Weight gain generally occurs when you regularly eat more calories than you expend through activity and metabolically.

But many people do not realise that some of their lifestyle habits may cause unintentional weight gain, and may indeed slow their weightloss progress.

It sounds simple. But more than 60% of adults in England are overweight or obese. Our lifestyles see many of us eating more calories than we need and not doing enough physical activity.

Do you recognise some of the causes of your weight gain in any of the following?

Low-Calorie and Low-Fat Diets

Diets that are deficient in calories and/or fat can slow down our metabolism and actually make it more of a challenge to lose weight. Those that Diet (with a capital ‘D’) can often feel hungry, tired and weak as their bodies try to conserve energy and their bodies start to break down too much muscle mass for energy. Low-calorie and low-fat diets inhibit the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and cause nutritional deficiencies to develop. The body is tricked (not in a cood way!) in to thinking it is in a state of starvation and responds by raising levels of Cortisol (the stress hormone) and subsequently increasing the storage of fat. It is possible to lose weight on a very low calorie diet, but this is a quick, unsafe and unsustainable fix as, as soon as a normal diet is resumed, the body will compensate and you will likely find yourself overeating and easily putting the weight back on again.

To lose weight successfully and sustainably, avoid easily digestible carbohydrates like simple sugars, sweets, juices and starches (including grains). Fill up instead on proper whole foods like vegetables, protein, healthy fats and water (or green/fruit/herbal teas). Try not to snack between meals, too!

Food that’s labelled ‘low-fat’

Lots of foods in the supermarkets today are labelled “low-fat”. However, in many cases a lot of low-fat foods can contain high levels of sugar. High sugar foods can also contain lots of ’empty’ calories and so can contribute to weight gain and poor health.

So it is important to learn to read the nutrition labels, paying attention to the energy (in kcals) in the product. If a food  is “low fat” it may still have the same amount of calories or even more than the “normal” variety.

Stress

If you are trying to lose weight, then stress is not your friend for a number of reasons. Stressed people often regard food as something that brings happiness and comfort, or is used as a coping mechanism against the stress. Often, these comfort foods will be high in sugar, high in calories and low in nutrients (afterall, no-one comfort eats celery, do they?). Periods of physical and mental stress cause our adrenal glands to increase production of stress hormones like Cortisol (mentioned above). Long term (or ‘chronic’ stress that is unmanaged together with the associated high levels of cortisol deplete serotonin (or feel-good hormone), raise our blood sugars and therefore our insulin levels, set-off food cravings for those sweet and healthy foods, and contributes to escalated fat accumulation which ultimately leads to weight gain.

So try to snack on healthy foods like fruit and veg rather than reaching for the ‘calorie dense, nutritent deficient’ foods. Also, it is important that you try to find ways to manage those stressful period without resulting to eating ‘comfort’ foods. Maybe try doing a little exercise, as this helps improve mental wellbeing through the release of endorphins, which are effective to combating stress. You might also try deep breathing, meditation and yoga to help bring those stress levels down.

Television

Watching a lot of television = couch potato! Too much TV can also lead us to eat more than we should, simply as something to do whilst sitting in front of the screen. Combine this with the resulant inactive lifestyle, and you can see how this vicious circle can easily develop.

Try to limit how much TV you watch, be very aware of your habits and consciously try not to eat unhealthy snacks whilst in from of the box. Pick up your exercise levels or perhaps do something beneficial whilst watching TV, like using an exercise bike at the same time.

Your medicine cabinet

Some drugs will cause of weight gain, and may make weight loss much harder. Steriods are a common culprit, as is insulin, some contraceptive pills, sedatives as well as some antipsychotic drugs and some anti depressants (do not be tempted to stop taken these without first consulting your doctor, of course!). If you are worried that your medication might be adding to your weight problems, have a chat with them before you do anything else.

Hypothyroidism

Another potential causes of weight gain could be hypothyroidism – a condition where the thyroid glands are not working properly and producing the correct amount of thyroid hormones, subsequently slowing down your metabolism and making energy useage less effective. This can result in weight gain, and Hypothyroidism is surprisingly

Lack of Sleep

A lack of sleep can contribute to unwanted weight gain and can make weightloss a challenge. It al comes back to those good old stress hormones again, and our friend Cortisol. Lack of sleep can be a trigger for the body to release more stress hormones than is needed, encouraging weight gain. In addition, if you are tired you may be inclined to snack and graze more, and your ability to say ‘no’ to high sugar snacks can be diminished. The increase in stress hormones may also increase your overall appetite and may reduce your ability to feel full after eating.

Natural Ageing

As we age, our metabolic rate decreases. This can be the reason for weight gain specifically after 40, and maintaining exercise levels as we get older becomes increasingly important.

Don’t Overload Your Plate / Learn When To Stop Eating

We are often taught to finish our meals and clear our plate as a child – but as adults this is not necessarily a good thing. Learning to listen to our bodies, to detect that moment when we really should stop eating despite food being left on our plate, is critical in not overeating. Our taste buds lose a bit of sensitivity when we are satiated, and that ‘dullness’ in taste is the first indication to stop eating. Sadly most people stop eating either when their plate is empty, or when they trigger the stress receptors of the stomach – and in the case of the latter, they have almost certainly eaten too much.

Putting less food on your plate to begin with (or using a smaller plate!) is often a good first step in to not overeating at home. And when you are eating out, avoid the temptation to over-order food or to finish all that you have ordered come what may!

Inadequate essential nutrients

Aa defiiciency in vitamin D, iron or magnesium can impact your metabolism and reduce your energy levels – and this drop in energy levels can leave you reaching for the high sugar snack and simple carbs to boost your energy levels.

So there you go – some reasons (not excuses!) why you might be putting on weight but not understand why, or why your weightloss might not be quite going to plan. If you need any help or guidance in this area, please do not hesitate to contact me.