12 Surprising Reasons Why You're Gaining Rather Than Losing Weight
(And How To Counteract Them)

Most of the time, weight gain is easily explicable - perhaps you've been snacking on too much chocolate over Christmas, or you haven't been able to exercise to an injury. Sometimes, however, you will be mystified by the fact that the number on the scales is steadily climbing. Whether you are trying to lose weight or just trying to maintain a healthy weight that you like, this gain can be depressing and deeply frustrating. Here are twelve reasons why this might be happening to you, and what you can do to combat them.

1) Frequent Stress:

Stress problems tend to increase your appetite. This is because stress prompts the body to produce certain 'fight or flight' hormones that boost our hunger (as well as our heart rate, blood pressure, and a number of other bodily functions). Psychologically, stress also encourages weight gain because many people find it soothing or comforting to reach for their (usually unhealthy) favorite snacks when life is getting hard to handle. There are two main ways for you to tackle stress-related weight gain. Given the other negative influences that stress has on the body, your first strategy should be to reduce the amount of stress in your life. If you can't, then you should try to learn better ways to cope with stress (by seeing a counselor or learning relaxing meditation skills, for example). If you cannot reduce your stress levels by attacking the source or by learning how to calm down more quickly and effectively, all you can do is try to exercise willpower and avoid allowing stress to influence the snacks or meals that you choose. Increasing your exercise levels can also help you on two fronts, because exercise burns calories and also helps to reduce stress in many people.

2) Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS):

PCOS is one of the most common reproductive problems diagnosed in younger women, striking perhaps up to 10% of women who are of childbearing age (i.e. roughly 12-45 years old). It involves the development of many small cysts on the ovaries, as well as menstrual disturbances. The hormone disruption caused by PCOS has many unpleasant consequences, including unwanted weight gain (usually because of a higher resistance to insulin). If you also suffer from acne, find that you are hairier than most women and do not have regular periods, ask your doctor about being tested for PCOS. This usually involves blood tests and an ultrasound of your ovaries. If you do have PCOS then you can lose the unwanted weight, but the unfortunate fact of the matter is that you will have to adopt an attitude towards healthy eating and exercise that is substantially more diligent than that of your peers.

3) Looking At Fat Rather Than Calorie Content:

It is good for you to eat foods that are low in fat, but sometimes products can be misleading. If you only look at the fat content of the meal or snack you're buying, you miss the information about the calorie content, and it is unfortunate that many low fat foods are just as high in calories as their more fatty counterparts. If you spend a little bit longer assessing the nutritional information on food packets, you will be less likely to be duped in this way.

4) Aging:

As you get older, your body's metabolism slows down, and this means that you cannot eat as much as you used to without putting on weight. If you are in your 40s and are confused about why you are getting fatter, this drop in metabolic rate may well be the culprit. The best way to counteract this reason for weight gain is to increase the intensity and frequency of your exercise routine, and to be stricter about your eating patterns.

5) Antidepressants:

Certain drug treatments can cause weight gain, and this is not always obvious to you unless you have read and memorized the information that came with your medication. One of the most common forms of medication that causes an increase in weight is antidepressant pills, which may cause substantial weight gain in around 20-25% of those who take them. Obviously, if your antidepressants work well for you then some weight gain is probably a small price to pay, but you might try talking to your doctor about other antidepressants that you might take instead.

6) Quitting Smoking:

Although making the decision to stop smoking is extremely good for your body in a great many respects, most people who do quit smoking end up gaining around 7-10 pounds. Most of this is due to the fact that reaching for cigarettes tends to be replaced with reaching for snacks, but the new absence of nicotine in your body will also lead to a drop in metabolic rate (so you won't be able to eat as much as you used to without gaining weight). To combat the urge to snack on things like chocolate and potato chips, try nicotine gum or healthier snacks like raw carrots and apples. To combat the new drop in metabolism, increase your amount of exercise per week.

7) Steroids:

Corticosteroids are used to treat a whole host of health problems (from arthritis to brain tumors), but they are particularly bad for causing weight gain in their users. This is partly through an appetite-boosting side effect, and partly because they tend to cause water retention (especially around the abdomen). It is also quite common for them to cause certain areas to become noticeably more fatty, particularly around the face and the back of the neck. Most of the reasons for prescribing steroids are much more significant than whether the patient gains some weight, but there may be alternative treatments that you can try. This is highly dependent on your condition, so talk to your doctor about your weight concerns, your particular health problem, and what you might be able to take instead of corticosteroids.

8) Sleep Problems:

If you are not getting the advised eight hours of sleep each night or you are getting those hours of sleep at times that are not optimal, this could be playing a significant role in your weight gain problems. If you are in the former category and are not managing to sleep for a long enough period each night, the reason you're gaining weight is that the balance of hormones in your body changes when you are not well rested. You will feel hungrier more of the time, and food will satisfy you for shorter periods of time. This can lead to absentminded snacking that adds up to weight gain over the course of days and weeks. If you are in the latter category and are sleeping at odd hours, you are probably rummaging around in the kitchen at around midnight for an extra snack while you watch television or put in extra hours of work. It is not always easy to fix the sleep problems that cause weight gain, especially if there is a factor like insomnia or a newborn baby. If you can, be more disciplined about the amount you sleep and the time at which you go to bed. If that is not an option for you, then try to compensate by being more aware of any late night or more frequent snacking. Once you are aware of it, you will find it easier to abstain or to swap chocolate bar snacks for fresh fruits or healthy salads. If all else fails, try to increase your weekly exercise level to burn the extra calories your sleep problems are encouraging you to ingest.

9) Hormonal Contraceptives:

Taking hormonal contraceptives (found in the pill as well as the implant) is also correlated with an increase in weight, though this correlation is contentious and warrants further research. If your weight gain is dramatic, discuss the latest studies with your doctor and try to work out whether your change in shape really is related to your form of contraception. If it is, try a different form of contraception, and if you have already tried a few different pills or hormone-producing devices then it might be worth considering switching to a barrier method such as condoms.

10) Cushing Syndrome:

The adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol, which the body needs for a number of reasons—for one thing, it helps to keep blood glucose levels from dropping too low. However, certain factors can cause a problematic increase in cortisol production, and this tends to cause quite dramatic weight gain (especially around the face and the back of the neck). Other symptoms include acne, purple marks on the thighs and abdomen, bone pain, muscle weakness, excess hair growth, and high blood pressure. Much of the time, cortisol increases result from taking the corticosteroid drugs discussed above (which are used to treat arthritis and asthma). Unfortunately, sometimes a cortisol increase is a warning sign that you have developed an adrenal gland tumor (or a tumor of another type), so if these symptoms seem familiar to you then it is vital that you discuss your concerns with a doctor.

11) Thyroid Problems:

Hyperthyroidism is a condition that commonly causes people to lose weight as a result of the thyroid gland producing a higher than average level of a certain hormone. However, hypothyroidism is the opposite condition, and when the thyroid is sluggish about hormone production then weight gain is almost always one of the results. If you are also feeling weak and exhausted, then you should bring these three key symptoms to the attention of your doctor and ask to have your thyroid function investigated. A simple blood test will usually provide the necessary information, and if your thyroid is not functioning properly then there are some quite successful medications that you can try.

12) Pregnancy:

Finally, although everyone knows that women gain weight throughout their pregnancies, remember many pregnancies are surprises. If you are gaining weight and are sexually active, consider taking a pregnancy test just to be sure.

If you have considered all of the above and are still confused about your weight gain, take your worries to a doctor. You will then be asked further questions that might illuminate an underlying medical condition or problematic lifestyle factor. Further, although antidepressants, hormonal birth control and steroids are among the most common medications to cause weight gain, remember they are not the only medications that can have a significant impact on your shape. If you take medication for migraines, bipolar disorder, seizures, diabetes, or high blood pressure, investigate whether there is a chance that switching to a different kind of medication could allow you to regain the body type you desire.

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