The Real Reason Exercise Might Be Making Your Waist Bigger

Have you started a new exercise routine and notice your waist is getting bigger? That can be a little alarming for anyone trying to reduce their waist size through exercise and diet. And achieving a slimmer waist isn't just a boost for your self-esteem. According to Harvard Health, women with a smaller waist — 28 inches or less — are at the "lowest risk for heart disease." Additionally, when your weight remains stable, you can reduce your risk of diabetes and some cancers.

So, what causes this area to bulk up instead of slim down? According to Livestrong, while exercise burns calories, it also makes you hungrier and makes your muscles larger. That includes your abs and lower back muscles — and when they grow, it can make your waist bigger. However, that doesn't mean you should stop working out. There are some things you can do to keep or get a slimmer waistline.

Eat for a smaller waist

Livestrong recommends healthy portion control for a smaller waist. First, try tracking your calories to see if you are consuming a healthy amount every day. According to Healthline, active women need about 1,500 calories a day for weight loss of about one pound a week. That's a deficit of 500 calories a day from the 2,000 daily calories recommended to maintain current weight. Of course, precisely how many calories you need depends on your age, weight, height, and sex. 

When it comes to your diet, Healthline recommends avoiding or limiting refined carbs, alcohol, sugar, sodium, and processed foods. Instead, eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Also, don't be afraid of some healthy fats in your diet like almonds, cashews, fatty fish, and avocados. These healthy fats are good for your heart and easy to digest. Now that you have your diet down, let's get to your exercise.

Exercises for a smaller waist

According to Healthline, exercises like yoga, planks, and HIIT can help trim down your waist size. While activities like yoga and planks can tone your abdominal muscles and burn calories, HIIT might be helpful for burning abdominal fat. Live Healthy Chron recommends aerobic exercise in general for burning calories and reducing fat, and says this is a more effective approach than trying to target an individual "problem area" with spot-reducing exercises. But while these kinds of exercises can help cut the inches, there are also some workout no-nos if your aim is a smaller waist.

The big thing to avoid is doing ab exercises with weights. Per Live Healthy Chron, you can still work your abs without weights — your core will become stronger, but without bulking up as much. Bodybuilding also points out that one specific exercise can make your waist bigger by building your oblique muscles: weighted side bends. This exercise may make your waistline bigger because your obliques are located on either side of your waist. So when it comes to your abs, leave the weights on the rack. With the right diet and exercises, you should begin to see the inches on your measuring tape go down.