There’s a long list of possible reasons for unexpected weight gain.
Typically, weight gain can be easily attributed to overeating. Sometimes, however, you may gain weight for an unexplained or misunderstood reason.
Metabolism slows down as you age. This can cause weight gain if you eat too much, eat the wrong foods, or don’t get enough exercise.
“Changes in total body weight vary for men and women. Men often gain weight until about age 55, and then begin to lose weight later in life. This may be related to a drop in the male sex hormone testosterone. Women usually gain weight until age 65, and then begin to lose weight,” according to MedlinePlus.
Even in younger people, when you go a long time between eating meals, then eat a large meal, your body releases more insulin, promoting fat storage, the body’s evolutionary survival technique.
“Eating more frequently, while making more healthy choices, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, can make a huge difference,” says Jennifer S. Earvolino, MD, an internal medicine doctor at Rush Medical Center in Chicago. "Otherwise, even when we eat the same amount that we did in the past, we'll be burning fewer of those calories per day and gain weight over the years.”
Some drugs can cause weight gain, including birth control pills, corticosteroids, some drugs used to treat mental illness, and some drugs used to treat diabetes.
Hormone changes or medical conditions can also be causes including Cushing syndrome, an underactive thyroid, polycystic ovary syndrome, and menopause.
Other reasons for putting on weight can include fluid retention. This is familiar to most women as a premenstrual symptom. But if the weight gain is more than a couple of pounds it may be worth seeing your doctor and being checked.
"If someone's retaining a lot of water — enough to add more than a couple of pounds — they'd better get to their physician very quickly to make sure they don't have heart or kidney failure, both of which can cause edema, or swelling," says Robert Berkowitz, MD, medical director of the University of Pennsylvania Weight and Eating Disorders Program, though he adds that such problems are much more likely to afflict older women.
Some studies have shown that people who sleep fewer than seven hours a day may be more likely to be overweight than those who get nine hours of sleep or more. It’s not clear why, but one theory suggests that sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin, the chemical that makes you feel full, and higher levels of ghrelin, the hunger-stimulating hormone, according to the U.K. NHS.
“If you’re always feeling tired, you are more likely to reach for high-calorie snacks to keep your energy levels up throughout the day and do less physical activity, which means you burn fewer calories,” says NHS dietitian Catherine Collins.
Being overweight or obese to begin with makes sleep apnea, or interrupted breathing, more likely, so it’s a vicious cycle if you’re putting on pounds.
“On top of this, people who don't sleep well are at a higher risk of becoming obese. In 2004 a Stanford University and University of Wisconsin study found that sleep-deprived people had higher levels of a hormone that triggers appetite and lower levels of a hormone that suppresses it,” writes Tania Haas.
April 08, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN