You can feel as if you’re doing everything right — eating fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins — and still, you’re gaining weight. What’s really going on?
Well, it may not only be about what you’re eating. There are several other lifestyle factors, from your sleep and exercise habits, as well as the way you handle stress, that could be causing a weight creep. Here are the factors you need to have on your radar, plus what to do about each.
5 Causes of Weight Gain That Don’t Have to Do With Food
#1 You’re Skimping on Sleep
There’s no doubt most of us are living busy lives. And as a consequence of those busy lives, sleep is the first thing to go to make room for all of the other things. (And that includes social media scrolling at the end of the day when you finally have a minute to catch your breath.) However, past research has shown that logging less than 7 hours of sleep per night is associated with higher BMIs and a greater likelihood of obesity compared to when you get the sleep you need. (For adults, that’s at least 7 hours a night.)
The good news is that if you’re struggling with your weight now, one powerful thing you can start doing is getting the sleep you need. In fact, sleeping about an hour longer per night led people who were overweight to naturally eat 270 fewer calories per day compared to a control group who didn’t alter their snooze habits, according to one study. Why? Sleep deprivation turns up your appetite-stoking hormones and pushes your brain to seek out rewards to perk up — and those rewards are often found in food. So, what time do you plan on going to bed tonight?
#2 You’re Not Moving Your Body Enough
People who snag more physical activity — whether that’s through formal exercise or because they move around more during the day — are more likely to maintain a lower body weight after weight loss compared to more sedentary folks, according to research. In fact, they tend to burn about 200 calories more per day, which makes a big difference over time. Now’s the time to think about what you can do today to score 10 additional minutes of activity. Walk around a couple of blocks and listen to a podcast, take your pup to the dog park, do dynamic stretches, or press play on a quick FitOn workout.
#3 You Are Stressed
Stress can absolutely hijack your brain, tanking your resolve to stick to your healthy habits. It’s such a problem that stress has been found to promote obesity. And it does this in a multitude of ways, the research points out. Let’s discuss. Being frazzled messes with your brain power, making self-regulation tough, something you need when trying to make good-for-you choices (and avoid more indulgent ones that make you feel good in the moment). Stress also goads you to overeat foods that are especially rewarding, like those high in sugar and fat. It decreases your desire to stay active and cuts into your sleep (a double-whammy). Finally, being stressed out skews your appetite signals, making it hard to know if you’re actually hungry or full. We can’t pretend that stress management is easy, but one good first step is coming up with a list of the things that bring you a sense of calm when you are stressed or having a bad day. When that happens — and it’s inevitable, right? — reference that list and use it to pick yourself up.
RELATED: How Stress Affects Your Metabolism
#4 You Have an Unbalanced Gut Microbiome
Your gut microbiome is the colony of trillions of microbes that live inside your gut. And they have a really big hand in your health, impacting your immune system, appetite, and metabolism, says research. How the microbiome affects one’s weight is still being examined, but it appears as if microbe diversity — that is, the number of species of healthy gut bugs you have — is important in fending off weight gain, as well as controlling disease-promoting inflammation, according to a review. One way to keep your gut happy? Make sure you’re eating fiber-rich foods — these fibers “feed” the beneficial gut bacteria. This includes fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
#5 You Have a Medical Issue
Sometimes, weight gain is telling you that there’s something going on underneath the surface that deserves to be checked out. For example, mild weight gain — think 5 to 10 pounds — may be a sign of a thyroid condition called hypothyroidism, where the gland that has a hand in your metabolism is moving more sluggishly. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can also affect the balance of hormones in your body, making you more prone to weight gain. Mental health conditions like depression may have a hand in your weight going up, too. What’s important is that you see your doctor for unexplained weight gain. That way, you can treat any underlying problems — not with the sole purpose of losing weight — but to feel good again in body and mind.
The Bottom Line
Other factors, such as your sleep, stress levels, amount of activity, and underlying medical problems, can all contribute to unintentional weight gain. It’s important to look at your lifestyle as a whole when working on maintaining a healthy-for-you weight.