing.

"How??" the then 25-year-old wrote in their caption. "Yep that little thing we call muscle."

Why It's Possible to Gain Weight but Stay About the Same Clothing Size

You have more than 600 muscles in your body, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Muscles have many roles, like helping you move, protecting your joints, and allowing you to digest food. Your heart is also a muscle. So maintaining a healthy muscle mass is important. A study published in April 2016 in the American Journal of Cardiology found low levels of muscle mass could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

You may have heard someone claim they've "turned fat into muscle." When you gain weight but your body measurements stay roughly the same, it may feel like this is what you've done; but physically, fat cannot just "convert" into muscle. Instead, you can lose fat and separately gain muscle, and vice versa. They are different processes.

This is why the scale only tells a small story: You can, for example, lose weight by losing muscle rather than fat. A study published in July 2017 in Frontiers in Physiology noted that eating higher amounts of protein while in a caloric deficit may help you retain muscle mass while losing weight.

Building Muscle Strength and Endurance

A review published in December 2019 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health explained that resistance training is the primary exercise for growing muscles. Resistance training, also called strength or weight training, involves exercises that force your muscles to contract against a form of resistance like a free weight, band, or body weight.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition, published in 2018, recommends adults do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity two or more days a week. If you are pregnant or have an underlying health condition, consult a healthcare provider for exercise guidelines.

Overall, if you are trying to understand and take control of your health, the number on the scale will not tell you everything you need to know. It's best to talk to a healthcare provider—preferably one who does not stigmatize or equate overall health with your weight—if you don't know why you are or are not gaining or losing weight.

Media and unrealistic beauty standards may have us believe you have to be a specific size, but your health is more important.

"The pressures of social media these days make people think they have to look a certain way, [but] realistically we should just be the best version of ourselves no matter what," Winterford told Health. "I just want to help as many people as possible [by] spreading a positive message about body image and living a healthy but also balanced lifestyle."

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