The frustration of seeing extra pounds on the scale—or of a too-tight waistband that you know used to fit—is understandable. But did you know that anything from a hormonal imbalance to vitamin deficiencies to the prescription meds you take can hold clues to what’s making you gain weight?
You step on the scale one morning and you’re totally on track. The next morning, you’re up five pounds. OMG!?!
It’s a frustrating and bewildering experience that happens to the best of us. And we’re here to tell you that you didn’t actually gain five pounds of fat in a single day.
After all, gaining a single pound of fat requires consuming about 3,500 calories more than you can burn off. So to gain five pounds in a day, you’d have to eat nearly 20,000 calories in just 24 hours.
But gaining five pounds of water weight in a day? That’s easy, says Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.S.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. “It’s important to know that your weight will fluctuate on a daily basis, but it doesn’t mean that your weight-loss strategy is failing.”
So if you step on the scale and find that you’ve magically gained a few pounds, consider these ten random things that can screw with your scale—and take a deep breath.
#1 You’re stressed
If you’re the kind of person who is always running behind schedule, that means you’re constantly feeling stressed. Feeling stressed likely equates to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been shown to slow your metabolism and induce fat storage, according to research published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. To add insult to injury, the types of food we crave when we’re stressed out tend to be fatty and sugar-laden.
#2 You are skipping Breakfast.
Many people skip breakfast. Try to eat a healthy breakfast. Also try to eat healthy throughout the whole day.
#3 Incorrect meal timing
To complement that last reason for gaining weight I will explain why meal timing is important. When you eat you increase your metabolism, plain and simple. So how about keeping that metabolism going 24/7? I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty good to me. As an example we will use two identical people with the exact same diet and see how their meal timing affects their metabolism.
Person #1 will eat three big meals. Person #2 will eat 6 smaller meals but exactly equal to the amount of food person #1 is eating (same amount of calories a day). Who will boost their metabolism and thus burn more calories? The answer is person #2.
A good way to explain this is an analogy of a fireplace. When you want heat you throw a log in. Say you throw all your logs in at once, what happens? You get a huge surge in heat and then it quickly dies out with no more logs to keep it burning. See what I’m getting at? Throw one or two logs at 3-4 hour increments and you will turn your body into a calorie burning machine all day, all night.
#4 Your gut is slow
Digestive issues, including slow bowel movements, may also account for excess pounds. “Ideally, you eat, and then, an hour or so later, you have a bowel movement,” says Dr. Hedaya. “But once or twice a day is still in the healthy range.” If you’re not so regular, dehydration, medications, low fiber, or even a lack of good flora in your gut could be to blame.
If constipation is your only symptom, then trying probiotics can help your digestive tract work properly. Staying hydrated is key, along with a diet chock-full of fiber-rich foods. But you can also try drinking a fiber powder, like Metamucil, mixed with water. “It may even grab fat globules in your intestinal tract as it scrubs out waste,” says Dr. Hedaya. If you’re still having trouble, check with your doctor to rule out a range of disorders, including hypothyroidism or a neurological issue.
#5 Staying Up late.
Eating right isn’t enough if you’re staying up until the wee hours of the morning. Study after study shows that shorter amounts of sleep are associated with higher BMI levels and larger waistlines. The primary reason? “Lack of sleep can lead to increased levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin, the satiety hormone,” explains Alissa Rumsey, Registered Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Research also shows that when we’re sleep-deprived, our brains respond more strongly to junk food and have less of an ability to practice portion control.”
#6 You’re losing muscle.
“Starting in our 30s, we lose muscle mass every year,” Jacobsen says. It happens very gradually but adds up.
Fight back. Do strength training. “It doesn’t have to be all about pumping iron. Try yoga, which uses your body weight as resistance and builds muscles,” Jacobsen says.
People begin to lose modest amounts of muscle as they get older, largely because they become less active. Muscles are an efficient calorie burner, so a loss of muscle mass can mean you burn fewer calories. If you’re eating and drinking the same amount as you always have and are less physically active, this can lead to weight gain. “To reduce muscle loss, you should stay active and try to do regular muscle-strengthening exercises,” says Collins.
#7 Smoking Cessation
If you’ve recently stopped smoking, you might start to notice a higher number on the scale. Weight gain is fairly common among smokers when they first quit. The good news is that there are steps you can take to overcome weight gain associated with smoking cessation. The American Heart Association suggests getting lots of physical activity, staying busy, drinking plenty of water, and eating lots of fruits and veggies to avoid weight gain when you quit smoking
#8 A Knot In Your Stomach
Unlikely, but worth mentioning: “If women have rapid, unexplained weight gain, it’s possible, though rare, that they have a tumor,” Eisensen reports. One example: ovarian tumors, some of which are benign, such as a dermoid tumor, a weird conglomeration of various body tissues (sometimes including teeth) that grow in the abdomen. “We’ve had patients gain over 100 pounds because of a huge ovarian tumor in their belly,” he adds. Again, don’t ignore any disproportionate expansion of your middle—check it with a physician.
#9 An Rx That Rounds You Up
There are lots of medicines out there that can pack on the pounds. Certain classes of antidepressants can stimulate your appetite. Antihistamines can interfere with your sleep patterns (see the next item for more on that). Other medications that can mess with your weight include diabetes drugs, migraine and blood pressure medications, steroids and some cancer therapies. It might be a good time to take stock of what you’re putting in your mouth (besides food) and review your medications. Many people take more than they truly need. A medication might no longer be necessary or might have become ineffective; or it can duplicate, or overlap, with the effect of another drug you’re taking for a different condition
#10 Hormonal Imbalance
Sometimes our body works against us, despite our best efforts. If you have a family or personal history of endocrine problems such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or you’re going through menopause (average age for women is 51), andropause (more gradual for men), or perimenopause (8 to 10 years before menopause), you may want to have your doctor check that your hormones are in balance. Hormonal imbalances can make it difficult to lose weight, and in some cases, can cause you to add on pounds.
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