Your diet hasn’t changed. Your workout regimen hasn’t changed. It seems like almost everything about your lifestyle has stayed the same. So… why is the number on your scale skyrocketing?
There’s nothing more frustrating than packing on the pounds—and having no idea why. If you’re experiencing unexplained weight gain, you may be speculating about the cause (and wondering what you can do to stop it in its tracks).
Let’s get real: As reported by Prevention, in most cases of unexplained weight gain, calories are usually to blame. Maybe you’re eating the same amount of food, but you’re consuming meals that are higher in calories. Or maybe your exercise routine hasn’t changed, but you’re spending more hours of the day sitting down. Either way, there is an obvious culprit: a caloric surplus.
But if you’ve ruled out the usual reasoning, there might be an underlying health issue that can explain the extra pounds. The following are a series of symptoms that might accompany weight gain and indicate a deeper problem.
Exhausted? It could be hypothyroidism
When a young woman experiences unexplained weight gain, the thyroid is the first place most docs check. That’s because 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder in her life, according to the American Thyroid Association. The thyroid secretes a hormone that regulates metabolism, so when the thyroid is underactive (a condition called hypothyroidism), metabolism slows down and triggers weight gain. Another common symptom in women with hypothyroidism is low energy levels or fatigue.
Abnormal periods? It could be PCOS
Research has revealed that as many as 1 in 5 women have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)—an endocrine disorder that throws various reproductive hormones (i.e. estrogen and testosterone) out of balance. PCOS can trigger a number of unpleasant symptoms, most notably abnormal periods and—you guessed it—weight gain.
Under pressure? It could be chronic stress
Individuals who are chronically stressed are continually in “fight-or-flight” mode. When filled with fear, our levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream shoot up, which prepares our bodies to quickly escape danger. In times of high stress, cortisol protects us from danger by holding onto fat, which gives us the necessary energy to get away from the threat. But this reality also means that when we’re under pressure, cortisol can cause us to store unwanted fat. In the most severe cases, unexplained weight gain can even signal depression or other mental illnesses.
Can’t sleep? It could be insomnia
Ever noticed that missing sleep makes you crave sugar and fats? That’s because the absence of quality shut-eye throws hunger hormones and metabolism out of whack. Sleep deprivation raises levels of ghrelin, the hormone that signals when it’s time to eat while lowering our levels of leptin, the hormone that lets your body know that it’s full.
Bloated? It could be SIBO
The gut and larger digestive tract can usually maintain a stable balance of both good and bad bacteria. But when equilibrium is lost, you can develop small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)—triggering extra gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and unexplained weight gain.
Hot flashes? It could be perimenopause
The transition period from menstruation to menopause triggers estrogen levels to rise and fall, which can cause weight gain in some women. When accompanied by the infamous menopausal symptom of hot flashes, weight gain could be an early sign of perimenopause.
New prescription? It could be a reaction to meds
There’s a slew of both prescription and over-the-counter medications that can trigger sudden weight gain or water retention in women. In particular, antidepressants may affect the appetite center in the brain. Additionally, beta-blockers can slow your metabolism, certain steroids can add on pounds, and antihistamines can disrupt enzymes in the brain that regulate food consumption.
Red stretch marks? It could be Cushing’s disease
Cushing’s disease spurs excess cortisol production and can lead to excessive weight gain, but only in specific locations—around the abdomen and the back of the neck. Only 10 to 15 people per million are affected, but about 70 percent of those diagnosed with Cushing’s are women. If you’re experiencing weight gain and large red stretch marks across the abdomen (the condition’s most common symptom), ask a medical professional about Cushing’s disease.
Not eating right? It could be a nutrient deficiency
Deficiencies in magnesium, iron, or vitamin D deficiency can all alter your metabolism. If you’re experiencing slight weight gain, consider the actual food you consume.