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Study: Women Don't Notice Weight Gain--Do You Agree?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I read an interview recently with Kathy Ireland, whom many of us know best as the Sports Illustrated cover model. Ireland is now 48 and a successful entrepreneur worth more than an estimated $300 million. I didn't know that about Ireland, so I read a few more articles about her online.

A few years ago, Ireland realized she had put on 25 pounds in as many years--without really noticing. I was not making enough time to take care of me," she told People magazine after successfully and safely losing the weight in 2009.

At first I was surprised. Twenty-five pounds is a good deal of weight--that's the size of a toddler! How could you not notice? But then I thought back to my own weight gain of almost 50 pounds, and I understood exactly what she meant. If you gained 25 pounds overnight, you would notice, but when it creeps on slowly, we tend not to notice.

I didn't gain 50 pounds overnight. I gained 10 my first year of college, yo-yoed another 10 until graduation, then another 10 the year after college, and 20 in less than a year after that. I didn't really think about the weight gain until those last 20 piled on. I was working second shift at the newspaper, going out with friends most nights, eating takeout (and huge portions!) for dinner on a regular basis, and not exercising. Moderation was not in my vocabulary.

If you've never gained weight, it's easy to doubt how people can seem oblivious to their gain. But if you've been there, you can relate--and a recent study bolstered those claims. A study of 466 women over 36 months found that 1 in 3 didn't notice a gain of 4.5 pounds in 6 months, while 25% didn't notice a 9-pound increase during the same time period.

And in 2010, a study found that 4 in 10 overweight women believe themselves to be of normal weight.

These studies certainly flout the stereotypes that most women are hyper-aware of their weight and that most of us believe we're fat.

What do you think? Do you have trouble perceiving your true size?

We often hear from members who have trouble recognizing the person in the mirror after losing weight (I struggle with that even today at my fittest and lowest adult weight), but we don't often talk about the other end of the spectrum.

When I started to gain weight and noticed, I liked my body. I had curves--and people noticed. Then one day, I realized that I had ventured from the upper end of healthy to the lower end of overweight. I knew it was time to do something about it.

Throughout your own weight-loss journey, how did you feel? Did you have trouble recognizing that you had gained weight, or did your struggle with body perception begin after you lost the weight?

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I didn't realize when I gained 5 pounds, but I noticed when it went to 10... I worked out, but wasn't really serious about it. Then again, the next 5 pounds went unnoticed until I hit 10. Did the same. Worked out but wasn't really serious about it. I was too busy.

I have been bouncing between a 10 to a 15 pound weight loss for the last year or so. I can't really focus too much on losing weight because my daughter is starting to envision her underweight body as being fat, even though she has less than 10% body fat. I just exercise and eat healthier. It is better to have my child healthy and overweight rather than obsessed with looking like a barbie. Report
I am more surprised by the amount of posters who have said that they "noticed every single pound". Are you really that attune with your body? Or that obsessed with weight and appearance?
I never really realized when I gained weight after high school or a decade later when job stress and relationships caused me to balloon. I was living my life, enjoying my family and dealing with lifes little issues, I was not focused on my size or weight. I wasnt lacking for dates and I had no health issues and could still wear the same clothing, (mostly). It wasn't till I changed jobs and had to by a different type of wardrobe that I really realized just how heavy I had become.
Things have changed and I am more aware of my size . I have become "obsessed" with excercise and eating correctly, but every once in a while I miss that clueless girl who enjoyed her life and her pie not judging herself or anyone else. Funny but I think that in a way I was happier and more comfortable in my body before I realized I shouldn't be. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Report
Back in University, I guess I was busy having fun and eating what I wanted for a change so I didn't notice that 10-15 I put on. I also had no access to a scale.
Now I'm weighing myself often so I can watch out for trends... I hate when the trend is upwards!! Report
For me it was a question of choosing (perhaps unconsciously) not to notice. It might be possible to really not notice a five or ten-pound weight gain or one that happens very slowly over a long period of time, but once you get into the kind of gain where you're going up sizes, how can you not notice? I had developed all sorts of avoidance tactics so I didn't have to deal with my increasing weight. I didn't own a scale, I wore clothes that camouflaged my size and hid from the camera. Deep down, I knew I had put on a lot of weight, but was too ashamed and felt too defeated to acknowledge it. Confronting my reality head on and developing a realistic plan to deal with it was what finally got me on the right track. Report
I notice I've gained weight when my clothes don't fit right. I probably have about 5 pounds leeway but once I'm more than 5 pounds over my goal weight the waistbands start pinching and I know it's time to start tracking my food. Report
i notice every pound i put on. i can totally tell. if i'm up 3 pounds i can hardly stand it. Report
I notice immediately! Report
I have gained 50 pounds in the past two years. I definitely new I was gaining, but didn't realize what a change it made until I got a glimpse of myself. My whole life I needed to gain weight, so I am having difficulty dieting. Just can't get a routine together, and no self control. The more I try to diet, it causes me to psychologically eat more. ??????? Report
10 pounds is a pant size, I'd definitely notice a gain or a loss if I had to buy new clothes! This is why I do like to have tailored pants instead of only sweat pants, yoga pants and other pants (& skirts) with an elastic band -- it keeps it more manageable to deal with a weight gain and get back in control quickly. Report
I have to agree that I didn't notice I had gained weight either... I had started college and I actually thought I was losing weight because I was in marching band, and even now, when I ask my family if they remember, they saw I was gaining the weight even then. It really didn't hit me how bad I had blown up until I took a trip back home and stood in front of my parents bathroom where they have a full length mirror (and I could see my self as in a 360) and really saw myself for the first time. I was shocked! I knew my clothes had felt a little tight, but I always assumed it was ok because my clothes had always fit a little loose. But after that day, even though I was shocked into reality, I continued to gain weight. While I was in college, I gained a total of 75 lbs in 4 years. Every time I came home I vowed to take the weight off, but it was always a challenge. I now realize this has to be a life change, not just a summer change. I'm doing so much better now, actually weighing myself once a week to keep track of how I'm doing, and so far I've lost 23.5 lbs! Still got a long way to go, but I'm getting healthier every day! :) Report
I don't believe it. How could you not notice your clothes not fitting, they way you sit and move feels different when you put on even 2 lbs.. I notice. I lost 53 lbs. and I fought for it. She was a model and was very fit and active. I find it very difficult to believe that she wouldn't feel anything over the years.

It's one thing to think you are thin or fat when you are not, but to not notice the weight gain when you have been trained to be that fit for a long time, makes no sense. I think she knew and just doesn't want to admit she just failed or didn't care. Report
Call me crazy, but it feels like I've noticed every single pound that I've gained.

To accompany it, I have the added guilt of letting myself go and not doing anything about it. With the thought in the back of my mind, oh, if I eat this fudge sundae, I'll just walk it off later. And then later never came.

Hence, the predicament that I'm in now and having to work harder to achieve my goals.

I agree, I can't say I really noticed my weight gain till I was already too big. It just kind of creeped on over time and I didn't pay attention. Now I'm trying to lose it and it takes just as long to come off. Report
I have to say I don't relate whatsoever to this article. I have always been accutely aware of my weight. Knowing I was gaining didn't necessarily make me work on it, and maybe that is what is being said here. But, how can you not notice when 54 lbs makes your pants tight! Report
I never had to exercise when I was young, ate just about whatever I wanted and never gained a pound.Then as a mother of 3 very active children it seemed like the calories just burned off. It wasn't until all of my kids were out of the home or in college that I had noticed a 10 lb. wieght gain. Still I wasn't overweight but I was concerned that if I didn't take care it could quickly turn into obesity. I begain working out and watching the calories. Now I check my weight weekly and try to eat more healthy.

I am only 5'3" and a very small boned person, I notice just a 2-5 lb wieght gain. I get really tired of people frowning at me when I talk about the need for me to lose weight. Why do they have to compare me to themselves? Just because they have more wieght to lose than I do doesn't nullify my desire to lose only 5 lbs ! Report
I always notice weight gain. Being short, a 5 pound gain is almost an entire pant size. When you are tall, like Kathy Ireland, a 25 pound gain over 25 years would be hard to notice. Also, sizes have changed over the years. I gained 30 pounds over a 15 year period yet the pant size I wore at my heaviest was only 2 sizes larger than the size I wore before I had my first child. Report
I think I noticed every pound I gained but was suprised to learn that others could see it too, like another poster I was also suprised to learn that strangers meet me and know I'm not 21. I turn 30 next month but being one of the younger people in my office and also being unmarried and without children I feel even younger around my peers but then a sales person, or worse yet a high school kid at the mall will call me ma'am and I'm taken aback. Do I really look like a grown up to them? Eeek! Report
I have fought the battle of the bulge all my life pretty much. At 17 i weighed in at 230 lbs but what i didn't realize was that it was not all fat but a lot of muscle. But still i felt like the good year blimp. I didnt' get a lot of flack at school but i sure got it at home- especially from my mom's youngest brother and his wife- they were outright mean about it and to this day i havent' much use for them.Anyhow,l did lose weight eventually and i felt good about myself- then i got married and the stress set in - job loss, illness - you get the picture= and i gained the wieght back plus some. Now i'm on the wieght loss track again - i have lost 100 + lbs and i feel so much better about myself- and the best part is i can wear some of the clothing that was shelved because i was in fat city!! Plus i can buy clothes "off the rack" at discount prices!! I recently joined Zumba but before that i did aerobics, s tep bench, weight training and belly dance plus walking when the weather co operated. I guess i just want to say to all of you out there who are trying so hard to lose the weight, hang in there-you'll succeed. It didnt' come on over night so it won't leave over night either- just be persistent and above all DON'T GIVE UP!! And dont' beat yourself up b/c you gained some poundage- take it day to day and success will be yours!! Report
I think it's easy to lose sight of a SUSTAINED gain when you have a menstrual cycle and your insides drop out once a month. My cycle caused my weight to fluctuate between 7 and 10 pounds each month, so, like most women, I had clothes in 2 or 3 sizes hanging in my closet to accommodate the changes. Now that a monthly cycle is no longer an issue, a true weight gain is immediately apparent and I can actually do something about it. Report
No, I don't agree. I notice every pound I gain and every pound I lose. In a good week I lose more than I gain. Spark On! Report
Throughout my own weight-loss journey, it's taken a while to see that I'm not the same girl who'd be winded going up one flight of stairs. I did have trouble recognizing that I had gained weight before deciding that I needed to get healthier AND I've struggled with body perception after I lost half the weight. Report
I knew, but didn't realize that others knew until my dh took a picture of me walking away from the camera at his sister's wedding. OMG, I looked like that? The following week I found a WW book and started following their plan. When I got to goal I didn't think I looked that good, but I must have because I could fit into my Mom's clothes (she was always slim). On the other hand I still thought of myself as 18 even though I was in my mid-30's. So it's not just weight that I didn't perceive but also my emotional development. By the way I just sent in my Medicare forms this week. Yes, I'm almost 65, but in my mind I'm still in my 30's. Report
Since I don't weigh myself often, I judge by how my clothes fit. I can tell quickly when I've gained weight. I was surprised by this article. Report
When I was thin, I thought I was fat. I finally realized I was thin and started enjoying it. I didn't realize I was fat until a coworker rudely told me so and when I acted surprised asked me, "What? Did you think you were thin?" I think I finally have the right image of my body, but I don't judge my whole self by my fatness or my thinness anymore. I have learned that there is more value to me than the size of my clothes or the thickness of my fat rolls. Report
So Kathy didn't notice that her size 6 jeans were getting tight? Puleeze. Report
When I first hit puberty I gained an all time high at age 12 of 135 lbs. I didn't realize because I was a child of course. Then I lost that weight and maintained at a steady 110 lbs. Through my teenage years I always felt insecure (who doesn't?) because of my height (4"10) and my breasts were large in comparison. I would gain and lose weight without realizing because I was never happy with what I saw in the mirror. Then when I started dating my now husband he spoiled me rotten by taking me out to dinner every night that consisted of a 4 course meal. I noticed almost immediately I gained weight, 10 lbs in 1 month!!! I couldn't believe it I freaked out but then I got depressed and I honestly haven't done anything about it and now I weigh 170 lbs. I knew I wasn't happy with myself but it wasn't until my husband finally took a picture of me that I realized how much damage I had done to myself. Report
I was overweight as a child and teenager. When I was a senior in high school, I lost about 25 lbs, and was at my life-time thinnest. Maybe because of that previous overweight and loss, I noticed my weight gain constantly, daily - I wasn't able to do anything about it, but I certainly knew it was happening. So, maybe the research looked at women who had always been in the normal range - maybe they were just used to being normal, they didn't notice their weight gain. Report
I have to say I didn't realize HOW much weight I had gained, knew I had gained some, but not until I sat down in front of a full length mirror and said wow look how big my thigh looks and realized, it wasn't the mirror... it was how big my thigh had actually gotten. Don't get me wrong I knew I needed larger clothes but didn't own a scale at the time and never really took the time to look in the full length mirror to see how I really looked. It was surprising how much I had gained and where I had gained it. Weight and nutrition are definitely need to be closely monitored and I wasn't and to be honest--still not giving it the time and energy I need to.
I don't see how a woman could gain weight and not notice. Anything more than a few pounds, clothes start feeling a little snug and I quickly get myself into check by cutting a few calories and adding a little extra to my cardio routine. Report
"A study of 466 women over 36 months found that 1 in 3 didn't notice a gain of 4.5 pounds in 6 months, while 25% didn't notice a 9-pound increase during the same time period."

So, 67% of women *noticed* the 4.5 lb weight gain, and 3 in 4 *noticed* the 9 lbs. I think your conclusion, that women don't notice weight gain, is flawed. Report
Yes this is so true. It's easier than one would think to gain weight without even realizing it. A long time ago I was thin, but then life happened, and things got in the way. Then other things happened, like depression, and forced retirement, and before you know it, you're this person in the mirror who doesn't bear any resemblance to the image of yourself that you have in your head. I've tried so many times to lose weight, bad ways, and it just isn't easy, or fun. I've been pretty stable for awhile now, so maybe something good will happen. Sorry if this sounds weird, but I've been a member for a long time, guess I'm just not 'ready' to comply. Anyway, yes, weight sneaks up on you! It's very insiduous! Report
Unfortunately I was too focused on other things going on in my life to pay attention to my weight, until one day I got on the scale and at almost 200 pounds (and "obese" BMI) it was a shock and a wake up call. I didn't see myself as "obese." I know I had gained "a few" pounds because I was buying larger sized clothes, but I didn't think I had gained 50 pounds in 9 years because it was so gradual.
Now I weigh more often and eat healthier and am able to maintain a slow but steady weight loss until I get down to my healthy goal weight. Report
At first I thought this premise was crazy, since ALL women notice weight gain - but then as I read the article and started thinking about it, I had to agree that it seems to hold true for me and those around me as well.
Over the years since high school, I have gained over 20 pounds... and fluctuated higher at times, like during preganancy AND right before I discovered SP (I love SP!). But I am talking a solid 20 whole pounds! Now granted, I was very thin in high school, like many of us were. But 20 pounds is a LOT! And I am small (5'2"), so it is really a lot. I never owned a scale, and always went by how my clothes fit. In my 20's, instead of having all my clothes be loose, they all fit ;-). Plus, I used to buy new clothes and get rid of the prior "season" all the time...
Fast forward to today... I am 50... I will never be back to my high school weight (it was very low, and that was without trying) but I am struggling to be back to the '20 lbs higher' weight, and then my next goal is the weight I was in my 20's.
I can see how many of my friends and acquiantances over the years have really not "noticed" how they have grown... and may truly see themselves as they were in high school or college when they look in the mirror. So even though I have never been a proponent of letting the scale get control of my mind, this article was eye opening for me.
Thanks for adding it as a resource for us!! Report
Who in the world took the survey???? I notice in my clothes first, in how my body feels, and in how I feel about myself! Maybe I don't notice the first ounces---but I do notice!! Report
A 25 lb increase in weight is a jump up in clothing size (2 - 3 sizes). How can you not notice if can no longer squeeze your body into you current clothing or that you are now buying 10's or 12's instead of the 6's you used to buy? Report
I totally agree that women have trouble perceiving their true size - for good or for bad. You may not notice the weight creeping up but it works the opposite way too - if you lose a bunch of weight, it's hard to see yourself as this new thin person. You look in the mirror and don't see the size 8 that other people see - you still see the size 14 you were. It's a tough thing. Report
I agree with Crowley123. I notice the weight gain but it is insidious. I keep thinking that it is only a couple of pounds and I can get this off...it doesn't matter that much. It is only when it increases to another size in clothes that it becomes an issue and I set up and decide to address it. Report
I can't speak about any woman but myself, but I can tell you that I notice. I notice every single pound. I just didn't DO anything about it until those pounds accumulate to the weight of a toddler or a teenager! But I am doing something now, and I'm down the size of 2 newborns, working off the rest. Report
I think women notice, it is just when it is a little at a time you suddenly realize how it has added up.
Most of this crap on my frame got on because my mind was occupied with a lot of everything else. It was college, and my mom is still a horrible cook, meaning I knew diddly squat about cooking. Second, I was in a nasty-difficult course of study (Computer Science) and mom made no secret about how she HATED my choice of college, that she didn't want to pay for it, that I should have just gone to trade school, so I was going to take the classes that would get me a **job.** (Meaning I didn't tell her about electives, and didn't have much of a social life).

Oh, then my twin sister got into a nasty row with mom over college and everything else, walked out, and Mom threatened to cut her off. Aunt (mom's sister) intervened and took over support for twin. Mom hit roof and has refused to speak to her sister since (this was 1996...do the math). I kept my beak shut because I didn't want to make the situation worse and already had a mess on my hands.

Then, I wanted to get some independence, so I started working. It turned into full time work (fast food grave shift)/full time school. My mom's reaction to saying I was overwhelmed and in pain was to crow how "proud" she was of me for earning a paycheck. And since we're talking minimum wage, I was pretty much living on the company discount. Not the healthiest fare, but it was what I could afford.

I went from 130 to 190.

Then, I started working 2 jobs, 16 hours a day, 6 days a week to pay off my student loans. Followed by a dead-end job at a call center with high volume, high stress, hours that changed with the boss's whims, and not a lot of support. Ther good news was that I started to get my depression treated.

Came out of that at about 225 or 230.

Now, I have stable hours, a relatively stable gig, I'm still getting treatment for depression. I don't talk much with my relations, who live 60 miles away and continue to feud. I'm just trying to burn off the visual reminders of bad times. Report
Felt every pound, as it went on. Even saw the dr, since the gain was consistent, 1.5 lbs every single month. He told me it was due to my age & metabolizm. Here I am, tooooo many lbs overweight & you are correct it sure goes on easier than it comes off. Report
I know exactly what you're talking about! But I have that "wake up one day fat" problem... it all creeps on, and one pant size bigger isn't a big deal, it will come off right? And it's just "one" splurge meal, right? And the list goes on and on! Well, I've been a "big girl" all my life and was teased/bullied for it for most of my life. I'm on my second "lifestyle change" and hope that once I reach my goal I can maintain it this time. It was so much work the first time to loose the 60lbs, but then one day I woke up...... "fat again"..... and after many yo-yo fad diets and "as seen on TV" offers... i'm back to what really works. A life re-vamp... the whole big "lifestyle change".... and that's exactly what it is! No joke.... and I hope, this time.... I never "wake up fat" again.. Report
This surely wasn't my experience. I gained 25 pounds in 25 years and noticed every single pound. I lamented every single pound. THOUGHT I was attempting to reduce my calories to lose the weight, and got so discouraged each time I "cut back" for a few weeks only to see the scales not change. It was only with some re-education through SparkPeople, along with the wonderful nutrition tracker that I was able to lose a pound a week until they were all gone. I'm now 128 weeks into "maintenance" and don't ever plan to get frustrated with pound-by-pound weight gain again! Report
I put on a consistent 2 pounds a year. I knew what the scale was saying but did not really feel the difference. Clothes would still fit for several years but slowly the sizes increased. Now over fifty with the help of SparkPeople I will start the process in reverse, slowly getting back fitness I have lost and losing pounds along the way. Report
I'm 5 ft 2. It's obvious rather quickly ( to me) when I put on 5 lbs. I don't have to get on the scale to know that. If I take an honest look at myself when showering, I can see the difference. Whether I choose to keep it in my consciousness and do something about it, or pretend it's not happening , makes the difference between 5 pounds becoming 8 or 9 lbs(which is a whole dress size when you are my
height.) Report
I notice when weight gain whenever i step on the scale,
or when my periode arrives monthly then it is time to hit
the teen Midol.
so this interview is just a little far fetched. How can you not notice weight gain. Report
So true it creeps up on you then all of a sudden you are 80 pounds heavier its like wehre did it come from ? Years of not paying attention I am one who must monitor my weight by the scale Report
I've always been aware of my weight. As a teen I thought I was fat, but I wasn't. I just had a poor self image. Through the years I've noticed all the gains and loses, but it wasn't until I was 160 pounds that I started worrying about it and trying to diet. Even now, I notice as little as a 7 pound gain. But I think it all depends on how aware the person is. Sometimes I haven't been as aware and 10 or so will climb on before I realize it.

As for body perception...I guess I'll see how I view my body when I've lost more weight. All I know is that when I was young and thin I thought I was fat. Now I'm fat and I see myself as thin...unless I'm looking in a mirror. I know I'm not thin, but mentally I have that image, and I believe it will help me lose the weight. Report
For me, it was one day, I looked in the mirror, and I was fatter, than I ever wanted to be. It crept up on me slowly, and bang! Once when I was in my forty's, I lost 20 pounds, and didn't notice until I went to put on a dress for a wedding, and it literally fell off. I had to go in a weigh myself. Unreal! Report
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