Unexplained Weight Gain Explained

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When you suddenly notice you have packed on 10-15 (or more) pounds and you haven’t changed a thing – that’s what I called unexplained weight gain.

You’re living your life, doing your work, and suddenly that size X outfit is just plain way too tight. You wonder if it shrunk during washing or if the dry cleaning place somehow messed it up, but inevitably you get to a scale. You don’t want to use the one at the grocery store, but it’s the only one around. You tell yourself that clothing is 3 pounds. You remove your shoes. You see what the scale shows. It’s not unexplained weight gain-no way-it’s a faulty scale. “Hey, is this scale off by a lot” you ask. “Nope, we just had it perfectly calibrated” you’re told. You weigh your shoes. Less than a pound? How can that be?

It hits you – you can no longer just eat what you want and look great and keep your health. So – you start dieting – something new to you. And this diet turns into a 5 year merry-go-round. Welcome to getting off this not-fun-at-all ride.


Are You “Always On A Diet”? Is It Impossible To Keep Your Weight Stable?

Eating A “Regular Diet” Hinders Weight Loss

  • If you are like most people, you have “some issues” with either one or a combination of poor sleep, reduced energy, moderate to high stress in your life, and little time to cook healthy meals…let alone exercise regularly. All of this impedes weight loss and makes it challenging to achieve and maintain a proper weight.
  • If you are like most people, you think that the frozen diet meals and treats you see in the grocery store will help you lose weight. They do not!
  • If you are like most people, there are times you eat when you are not hungry and instead, you reach for “comfort food” when you are stressed, anxious, a little depressed, tired, or have cravings.

You’ve Come To The Right Place – I Can Help!

Now, before you start digesting (no pun!) this large article, you might want to bookmark it so you can come back to it. And I’d like to make a few points right here that you should think about if you need to embark on a weight loss plan. If you have been eating a “typical American diet” or if you are overweight, you have leptin and ghrelin as well as other hormonal issues.

If these are not fixed, weight loss will be difficult. If you are over 35 and have not done some sort of strengthening exercises, you have a decrease in your muscle mass and therefore in your metabolism. If you are under stress, your cortisol is up and this will make weight loss harder. If you are not taking a prebiotic-probiotic capsule daily, even this makes weight loss harder.

Menopause makes it even harder. And finally, if you are doing non-hunger eating, this too will make it harder. I can help you fix every single one of these issues. Typical- even what are thought of as the best weight loss programs – do not address any of this because they want to keep you as a customer. I want to help you lose weight and keep it off, period. Please keep this in mind as you read the details in this article and know that I’m just an email away.

Is It Hard To Lose Weight Or Do You Yo-Yo?

Before undertaking a weight loss program, I recommend getting checked out by your doctor. Occasionally weight gain may be associated with medical conditions such as mild diabetes, cholesterol issues, or hormonal issues such as being hypo-thyroid (“low thyroid”).

Make sure you have a complete chemistry lab panel, including a complete blood count; hepatitis testing, if liver functions are not normal, an “ESR” if there is any external inflammation suspected; and the correct thyroid tests: Free T3, Free T4, Reverse T3 and TPO antibodies. Weight gain is often “multi-factorial,” meaning caused by several things at once. Even if every single thing on my list isn’t on your list of needed items, I want to make sure and cover everything as thoroughly as possible.

unexplained weight gain doesn't need a script pad-it need a brainI know you are thinking “I want to lose weight now” and I will give you enough information so that you can start losing weight immediately. Just read on so we don’t miss something important. Please do not leave your doctor’s office with a prescription for a weight loss stimulant drug. Stimulants cause excess cortisol release which ends up impeding weight loss and almost every time someone uses a drug for weight loss, they gain the weight back. There are much better ways in most circumstances. Please see my article on metabolism boosting foods where I also discuss supplements which are natural metabolism boosters and you’ll see you what is safe and effective and what is not.

Note of Caution: Sometimes weight gain, reduced energy, and/or lack of sleep quality come as a “combo package” of symptoms. Some doctors mistake this for depression and will try to give you a prescription for anti-depressants which for the most part lead to-wait for it- weight gain.


Commonly Missed Medical Reasons For Weight Gain

Hypothyroidism

This is the medical term that means having a low level of active thyroid hormone in your body. Make sure you have the correct tests done-some doctors are “out of date”. See above for the correct tests if you missed them.

Adrenal Fatigue

Very low energy, feeling “burned out”, usually proceed by heavy stimulant use, or physical or psychological stress. Here are the adrenal fatigue symptoms you need to know.


Your Basic Eating Habits

Things To Think About That You Typically Don’t

  • Do you focus on what you are eating or are you watching TV, reading, etc.?
  • Do you seem to finish eating at the same time, after, or before everyone else?
  • Do you go back for “seconds”?
  • Do you drink soda with meals, or at all?
  • Is dessert a must-have?
  • Do you drink enough water such that your urine is clear? Or is hydration merely an after-thought?

Sometimes our subconscious behaviors, or the things that we have made into a habit, have a dramatic impact on our quality of life. In many cases, something as simple as changing an unconscious habit is all it takes to improve our lives. In case it wasn’t clear, these things are “don’t do’s” other than hydration.

Our Food Choices Significant Influence Our Quality Of Life

Here are the three main ways to improve your food choices. Not only do inflammatory, processed foods contribute greatly to the diseases of aging, they greatly slow down weight loss.

A diet that is rich in monounsaturated fats, including avocados, coconuts, nuts, seeds and olive oil is best for your health and weight loss plan. Foods that contain these healthy fats work hard to signal your brain that your stomach is full, ultimately resulting in eating less per sitting.

weight loss planYou should severely limit or eliminate all processed foods, which are typically a major source of “bad carbs.” They also contain harmful toxins in the form of artificial flavors and colors, preservatives and a long list of other ingredients that can negatively affect your ability to lose body fat; this is because your body stores additional fat as a way to protect your organs.

Limiting all types of sugars is also recommended, and you might want to consider limiting grains, as well. Some health experts (including me!) believe that consuming wheat is a big factor in the skyrocketing obesity epidemic, as well as in the rise of chronic illness. Remember; most U.S. wheat is GMO which means over-doused in pesticides. In addition, when we consume wheat or “whole grains” our body thinks we are eating pure sugar and that leads to cravings for more sugar-like foods and adds to the national problem of leptin resistance which means we “hang onto our body fat.”

Again, let me mention that using nutritional ketosis is a great way to nuke cravings, diminish hunger and start fixing your insulin, ghrelin, and inflammation issues. It’s a way to start normalizing your serum lipids and to achieve a normal blood sugar level too. Check it out!


Sleep Issues

If you’re a woman, these issues may start as young as your mid 30’s but will usually become more prominent in the peri-menopausal years. Men often start having problems with sleep in their late thirties or early forties, corresponding to melatonin drop-off and when we see testosterone levels starting to wane.


Decreased Energy Levels – The Energy/Weight Connection

The Energy-Weight Connection

How energetic you feel is very multi-faceted. Your energy level depends a great deal on one of your happy brain chemicals (dopamine), as well as the principal hormone produced during times of stress called cortisol.

EnergyVery importantly; the cells of respiration (mitochondria) which produce energy (ATP) within your organs need to be functioning normally. Decreased mitochondrial function occurs with many illnesses from metabolic syndrome to auto-immune disorders to adrenal fatigue.

Aging means decreased mitochondrial biogenesis without the right precautions. Take care of your mitochondria.

Whether or not you have sleeping problems makes a difference in your energy levels too. Another issue which also impact your energy as well as your ability to lose weight, is your overall mood. This encompasses not just your basic mood but also; stress, anxiety and irritability.

Everything I have talked about so far, including all aspects of your mood, are inter-related which is why you cannot get a “quick fix” with other weight loss advice sources that don’t link all of these things together. Many people reach for food when they need energy. Does this sound like you?

Note that extended periods of high cortisol and adrenaline release from the adrenal glands will lead to a condition called adrenal fatigue. Since high-cortisol stages of AF tends to be quite common around the peri-menopausal years, I’ll go into that in more depth in the menopause section.

Energy Solutions

For many, being overweight itself is the cause of decreased energy levels. The obvious “fix” for that would be to lose the weight. Of course there may be other factors such as sleep issues, mood issues or mitochondria-depleting illness. If low energy is truly a problem and you feel that on a scale of 1-10 (with one being low-energy and 10 being very energetic) that you are lower than a 6/7, then you have “energy issues” which involve more than just your weight. If this is the case, then the first step is a medical evaluation.

If the results prove to be “negative”… meaning you are told that nothing is wrong with you… that just means the doctor doesn’t know what is wrong. If you are suffering from low energy and get this “non-diagnosis,” you might have a number of non-diagnosed  but “rampant” issues, from leaky gut to adrenal fatigue.


Other Reasons for Weight Gain

Lack Of/Or Inconsistent Exercise

Most people want increased energy, better sleep, improved mood and a host of other things, such as great immune system function and cognitive (brain) health and more. Exercise and fitness are essential to each of these so you must, at some point, develop a fitness program you can follow regularly. There are many health benefits to fitness. According to many studies; fitness is a lot more important to help you keep weight off than to lose it; diet is the main factor for successful weight loss.

Cardio, or heart rate elevated exercise, boosts your immune system, helps you sleep, decreases stress, helps mood issues, and helps prevent a host of diseases including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and much more. It’s is also a great stress-buster! If you are “cleared to exercise” by your doctor- start moving. Daily cardio is whatever works for you.

Adopt a dog and walk him/her if you don’t already have (at least) one. After your walk, stare into your dog’s eyes to increase your oxytocin hormone levels. This is a well-documented (and adorable!) way to increase oxytocin which will decrease your sugar cravings. Strength training is essential to keep your fat to muscle ratio in the right place or get it there.  More about this in the menopause section, where it’s a big problem; much of the time.

Decreased Metabolic Rate

This is a factor in peri and post-menopausal weight gain. Unless you have been hospitalized where you have lost a large amount of metabolically active muscle mass or have a hormonal disorder, this should not be an issue below the age of 38 or so.

Digestive Issues

We now know there is a direct link between good, healthy metabolically active GI tract bacteria and the ability to lose weight. Your GI tract is most likely not “well-functioning” if you eat  a standard American diet (S.A.D.) and are not utilizing good prebiotics and probiotics. It has been scientifically demonstrated that toxic bacteria will slow digestion and metabolism whereas good bacteria will do just the opposite.

If you have ever taken antibiotics or other GI-harming pharmaceuticals, you will shed pounds more efficiently with a good GI tract overhaul. See my what causes leaky gut article to check out if you have harmed your gut to the point of needing a bit of repair work.

Cravings

This is also more of an “over 38” issue (unless you’re a super carb-o-holic) so it will be covered in the peri and post- menopause section. Most people-an estimated 95%+ of those trying to lose weight – say they eat when they are not hungry. A good percentage of those who say they are “desperate to lose weight” feel a sense of loss of control which cravings can cause. There is an answer for every craving-great news-right? So keep reading!

Stress Levels Causing Weight Gain

People do eat (non-hunger eating) when they are stressed- this is so very common in the menopausal years so I’ll cover this topic there too.

Mild Depression

While there isn’t a huge direct correlation between being overweight and being depressed, there is someindirect correlation. Chronic fatigue and/or sleep deprivation are associated with mild depression as well as with overeating. And, of course, some people with mild depression will indeed eat to “feel better.” The physiologic reason for this is as follows: one of the happy brain chemicals called serotonin is actually increased by sugar and “starchy carbs.” If you are feeling depressed, do have this addressed so you can have a better shot at lasting weight loss. Check out my blog to do it “naturally.”

Irritability

There is a correlation between irritability and fatigue. This sub-set of people may eat when they feel irritable to relieve that symptom. If you are feeling irritable, the first thing we need to examine is what may be causing that feeling and address it. If it’s a simple dopamine deficiency, you just need the building blocks to make your own dopamine: the B vitamins (methylated), magnesium threonate, l-tyrosine and SAMe.

Odds And Ends

Hydrate To Facilitate Weight Loss

  • 1/2 liter of water pre-meals will increase weight loss if dieting by as much as 50%.
  • Do this 15 minutes prior to eating.
  • Continue hydrating until/unless it interferes with sleep. Ideal is 2L/day.
  • NO soft drinks or diet soda! (FYI: aspartame is an appetite stimulant and a neurotoxin).
  • No fruit juices- but you know this already I hope.
  • Minimize the use of caffeine and alcohol, and while actively “dieting” take them pretty much off the “allowed” list.

Chew Your Food

Chewing does have an effect on how much you eat and may also affect how well you digest your food. So how many chews? The average American chews 10 chews/ mouthful. When eating, try increasing to 35 chews; this decreases food intake by 12%. Chew on that!

Chew Gum

Three 45 min “gum chews” a day with xylitol or sorbitol sweetened gum decreases cravings, appetite, and improves weight loss. It does this by raising one of the happy brain chemical levels called serotonin. Don’t overdo the gum or sorbitol might cause diarrhea.

Focus

Pay attention to your food while eating. Shut off the TV, eliminate distractions, and enjoy every bit of what you’re eating. It does make a difference. Studies show that weight loss is more effective due to earlier “satiety” when you have herb tea with meals and start lunch and dinner with a bowl of healthy, clear soup.


Belly Fat And Menopause Belly Fat

Many people struggle with belly fat, and some give up the battle with the idea that it is all due to genetics and impossible to fight. In reality, there are three main reasons for lingering belly fat and no it’s not “too much beer”.

  • Stress hormones ( think-cortisol mostly) pack it on
  • Estrogen levels are too high if you are a male. I’ll get to the ladies but thought I should mention this important “factoid” about men. In men, the enzyme aromatase converts some of their testosterone to estradiol, a form of estrogen. Usually levels are not increased unless the man is on testosterone supplementation without an “aromatase inhibitor”. However as men age, livers don’t tend to process estradiol quite as well and these levels can go up. All it takes is a simple measurement and then treatment. Now; back to information for the ladies.
  • Women who are overweight will have higher pre-menopausal estrogen levels due to fat cell activity. But after menopause, low estrogen (estradiol) and progesterone levels ( and to a lesser extent; low testosterone levels) contribute to the formation of belly fat. I’ll explain this more thoroughly in a bit.
  • Diets are usually just plain awful. Menopause is a busy time with kids, spouses, homes, careers, and parents so food prep times are often replaced with a drive through the take-out window. 

Stress

If you are under so much stress that it is causing excess body fat, your adrenal glands are secreting too much cortisol and adrenaline which is going to eventually also cause adrenal fatigue, sleep issues and immune system depression. So besides the behavioral things to reduce stress, you need to cut out caffeine and energy drinks, which actually make this situation worse, and also go on some sort of “adrenal support.”

This is generally herbal mixtures of ashwaganda, rhodiola, siberian ginseng and astragalus as well as an “adrenal glandular” preparation. Relaxing lifestyle measures are also needed.  If you are “in this stage of the game” you are also secreting more epinephrine (adrenaline) so you will feel anxious, which is a little different but feels just about the same as being stressed. Chewable GABA will help with that.

Sleep

If you are at the stage where energy is low and cortisol is high you will probably be having have sleep issues. Sleep needs to be “fixed” before the adrenal situation can be fully under control. Many good natural sleep aids are available for help falling asleep and staying asleep.

Menopausal Belly Fat

Belly fat is not just caused (contrary to popular belief) by menopausal hormonal fluctuations per se. Those hormones, which do affect weight in general, are estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. And yes, they dohave role in menopausal belly fat but it’s a bit complex so let me try to make it easier to understand.

Hormones All Work “In Concert”:

  • Estrogen and progesterone both oppose the fat storing action cortisol has on the belly. So menopausal low levels combined with the usual stress experienced by menopausal women=belly fat. Due to the “sandwich generation” effect the highest stress levels are reported by menopausal women.
  • Cortisol is associated with stress, and more stress reactive women release more cortisol and have higher amounts of belly fat whether they are thin or overweight.
  • Testosterone is diminished in the menopausal years and has other effects on weight but not too much on belly fat per se.

How To Lose Weight During Menopause

Women typically begin picking up about one pound a year during perimenopause, the roughly 10-year period leading up to menopause that generally takes place between age 45 and 55. Most women experience a 5% decrease in metabolic rate per decade=need for 200 fewer calories per day. This can be reversed.

Estrogen

As a woman’s ovaries produce less estrogen, her body attempts to find the hormone in places other than the ovaries. Fat cells can produce estrogen, so her body works harder to convert calories into fat to increase estrogen levels. Unfortunately, fat cells don’t burn too many calories.

Progesterone

Water retention is often linked to menopause because water weight and bloating are caused by decreased progesterone levels. Though this doesn’t actually result in weight gain, clothes can feel tighter and a woman may feel as though she’s heavier.

Testosterone

Testosterone helps a woman’s body create lean muscle mass out of the calories consumed. Muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells do, increasing metabolic rate. As testosterone levels drop, fewer calories are transformed into lean muscle mass, thus a woman’s metabolism winds down. There is a precipitous drop in these levels during the menopausal years causing a drastic reversal of fat to muscle ratios. There is on average a 40 to 50% reduction in an individual’s muscle mass between ages 30 and 70, with a simultaneous increase in body fat. This transition sets the groundwork for slower metabolism, reduced physical activities, and difficulty burning calories, thus leading to weight gain.

Hormones And Appetite

A drop in hormone levels, particularly estrogen and progesterone, can increase a woman’s appetite and influence her to eat a lot more, up to 67% more, according to one study. An increase in appetite coupled with a slower metabolism with the onset of menopause can cause weight gain in women. This could, perhaps, account for the 12% jump in the number of women who are overweight in midlife compared to women in their 20’s and 30’s. Biochemically, this is explained by low estradiol throwing ghrelin and leptin “off” so that you feel hungrier, longer; during a meal and you store your fat “more efficiently” too.

Hormones And Cravings

Adequate levels–not high, not low–of estrogen appear to help hunger regulation, resulting in the “I’m full” effect also mediated by the happy neurochemical serotonin. However, if the ratio between estrogen and progesterone is off, serotonin is decreased and cravings can be triggered. As mentioned, we see dysregulation of the two “hunger hormones”; leptin and ghrelin. This can all be corrected- I’ll get to that.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance can occur during the menopausal years. This is when a woman’s body mistakenly turns every calorie taken in- into fat. Over time, processed and refined foods may make a woman’s body resistant to insulin produced in the blood stream. As weight is gained, we often see insulin resistance which is also reversible with loss of the weight. You can check this with a fasting blood sugar, a Hgb A1C and an insulin level. The best fix is a keto diet.

Hypothyroidism And Weight Gain

Many experts (including me!) believe that there are many cases of undiagnosed hypothyroidism which occur during the menopausal years.

Odds And Ends

Changes in eating habits, medication use, drinking excess amounts of alcohol and quitting smoking all can pack on pounds.

You Can Lose The Weight!

Now that you “know the enemies” you can fight back. You know that your insulin regulation gets “out of whack” when estrogen goes down so make sure you are eating an anti-inflammatory or ketogenic diet. Take anti-inflammatory supplements such as curcumin, decaf green tea and Omega 3 rich fish oils. Get your GI tract in balance. Use hormonal balancing supplements when needed. Use natural, non- stimulant appetite suppressant supplements if “going keto” isn’t enough of an appetite suppressor for you. Get a short-term metabolic boost with natural metabolism boosting pills -supplements which are meant to be a short term “assist”- not something you take for the long-term.

You know you are losing muscle mass; now is the time to start weight training in earnest. You know you have life stresses so it’s time to hand off responsibilities to others (yes I am also part of a sandwich generation with children, pets and dependent parents so I understand). Take adrenal support supplements to get those pesky cortisol levels down. Get sleep issues under control and energy issues under control as well. See articles, blogs, and find eBooks and webinars on this website for help.


Help To Control Your Cravings

This is the “cool stuff” when it comes to weight management because this is what makes it easy. When you are losing weight during menopause you will likely have some food cravings. Here’s what you can do.

Stress eating: Stress management techniques augmented by 5-OH tryptophan (5-HTP) supplements  to increase your serotonin and GABA chewables to increase GABA; the relaxation brain chemical. As always, add methylated B vitamins and magnesium threonate.

Lack-of-energy eating: While this is getting under control, supplementing dopamine levels with L-tyrosine and another amino acid called SAMe, along with your B’s and magnesium as above.

Sugar cravings: My keto diet will really help this, so try that first. If you really can’t tolerate it, go back to the anti-inflammatory diet and add the following. Scroll up to see what you need to make more serotonin-this is more than half the battle here. Then see above to review how to make more dopamine. This should “do it” but if not, oxytocin is sometimes useful.

General “need food” cravings and just always being hungry: Natural appetite suppressants such as chromium nicotinate and 5-OH tryptophan are helpful. Not to keep plugging my keto diet but it’s great for damping down a ravenous appetite.

Irritability eating: is treated by fixing the source of the irritability whether it’s a “situation” or lack of sleep and meanwhile the same supplements a used for lack of energy eating are useful. Translation here is that if you are irritable you are likely “low-dopamine.”

Sluggish Metabolisms Due To Undetected Or “Sub-Clinical” Hypothyroidism

Obviously; the solution here is to get thyroid hormones replaced correctly. But while this is being adjusted, I’m actually “OK” with safe mildly stimulant supplements such as small doses of caffeine, green tea, a safe bitter orange extract and keto-DHEA, a hormone which generally goes down in menopause. I should note that bio-identical hormone replacement therapy is an individual choice, and is generally quite helpful, but only a real hormone specialist should be consulted-not your primary care doctor or your gynecologist.

I can’t tell you how many women I have seen who have been “OD’ed” on estrogen to the point where the estrogen replacement has packed on 25 lbs in addition to the 15 lbs they gained due to menopause. This is not one of the side effects of menopause – it’s a side effect of using an unqualified doctor. Losing weight after menopause is largely more of the same with a little bit more vigilance. Here’s a good review, made intentionally brief.


How To Lose Weight After Menopause

  • Your diet must be “clean as a whistle” and inflammation must be kept under control.
  • This is the time (if not done yet) to incorporate disease preventing, weight-controlling, life-extending intermittent fasting, a topic I cover fully in my blog.
  • As we age, there is more of a chance for medication usage so beware of drugs that put on weight.
  • There is also a higher chance of age related depression so be “on guard” for your mood and augment with mood upping activities and supplements as needed.
  • Fitness must be ongoing. No excuses.
  • You will either be taking bioidentical hormones or just have “gotten used to” low hormonal levels. If sleep is an issue, make sure you’re on melatonin.
  • Energy levels generally benefit from mitochondrial augmentation at some point.
  • Stress should be controlled a bit better-but I would still suggest that you stay on “adrenal support” until you’re retired and relaxed.