When the number on the scale creeps up, our diet is usually the first thing we look at. Is it that cookie we’ve been having as 4 pm snack every day? The takeaway pizzas? The weekend vinos? It makes sense—we’ve always been told that weight gain (or loss) is a matter of calories in vs. calories out. While this is 100% true, it’s not the only part of the equation. There are plenty of other determinants that affect how much we weigh, including our genetics, environmental and other physiological factors So, if your diet has been on point but you’re still gaining, check out these 5 surprising reasons for weight gain.
1. You’re doing too much cardio
Yep, believe it or not, your cardio efforts for weight loss can actually backfire. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed participants who performed longer bouts of low to moderate intensity cardio activity suppressed a vital hormone in our body, called T3, that helps burn fat. Long cardio sessions have also been shown to increase the stress hormone cortisol—which when elevated, can lead the body to store visceral fat. That’s not to say you need to ditch your cardio entirely, but remember—it’s about quality over quantity. You may want to consider switching those long, gruelling workout with a quick HIIT session or even a cortisol-conscious workout.
2. You’re stressed AF
The link between stress and weight gain is very real, which is why people might find themselves losing weight on holidays when relaxed. Remember that stress hormone, cortisol? Well, this can actually skyrocket as a result of psychological stress, too. This is known as the ‘fight or flight response’, a survival mechanism carried over from our caveman ancestors. You see, our bodies can’t differentiate between our perceived, modern threats (ie. stressful deadlines or bad feedback from a manager) and real threats (like being eaten by a cave bear), so it does what it can to keep us safe. In this scenario, that means flooding the body with cortisol which as we know, can lead to weight gain. If you’ve been particularly strung out lately, look for ways you can manage it—whether that’s chatting to a psychologist, practising self-care or meditation.
3. Your thyroid is out of whack
It’s hard to believe that this tiny, butterfly-shaped gland in our necks could be responsible for the number on the scales. But the thyroid actually plays a key role in regulating our weight. “Without enough thyroid hormone, the body’s metabolism slows down, which can lead to weight gain,” says dietitian Catherine Collins. Sudden weight gain is one of the most common signs of an underactive thyroid. While this mostly happens in older women, it can still affect younger people. Some common causes of hypothyroidism include autoimmune diseases, radiation therapy and some medications. If your weight gain has been sudden and you notice other symptoms like a puffy face, fatigue and cold intolerance, make sure you get your thyroid checked by your GP.
It’s possible that your weight gain isn’t actually fat but rather, water weight. Ironically enough, this can be caused by not drinking enough water. This is because when we’re dehydrated, our bodies retain water in an attempt to keep electrolytes and other important nutrients adequately dissolved (seriously, our bodies are way too smart for their own good!). Not only that, but when we’re dehydrated, it can affect our bodies’ ability to burn fat and regulate our appetite. Do yourself (and your health!) a favour and guzzle that h20.
5. Your hormones are to blame
Sigh… God (or whatever high power you believe in) really did us dirty when he invented female hormones. Sure, they allow us to birth human life, but they also contribute to a whole bunch of issues like acne, mood swings and periods. You can add weight fluctuations to that list, too, specifically, if you have too much estrogen compared to progesterone it can cause you to gain fat—particuarly around the middle. This is the reason some women gain weight when they go on The Pill, and why women often find it harder to shift body fat than men. There are supplements you can take that to help naturally balance out your hormones even if you’re on the Pill—but always chat to your doc before you start something new.