The Not-So-Usual Suspects: Some Surprising Weight Gain Causes

The Unusual Suspects.
Photo: exquisitur

Aiding and abetting weight gain – there ought to be a law. But until the scales of justice catch up with these nefarious no-goodnik reasons for gaining weight, we’ll just have to write about them instead. You might be surprised at some of the things out there that could be working against your efforts to get fit.

This article cited a study in which subjects only got 4 hours of sleep as compared to people who got a good night’s sleep. It was found that the sleep-deprived study subjects had an 18% decrease in leptin (the hormone that signals satiety or fullness) and a 28% increase in ghrelin (the hormone that triggers hunger). Overall, sleep deprivation led to a 24% increase in appetite. Not enough zzzzz’s, it appears, could lead to inhaling too many m&m’s. And if that weren’t bad enough, not getting adequate sleep could also impair glucose metabolism which could lead to Type 2 diabetes.

I know what you’re thinking – I can always catch up on my sleep over the weekend. Fresh research shows that this may not be as simple as previously thought. It is recommended that you get around 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Be careful to avoid any stimulants like high sugar or carbs before bedtime. And make sure to have a good sleep-inducing environment: no TV, bright lights or distracting technology. Petula Clark said it best: Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’.

Dudes, you're doing it all wrong!
Photo: wOOkie

A lot has been written about the effects of stress and how it can hinder weight loss. A little stress is okay and generally pretty easy to deal with once the stress-inducing event has passed – like a close call in traffic or the babysitter canceling at the last minute. However, chronic stress – like a job loss, financial troubles or health worries – starts pumping high doses of the stress hormone, cortisol, through your body which elevates your appetite, which leads to overeating. It also shifts our food preferences over to the Dark Side: high fat, sugar and salt. And how’s this for a double whammy: Fat cells produce cortisol, too. Cortisol coupled with insulin produces visceral fat, which is more dangerous than regular fat in terms of increased heart attack and stroke risk. Where’s a Jedi knight when you need one?

Not everybody loves a clown.
Photo: Photo Denblow

There are some steps you can take to help relieve some of the stress. Yoga is highly recommended, as are deep breathing exercises. Also suggested has been 20 minutes of progressive muscle relaxation in which you cycle through the various muscle groups, alternating tensing and relaxing each one. Regular exercise will also help lighten the burden of chronic stress. But to really alleviate stress, the stressor itself must be addressed and reconciled as much as possible in order to keep us from reaching for the temporary food fix. Professional help might be called for if the stress is overwhelming. Taking care of your mental health is just as vital as taking care of you physical health and generally covered under many health insurance plans.

Don’t use this as justification for going off your meds without checking with your doctor, but some medications – for one reason or another – may have weight gain as a side effect. Generally speaking, they include: steroids, antidepressants, antipsychotics, oral contraceptives, and medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and heartburn.

Every drug is a little different, as is the person taking it so not everyone is going to be affected in the same way – if at all. If your meds are causing weight gain (putting on 5 or more pounds in a month without having changed your routine), they could be doing so by increasing your appetite, storing fat in a different way or interacting with insulin levels.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) could also be working against you. This is caused by too little thyroid hormone being produced. Signs of hypothyroidism include lethargy, fatigue, sleeping too much, sensitivity to cold, swelling, hoarseness or headaches. Your doctor can conduct a simple blood test for this.

Ladies, menopause will eventually rear its ugly head and cause your body to go to war against itself – or at least it will feel that way. As you endure your own personal version of climate change, courtesy of hot flashes and night sweats, you’ll also be treated to a “naturally” slowing metabolism, although trust me – nothing about this feels natural at all. The hormonal changes you go through will interrupt your sleep, trigger your appetite and alter your moods (and not for the better – you might actually consider changing your name to Sybil just to cover the variety of personalities that emerge during this blissful time). Ain’t nature grand? Stress-busting speaker, Loretta Laroche, has a great line that encapsulates all the wonders of menopause: “I’m out of estrogen and I have a gun.” ‘Nuff said.

To counter some of the effects of menopause, increasing lean body mass through lifting weights and strength training can be helpful. Other suggestions included taking calcium and vitamin D. I’m generally not a fan of hormone replacement therapy but that’s a conversation you should have with your doctor.

Do you have any of these – or other unusual suspects – working against you in your efforts to get fit? And if so, how are you dealing with them?

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