Most people would agree that losing weight is no easy task. It takes long-term commitment and dedication to lose excess pounds and keep them off. A big part of this effort involves eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise.
But sometimes, you may find that weight loss just isn’t happening, even though you’re working hard to be as healthy as possible. In some cases, people may have a hard time losing weight despite a healthy diet and exercise. They may even continue to gain weight. Why?
There is no one answer for everyone, but there are some very common hidden causes of weight gain that are worth exploring. If you’re working hard to be healthy but can’t slim down, take a look at some of the reasons this can occur, and see if you may need to make any lifestyle adjustments.
Lack of sleep
We all know that going to the gym is more difficult when we’re exhausted. But, lack of sleep can do even more to sabotage your weight loss efforts than just leave you feeling tired. Studies show that not getting enough sleep is associated with higher body weight. Insufficient sleep may also change the body’s hunger hormones, which could lead to less healthy food choices or overeating.
The solution: Make sleep a priority, not only for your weight, but for better overall health. Cut out unnecessary activities that are robbing you of your sleep time, such as watching TV at night or scrolling through social media. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Try some of these additional tips for resetting your sleep schedule.
We all experience stress, but when it happens too frequently, it can disrupt the hormones that control appetite and weight gain. The hormones cortisol and ghrelin are connected to stress and anxiety, and some studies have shown a link between disrupted levels of these hormones and increased weight.
The solution: Find healthy ways to manage stress that don’t involve food and drink. Try exercise, meditation, deep breathing, guided imagery, yoga, relaxing music, or a favorite sport or hobby.
The body retains fluid, or water, for many reasons. Many women experience extra water retention as part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). They may see some weight gain several days before their period. But there are other reasons for water weight gain, including:
- Standing for long periods
- Eating too much salt
- Taking hormone replacement therapy
- Taking medication for high blood pressure
The solution: Usually, fluid retention can be managed by cutting back on salt, drinking more water, and moving around throughout the day. This may help you drop a pound or two of water if you’ve been holding on to excess fluid.
Sometimes, fluid retention and swelling can be caused by a serious condition like heart failure, kidney or liver disease, or other issues. If the swelling doesn’t go away within a few days, see your doctor to rule out any health problems.
The thyroid gland is responsible for many different hormones in the body and regulates how the body uses energy from food. When thyroid hormone levels are too low, this is known as hypothyroidism. People with hypothyroidism may find it nearly impossible to lose weight. Signs of this condition include:
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Low energy and fatigue
- Feeling cold
The solution: The best way to find out if you have an underactive thyroid is to talk to your doctor. If you have symptoms of the condition and risk factors, your doctor may recommend blood tests to check your hormone levels.
If you’re on prescription medications of any kind, it may be helpful to check the full list of side effects. Many medications — too many to name — list weight gain as a possible side effect. Some of the most common ones include:
- Beta-blockers used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure
- Birth control pills
- Estrogen and/or progesterone for hormone therapy
- Heartburn drugs like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
- Migraine treatments
- Steroids for asthma, arthritis, or other conditions
- Anti-seizure medications for epilepsy
- Some breast cancer medications, including Tamoxifen
- Rheumatoid arthritis medications
The solution: Never stop taking your medications without discussing it with your doctor. Not everyone who takes these drugs will have weight gain as a side effect, but it’s worth asking your doctor if you find the pounds won’t come off. Sometimes your doctor may be able to find a different treatment that works better for you without the side effects of weight gain.
Many people who adopt very aggressive exercise programs find that they don’t necessarily lose pounds. This could be because you’re actually gaining muscle, which weighs more than fat (this is a good thing!). Or, many people assume that after a good workout, they can eat a very large snack or larger meals. They overestimate how many calories they burned during their sweat session. As a result, they end up eating far more calories than they burned.
The solution: Don’t use just the number on the scale as a measure of success. A stronger body and more muscle tone are positives for your health, even if the number doesn’t come down as much as you’d like. Keep a food journal to be sure you’re not eating more than you need, even with a solid workout routine.
It’s not your imagination: as we age, our metabolism naturally slows down. This means that you’ll likely need fewer calories and more activity to maintain your current weight. To lose weight, you’ll have to be even more conscious of your calorie intake and burn.
The solution: Don’t try to “just eat less,” as this is often too difficult due to hunger and tiredness. Instead, you’ll likely need a customized weight-loss plan that works with your body type to determine which foods and supplements are best for you.
You may also find that an intermittent fasting program is helpful. These types of plans help you schedule your eating times and give your metabolism a boost. Talk with a doctor who specializes in weight loss to get a plan that works for your specific body type and lifestyle.
If you think any of these hidden causes of weight gain are affecting you, we can help. At Garcia Weight Loss, our customized weight-loss plans are designed to treat the underlying causes of weight gain, reset metabolism, and optimize health. Request your no-cost weight loss consult today!
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on August 15, 2018