Causes of Weight Gain

1.  Diet and Dehydration: It is no surprise that what you eat affects your weight. A diet high in fat, sugar and carbohydrates results in an excessive caloric intake which results in weight gain. A diet which has the appropriate caloric intake, yet is satisfying, will result in long term weight loss. This may be accomplished by a diet high in fiber and protein. Protein allows for satiation and maintains muscle mass which helps maintain metabolism. Vegetables are an excellent source of fiber and allow for further satiation and provide the vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy diet. In addition, dehydration may be confused with hunger, which may result in overeating. In order to prevent this, make sure you have a diet high in protein and vegetables and are well hydrated throughout the day to curb hunger symptoms.

2.  Sedentary Lifestyle: The less you move the more weight you will probably gain. It is as simple as the first law of thermodynamics, if you do not burn the energy in the food that you eat, it will be stored as fat. An active lifestyle is encouraged. Anything from taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going to the gym three times a week will assist in the amount of calories that are burned and thereby prevent weight gain.

3.  Mood: An individual’s mood, level of motivation, level of boredom, anxiety or depression is a major cause of weight gain. These feeling are known to cause people to seek for a source of relief with food. Many depressed or anxious individuals may look for a box of cookies or a bag of potato chips to treat their symptoms, resulting in weight gain. Unfortunately, this weight gain is a downward spiral to worsened mood and depression, resulting in more overeating. The cause of depressed mood needs to be identified and treated in order to see success.

4.  Metabolic Disorder: Vitamin deficiencies or endocrine disorders may trigger the desire to eat. Many vitamin deficiencies result in fatigue that may trigger overeating. Some vitamin deficiencies that may lead to overeating include vitamin D, iron, or vitamin B deficiencies. Thyroid or insulin disorders may also result in weight gain or over ating. Hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland is under active, results in a decrease in metabolism and weight gain, although it may not always be associated with increased appetite. Diabetes is known to cause weight gain through overeating. These disorders may easily be diagnosed and treated by your primary care physician.

5.  Medications: Many medications have the side effect of causing the desire to overeat. These medications include seizure prevention medications, antidepressants, antianxiety, antipsychotics, and some diabetes medications. It is important to note that these medications should not be stopped because of fear of weight gain. However, if weight gain is a side effect that is experienced, a discussion with the prescribing doctor may explore other options.

6.  Sleep deprivation: Sleep deprivation may result in weight gain through two different mechanisms. First, when people stay up at night, they are more likely to snack. Secondly, sleep deprivation results in exhaustion, which is usually self-treated by eating, particularly carbohydrates. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation results in a decrease in a hormone called leptin, which is responsible for giving a feeling of fullness.1  Thus, sleeping less may lead to eating more.

7.  Stress: A stressful lifestyle will result in weight gain through many components. People who are stressed usually do not have the time to pay attention to their diet, water intake and sleep needs. This usually results in overeating and indulgence in poor quality foods that result in weight gain. In addition, stress has been shown to increase levels in the cortisol hormone, which increases carbohydrate craving and abdominal weight gain. People who are stressed usually do not have time to exercise and make efforts to alleviate their symptoms with comfort foods, which are usually weight gain triggers.

8.  Muscle loss: Long periods of hunger or lack of adequate nutrition puts the body in a starvation mode and makes the body tap into muscle stores to maintain nutrition. This results in muscle loss and thereby a decrease in metabolism. This starvation may either be forced through diets or through periods of illness where there is inadequate food intake. Thus, in order to maintain a healthy metabolism, it is imperative to maintain muscle mass. Muscle mass in supported through a diet that is high in protein and an exercise regimen that includes resistance training. People who attempt weight loss through decreased food intake will only see momentary success in their weight loss goal because of the loss of muscle mass and a pause in the metabolism that results from inadequate nutrition.

9.  Menopause: Menopause is a time where most women notice their most weight gain. The reason behind this is the drop in estrogen that is experienced during this time of a woman’s life. Estrogen is known to support muscle mass, thus a drop in this hormone will result in a decrease in muscle mass and thus metabolism. Therefore, it is imperative that women pay extra attention to their protein intake and resistance training during this time of their life.

10.  Exercise: Although it seems counterintuitive, exercise may be a source of weight gain. This is only seen when people overestimate the amount of exercise they do and feel that because they “exercise” they can eat whatever they want. It is important to understand that exercise is a supplement to dieting when it comes to weight loss and that ultimately people need to watch what they eat in order to see results. However, an effective exercise regimen will exponentially improve weight loss results when done with an appropriate diet. Many successful people may exercise, but not notice any change in their scale weight. This is due to the simple fact that muscle weighs more than fat. When exercising and loosing fat, you may gain muscle, yet loose inches in size. Understanding this may prevent discouragement when changes are not noticed in scale weight at times of successful exercise.

Here I have only brushed upon 10 of the many possible causes of weight gain. I hope to delve into each one with more detail in future articles. Again, in order to see successful weight loss, the cause must be identified. Proper understanding of the different causes will enable success.


1Spiegel, K. et al.  Leptin levels are dependent on sleep duration: relationships with sympathovagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol and thyrotropin.  The journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism. Nov. 2004: volume 89, no. 11, pg. 5762-5711.

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