I Wasn't Losing Weight Doing CrossFit Until I Started Doing These 4 Things
When I started my CrossFit journey to get completely lean and ripped, I was convinced that after six months, I'd have amazing transformation photos to share. I didn't. By the eighth month, I was definitely gaining weight, and it wasn't just muscle — I looked and felt puffier, my sports bras and jeans were tighter, and I just didn't feel like myself. I made a few mistakes in my first year of CrossFit, and this type of intense exercise wasn't helping me get lean — until I started doing these four things. Keep reading to find out what they are.
I Monitored My Food Intake and Macros
Intense hour-long CrossFit workouts made me incredibly hungry, but I figured since I was working out, I could eat a little extra. I found myself reaching for big handfuls of almonds throughout the day, bananas with peanut butter, and extra servings of dinner. Even though I was eating healthy foods, ACE-certfied trainer and weight-loss health coach Rachel MacPherson agreed — I was just eating too much.
Registered dietitian Jennifer Hanes, MS, RDN added, "Intense exercise increases the appetite, sometimes to the point that you eat more calories than you burned." She said that some people experience appetite suppression when they exercise, but that generally happens after intense cardio sessions, not strength training, like I was doing.
"I cannot stress enough how easy it is to out-eat a workout. This is one reason that people gain weight when starting a new workout regimen," Jennifer said. Rachel explained, "Calories matter, and if you are taking in more than you burn, then you will gain or stay the same weight despite your exercise. Luckily, you will still gain muscle mass, which does help you lose fat over time."
As a vegan, I was also eating a carb-heavy diet. So I focused on decreasing my carbs a little and focused on getting at least 70 to 90 grams of protein a day. I also included more healthy fats (yeah, an avocado every day!) and that helped me feel more satiated, so I didn't need to eat as much.
I Started Intermittent Fasting
After eight months of CrossFit, I loved my newfound confidence and strength, but I was frustrated. I was working out at 5:45 a.m. five times a week and still not reaching my body goals. It became clear that I needed to change my diet. I was finding that after those intense morning workouts, I wanted to eat all day long — and I did!
That's when I started intermittent fasting. I gradually worked my eating schedule to follow the 16:8 method, where I ate from noon until 8 p.m. I noticed a difference in my face and belly (where I tend to carry extra weight) within the first month of intermittent fasting.
Aaron Hinde, MD, who focuses on sports medicine added that, "while all bodies respond differently to any diet or exercise program, many CrossFit athletes have experienced increased success with building lean muscle mass and decreasing body fat percentage by practicing intermittent fasting by sticking to a consistent, smaller window for consuming calories daily." He reiterated that focusing on a diet that's high in protein and healthy fats will aid in weight loss.
Intermittent fasting not only made reaching a calorie deficit easier, but being in a fasted state longer also kept my insulin levels low, which Jason Fung, MD, a nephrologist (kidney specialist) and author of The Complete Guide to Fasting, explained in a previous interview, is the key to tapping into stored body fat for energy.
I Didn't Go to CrossFit as Often
I was going to CrossFit five times a week, usually Monday through Friday, and it just was too much. NSCA- and CSCS-certified trainer Aurimas Juodka agreed. He said, "you're exercising too much and not recovering properly." My body needed scheduled rest days from those intense CrossFit workouts, which focused so much on strength work.
NSCA-certified trainer Len Lopez added that, "you can have the best diet and workout program, but if you are constantly triggering more cortisol, the amount of stress it's adding to your body could be making it harder to lose weight. He suggested reducing the load either by shortening the workouts or the number of times I work out during the week.
I started incorporating two days of running and extra stretching and yoga throughout the week. The cardio was great for burning calories (and losing weight) and building endurance, and I loved the mental clarity doing cardio gave me. Doing CrossFit fewer days a week also helped me feel less hungry, and because I was resting up more, I had more mental and physical energy to push harder when I did go.
I Stopped Focusing on the Scale
Jennifer also said that, "it is possible to gain enough muscle that you gain weight even as you lose fat." CrossFit coach Johnna Matthews added that since muscle is denser and takes up less space in your body than fat, it may seem like you're not losing fat when you're actually building muscle, and you build muscle with CrossFit. "So the number on the scale might not necessarily be moving even though your pants are feeling looser and your tummy is feeling hungrier," she said.
"As a society, we are so fixated on numbers, but at the end of the day, it's about how healthy you are and how good you feel," Johnna added. "While your weight might not be going down, as long as your confidence is going up, then keep pushing yourself to see what's possible inside and outside of the box."
This took a little while to accept, but taking monthly progress photos made me realize that even though the scale numbers were going up, I was gaining muscle and my body composition was changing. I also kept a detailed workout journal so I could have proof that I was lifting more weight, adding more plates to my barbell, moving faster, reaching new goals, and getting stronger.
Most importantly, I was feeling strong emotionally, had a more positive attitude, felt more confident, more connected, more inspired, and happier all around. So who cares what the scale says?!