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June 14, 2016
By L. Carr, Contributing Columnist
So you eat right, work out, and lead a healthy lifestyle but you’re still
gaining weight? What’s with that? If the scale doesn’t reflect the effort
you’re making to stay slim, there could be a hidden reason for weight
It’s understandable to feel frustrated when the waistband on your
pants gets every tighter. But is it really your fault? Any number of
factors from the amount of sleep you get to the vitamins you take could
be affecting your weight. Sometimes you gain weight when your bodies
react to circumstances you can’t control. Why exactly are the pounds
piling on? What can you do to stop the weight gain?
The Scientific Reason for Why We Gain Weight
Normally, what causes weight gain and obesity is startlingly simple. A
lack of energy balance. Your energy balance means that the energy you
are taking in (through food) is equal to the energy that you put out
(through normal living, and exercise.) When your energy balance is
equal, your weight remains the same.
You don’t have to have an exact energy balance every day, all the time,
but how the balance looks over time is what affects whether you gain
or lose weight.
Therefore, if you take more energy in that you put out, over time you
will gain weight. You may be eating a lot of calories. Or you may lead
an inactive lifestyle – only 1 in 5 adults meet the 2008 Physical Activity
Guidelines of 2.5 hours moderate intensity aerobic activity per week
and muscle strengthening activities two days a week, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Large portions, long work hours and no time to work out, and lack of
access to healthy foods tip the energy balance in the direction of
Why Am I Gaining Weight?
But if you exercise on a regular basis, watch your diet, and you’re still
gaining weight, is there another problem? You may not have
considered all of the surprising reasons for weight gain. Your body is a
complex thing and weight gain is often not as simple as an “energy in,
energy out” equation. Sometimes the equation doesn’t work. Different
factors may affect your weigh that have nothing to do with the amount
of calories you eat or the exercise you take.
For example, lack of sleep can affect your weight. Medications can
cause you to gain weight.
And are you really being truthful with yourself about your “diet”? You
may be making mistakes when you choose “low fat” food options –
these can be high in sugar and this can cause weight gain. And many
people continue to believe they are dieting when they have salads for
lunch, but “forget” about the slices of cake they also ate because they
still felt hungry. You’re eating the kids’ leftovers every night. You
forget that alcohol contains calories. Sometimes you eat so distractedly
you don’t even notice you are doing it, like when you snack in front of
What to Do If You Are Gaining Weight?
If you are concerned about weight gain and not sure why you are
piling on the pounds, check with your doctor or a dietician to get to the
bottom of the issue. Your doctor will check for any medical conditions
or medications that may be causing a gain, and look at any lifestyle or
We looked at recent scientific studies to find out some unusual reasons
for weight gain. Are they affecting your body?
1. You’re Depressed and Gaining Weight
For a start, if you are taking anti-depressants this can cause weight
gain. But even if you are not taking pills, depression is still linked with
A 2010 study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that
people who felt sad and lonely gained weight more quickly than those
who did not report these depression symptoms.
When suffering from depression you may not be getting much exercise,
and you may be eating greater amounts of high calorie comfort foods.
Serotonin is the culprit behind weight gain in many cases. A 1990 study
from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge suggests that
serotonin “seems to be involved in the abnormal regulation of mood
and food intake that underlies diet failures or weight gain” –
specifically, that depressed people are more likely to increase their
If you are depressed and gaining weight, try to break the viscous cycle
by increasing your activity levels, ideally by working out with friends,
joining a supportive activity group, or adding gentle activity to your
2. Weight Gain Because of Constipation
You may be gaining weight because you have slow bowel movements
and are not eliminating waste from your body efficiently.
Constipation can cause irregular bowel movements and weight gain.
Try to fix it by increasing your intake of fiber-rich foods.
You could also try probiotics. These friendly bacteria may help to
improve constipation, and limit weight gain.
A 2008 study by Hospital Italiano of Buenos Aires, Argentina looked at
266 women who suffered from constipation and ate yogurt containing
the "Bifidobacterium animalis" probiotic and the prebiotic
"fructoligosaccharide" twice a day for two weeks.
The women experienced significant improvement in constipation
symptoms compared to women who ate regular yogurt with no
3. You’re Taking Medications That Cause You to Gain Weight
Count on a long list of medications that could be causing your weight
gain. Steroid supplements, hormone therapy, birth control pills,
steroids, beta blockers, male breast cancer medications, rheumatoid
arthritis treatment, migraine meds and even heartburn medication.
Some medications directly affect your appetite while others can change
However, don’t be so quick to blame the birth control pill. Studies like a
1999 report by the University of Texas-Houston Health Sciences Center
show that users of hormonal contraception do not necessarily
automatically put on weight.
In this study the majority of adolescents who used hormonal
contraception for one year lost weight or gained less than five percent
of their baseline weight. If you think your medications are causing
weight gain, the best thing you can do is visit your doctor and discuss
4. You’re Not Getting Enough Vitamin D
Certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause you to put on
weight. When you have a deficiency your immune system is
compromised, you have lower energy levels, and you are more likely to
eat too many carbs then take up a regular fitness regime.
(Read more about 5 easy ways to cut down on carbs.)
Low vitamin D levels are linked with obesity. A 2015 study from the
University of Milan found that when obese people with vitamin D
deficiency took vitamin D supplements, they lost weight.
5. You’re Getting Older and Gaining Weight
It’s a real problem --- as you get older, you don’t burn as many
calories as you did when you were 20.
You need to look at the type of calories you eat, too – when you eat
lean protein you burn calories more efficiently, and when you eat carbs
you burn them more slowly and more calories are stored in your body
You’ll probably have to increase how much you exercise, too. A 2006
study from Stanford University School of Medicine says that age-related
weight gain happens even to the most active individuals – when
exercise rates are kept constant.
Therefore, the scientists say, you need to increase your levels of
vigorous exercise to compensate for natural age-related weight gain.
The study looked at 8,080 male and 4,871 female runners who
completed questionnaires an average of 17 years apart.
6. Lack of Sleep Can Cause Weight Gain
If you’re not getting enough sleep it could be affecting your weight.
Many studies show that fewer hours sleep add up to more pounds
A 2008 study from University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Case
Western Reserve University looked at 36 separate studies and found
that short sleep duration is independently associated with weight gain.
The reasons for sleep-related weight gain include two main problems: if
you are awake later you are more likely to be snacking and therefore
taking in more calories.
Plus, when you are sleep-deprived you have lower energy and are
more likely to reach for carbs and sugary foods for a quick energy fix.
Hormone changes associated with lack of sleep also affect your appetite.
7. Stress May Also Result in Weight Gain
Lack of sleep and stress often go hand in hand. When you’re stressed
you often reach for unhealthy food to calm your nerves or make
yourself feel better.
Some experts also suggest that the stress hormone, cortisol, is
associated with weight gain. A 2011 study from the Swiss National
Center of Competence in Research on Affective Sciences, Geneva found
that stress at work makes you gain weight.
Researchers looked at 72 employees of a Swiss service company and
tested BMI along with social stressors for a two-year study. They
concluded that stress at work could be confidently linked with a rise in
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