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Healthy Living

5 Unexpected Reasons You're Gaining Weight

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 03/13/2012
Last Updated: 03/13/2012

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I don't understand why I'm gaining weight! I'm exercising, eating healthy, cutting my portions. If I'm doing everything right, then why don't my pants fit anymore? What the ^%&*^&*^& 3 # is going on???

Sound familiar? Maybe you've said this or heard it from any number of unhappy people around you. Mighty frustrating to be trying your best and still find unwanted pounds creeping up on you. So much for positive reinforcement.

Turns out there are things you might not even consider that are contributing to that extra weight.

  1. Medication. There are lots of meds out there that can pack on the pounds. Certain classes of antidepressants can stimulate your appetite. Antihistamines can interfere with your sleep patterns (see the next item for more on that). Other medications that can mess with your weight include diabetes drugs, migraine and blood pressure medications, steroids and some cancer therapies. It might be a good time to take stock of what you're putting in your mouth (besides food) and review your medications. Many people take more than they truly need. A medication might no longer be necessary or might have become ineffective; or it can duplicate, or overlap, with the effect of another drug you're taking for a different condition.
  2. Sleep. There are a few things at work when you don't get enough of it. First, maybe it's because you're up later; more hours might translate into more snacking time. (Ok, I know—that's obvious.) But the less obvious reason lack of sleep is bad for your waistline is this: biochemically, your body is doing all sorts of things when you're not sleeping enough. The production of two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, are busy getting all out of whack. Skimping on sleep drives leptin levels down. The result? Failure to wave the white flag when you're full. And ghrelin rises as sleep quantity and quality fall, stimulating your appetite and setting you up for overeating.
  3. Eating after exercising. You'd think that an hour at the gym today gives you permission to indulge in dessert tonight. All that sweating had to burn a zillion calories, right? Um, no. It's OK to eat after exercising, but so often we overestimate the amount of calories we burn. In fact, a study showed that overweight women who exercised one to two hours a week without dieting lost several pounds in six months. BUT women who exercised the most—about three hours a week—didn't lose as much as they should have. Chances are they rewarded all their hard work with too many calories, consuming more than they actually burned. And if you're showering your treadmill with kisses for telling you you've burned tons of calories, don't be so lovey-dovey: machines lie (or, a better way to put it is to say they are inaccurate). Studies have found that both people and machines inaccurately perceive their calorie burn.
  4. Stress. Sure, life can get out of control … and stress levels peak. We're only human, after all. But what also peaks is secretion of the "stress hormone" cortisol, which causes an increase in your appetite. And when we're stressed, we probably aren't stuffing carrot sticks into our mouths, but rather things like chocolate, ice cream and chips. That's because their fatty acids activate areas of the brain that boost our moods, according to research.
  5. Hypothyroidism. You might not realize the reason you're feeling tired or sluggish, constipated or have difficulties with concentration or dealing with cold temperatures might be a sluggish thyroid, which can also account for a slower metabolism and subsequent weight gain. Thyroid disease, which goes largely undiagnosed, affects far more women than it does men. Have you had yours checked lately? Usually it's done with a simple TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) blood test.



You've given me good reasons to go for my annual physical. Perhaps, there is a reason for my sluggishness. Great article!

Well, Lila, I do hope you uncover a reason for your sluggishness. Good luck!

I interviewed a guy once who told me that exercising to make up for food extras was ALWAYS a losing game. Pretty discouraging, but likely true.

But it's still better for your health to keep exercising, despite his discouraging message! It does continue to rev up your metabolism for hours after you quit.

Great points. What about aging? Isn't it true that our metabolisms slow as we age?

Brette, According to the Mayo Clinic: Your age. "As you get older, the amount of muscle tends to decrease and fat accounts for more of your weight, slowing down calorie burning."

BUT - they also do say this:
... "contrary to common belief, a slow metabolism is rarely the cause of excess weight gain. Although your metabolism influences your body's basic energy needs, it's your food and beverage intake and your physical activity that ultimately determine how much you weigh."

Good reminders, I must admit that when I workout it does seem like it's okay to eat a little more--but it does defeat the purpose of working out in the first place

We went on diets and my husband lost 22 pounts. I lost like 5. I think I could gain some insight here. Thanks for giving me some things to think about. Sleep is probably definitely a factor for me.

He lost 22 to your 5? Aargh. Men do seem to lose more quickly...although maybe he had more to lose; don't know. All my husband has to do is cut down on his eating for 2 days, and he can lose 4-5 pounds. Me? A month.(Maybe).

It's so hard not to look at those numbers on the treadmill and THINK you're doing so well... I've started draping a towel over the info so it doesn't affect me mentally!

Interesting list. Especially the last one. More and more people, mostly women, have this problem. Another sign is brittle hair. If you have gained weight, and have brittle hair, do get yourself tested.

Yes, Alexandra. I'm meeting so many women who are finding out that their thyroid is not functioning properly.

Add to that list gluten intolerance/Celiac disease. I'm told by my doctor that a body that is having trouble absorbing nutrients due to these issues will hang on to extra weight (in an attempt to find what it needs??).

I agree with Roxanne...it's a slippery slope to think you can eat more if you exercise.

I do tend to eat more if I'm exercising more. I need to pay better attention to those food choices and not just grab the nearest (high-fat) thing.

Jane, I find that knowing ahead of time when I will eat and what I will eat helps. I think often people simply go through the day with little planning about ALL their meals.

Antidepressants? Check. Insomnia? Check. Stress? Sometimes. But mostly, I blame my husband. ;)

I gained about 30 pounds after I started dating my now-husband. Recently, I read a magazine piece that explained the weight-gain-after-marriage phenomenon (unfortunately, I can't for the life of me remember which magazine it was). One of the causes leapt out at me.

When we get comfortable in a relationship, we spend less active quality time together, and instead choose to veg out on the couch while eating dinner and watching Netflix. Or some such thing. Guilty! I've started dragging my husband out on daily walks, and suggesting out-of-the-condo dates.

I like the out-of-condo dates and walk ideas. It's too easy to get comfortable and veg on the couch, isn't it? Although, maybe this early spring weather will encourage more walking (?) from all couch potatoes out there!

Are you looking through my window!??!!?!?

Yeah--I've suffered from all of these problems! Sad but true.

How disappointing. I was hoping my gym membership would give me carte blanche at dessert.

Am definitely noticing that ah, with time, the metabolism seems to slow. Is there research to support this theory of the expanding waistline after a certain age and stage in life?

Muscle mass tends to decrease with age (that's why it's so important to work those muscles!). And that decrease in muscle mass leads to an increase in fat, which burns fewer calories than muscle does. Maintaining weight, then, becomes a matter of reducing the number of calories in your diet or increasing your physical activity just to maintain your current weight. It's all a balancing act, I'm afraid..

These are causes of weight gain that so many people overlook. And subclinical thyroid disease is a significant problem in the U.S., especially among older women. It's actually a good idea to have a complete thyroid panel that includes, not just TSH, but also T4 and maybe T3 to totally evaluate thyroid functioning.

Try meditation! Meditation will calm those emotions and reactions to the ups and downs of weight gain. Who we are is developed in our brains so instead of simply focusing on how we look and assuming that is who we are, meditate our way to feeling better about ourselves, and then all these techniques will work so much better.

I'm being told another culprit is poor nutrient absorption. If the body can't absorb nutrition (as with Celiac) it tries to hold onto whatever it can, thus making it hard to drop weight. Have you heard of such a thing?


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