Unexplained Weight Gain … Explained

By: 
True You
June 10, 2022

We all know what it feels like to realize the best plans we had for a new diet or exercise routine aren’t quite working out. What can be more surprising is discovering that, even though your nutrition and physical activity are dialed in, the number on the scale is going up instead of down. 

With everything from constipation and birth control to kidney disease being possible causes of weight gain, it is important to be as attentive to your overall health as possible, and to talk with your doctor if worrying signs appear. 

Why Have I Started Gaining Weight All of a Sudden?

Unexplained weight gain can happen for a variety of reasons. Medical conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome, which causes your body to produce too much cortisol, or hypothyroidism can lead to weight gain even when your eating habits don’t change. For women, menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome, and even fluid retention during your menstrual cycle may be to blame. On the least dangerous, but possibly uncomfortable, end of the spectrum you can find constipation as another possible cause your scale is showing a higher number than you expect. 

There are many benign reasons for weight gain, but there can be some medical conditions that cause sudden weight gain that can be very dangerous. If rapid and unexpected weight gain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, you should consult with your healthcare provider immediately:

  • heart palpitations
  • skin sensitivity
  • changes in vision
  • shortness of breath
  • trouble breathing
  • fever
  • sweating
  • rapid weight gain

Common Causes of Unexplained Weight Gain

As noted above, there can be digestive reasons for weight gain. Constipation can temporarily raise your apparent weight on the scale, though that weight is in your digestive tract and not additional body mass. Severe constipation is often paired with bloating and abdominal pain, which can also be signs of more serious digestive issues.

Sleep may be the last thing most of us think of when it comes to weight gain, but poor sleep can have disastrous effects on your health. When you are sleeping well, the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which are responsible for feelings of hunger and fullness respectively, are in balance and your body has a better chance to regulate when you should eat. 

When you are losing sleep, leptin production goes down, which causes you not to feel as full when you are eating. Simultaneously, ghrelin levels rise with a lack of sleep. This leaves you feeling hungry more often. In this situation, you may not feel like you have changed your eating habits, but the altered cues for hunger and satisfaction can mean you are eating more calories than you normally would be. 

In modern society, we face many different challenges that may not be physically dangerous, but it turns out our bodies don’t always know the difference between a missed deadline at work and running from a physical danger out in the world. 

When you are stressed, your body activates your adrenal glands and produces the stress hormone cortisol as part of the “survival mode” that helps you endure physical danger. Unfortunately, the good these hormones can do in the short term turns to harm if you are exposed to the chronic stresses modern life can generate. In addition to messing with your sleep schedule and prompting you to eat poorly, stress can produce hormones that cause weight gain seemingly unrelated to other factors. 

Your body is built to load up on calories in an attempt to keep reserves to deal with stressful times, which can lead to weight gain even when stress at work doesn’t directly translate to altered eating habits. Stress and poor sleep, though, often lead to late night snacking and comfort eating that can quickly lead to you taking in more calories than you might think. 

Antidepressants can sometimes be to blame for otherwise unexpected weight gain. These drugs are essential for helping many people treat or manage the symptoms of depression, but they can come with some unfortunate side effects. Not everyone who takes antidepressants will gain weight, but it is important to maintain as high a level of physical activity as you and your healthcare provider think possible to help offset the possibility of weight gain. 

Antidepressants are not the only category of drugs that can also lead to weight gain. Corticosteroids are also often linked to weight not caused by changes in diet and exercise. If you believe either steroids or antidepressants are causing weight gain, do not simply stop taking your medication. It is important that you speak with your doctor and come up with a plan to find alternative forms of treatment that might not come with negative side effects. 

Hormonal changes have long been thought to spark otherwise unexplained weight gain. This is particularly true in women whose levels of estrogen and progesterone fluctuate based on menstrual cycles and through the years of menopause. Recent research has suggested that these assumptions may be less well grounded than previously assumed. With menopause, for instance, some studies have indicated that the metabolic slow-down that happens to all people as they age may be more to blame than changes in hormone levels. 

Fluid retention can also be a reason you might be seeing weight gain. These can be related to several relatively serious conditions. Heart failure, liver disease, and kidney problems can all result in edema, or the swelling of areas of the body caused by fluid retention. Given the severity of these diseases, if you find that significant swelling occurs in a short period of time, contact your doctor immediately. 

What are Some Things I Can Do to Lose Weight?

It is important to remember that weight loss is not about simply counting the calories on your plate or number of steps you take every day. Diet and physical activity are only two factors in any weight management plan. 

It is also important to distinguish between weight gain caused by water retention or an underactive thyroid and larger body weight concerns. Obesity is linked to several potentially lethal conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol, depression, and more. A little bloating or a few extra pounds that your body might add during menopause or when you are under stress are a very different matter than the long-term effects of carrying a large amount of excess body mass. 

Some reasons for unexplained weight gain can be temporary, and treating the underlying condition can bring rapid relief. For people who have been diagnosed with obesity as the result of long periods of weight gain, finding a solution can take more time and effort. Finding the freedom from excess body weight takes dedication, a calculated approach, and the right people in your corner to help you achieve your goals. 

For some people losing weight can even mean medical intervention. Unlike gastric bypass surgery, once considered to be the gold standard in medically assisted weight loss, new procedures and techniques have been introduced that carry fewer risks while still producing dramatic results. Endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (or ESG) is one of these procedures that helps to permanently restrict your caloric intake but without some of the more dangerous side effects of bariatric surgery.

If you are interested in learning more about the services we provide at True You and how we  could help you find the freedom you have been looking for from excess body weight, request a consultation today.

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