Why you might be gaining weight despite your efforts

By Rebecca Cohen, RN, MS, EdD, MPA, HNB/BC, Certified Wellness Coach Health and Wellness/School of Health Sciences

It is no surprise to anyone that a diet full of fried foods, super-sized portions, alcohol, soft drinks, and high fat desserts will lead to weight gain, especially if you are taking in more calories than you burn in physical activity. But, how do you explain weight gain when your lifestyle includes regular exercise and a healthy diet?
There are several things that might contribute to weight gain that you need to be aware of if you are watching calories and being physically active. Also, know that it is likely a combination of things rather than just one factor.




  1. Lack of sleep:
    When you do not get enough sleep, your body stores fat more efficiently because it is experiencing stress. Then, as you wander the house at 3:00 am, you may keep yourself busy by engaging in late-night snacking. This stress carries over into the next day when your fatigue makes it harder to handle the stresses of the day and you reach for food to help you cope.
    TIP: You need to get at least 6–8 hours of sleep each night. If this is hard to do, add about 15 minutes to your bedtime and see how you feel. Continue to experiment with additional 15 minute increments until you find the amount of sleep that is right for you.

  2. Stress:
    The stress response triggers a biochemical process that puts your body into a survival mode. This causes your body to store fuel (the food you eat), slow down metabolism, and dump out chemicals (cortisol) that are likely to cause obesity in the abdominal area. Many people reach for food to help them ease the stress but emotional eating creates a vicious cycle that does not help you deal with the stress in the long run, or keep the pounds off.
    TIP: Try some relaxation techniques and exercise to keep your body and mind busy and wear off those stress related hormones.

  3. Medications:
    Some prescription drugs used to treat depression, mood disorders, seizures, migraines, blood pressure, and diabetes can cause weight gain. Some steroids, hormones, replacement therapy, and even oral contraceptives may also cause gradual weight creep. However, a few extra pounds may be well worth the trade-off of what a particular medication does for your overall health. In fact, the extra weight may be the result of several factors, not just one medication.
    TIP: Talk to your health care provider if you are gaining weight despite your efforts and never stop taking your medications without medical advice.

  4. Menopause:
    Estrogen favors fat deposition in the lower body so when you lose this hormone during menopause, your shape changes and you gain more fat in the abdominal (midsection) region.
    TIP: You need to make sure that you are including weight lifting, strength training, and overall exercise into your life to prevent bone loss and increase the amount of lean body mass to increase your metabolism to burn more calories.

Rebecca Cohen, RN, MS, Ed.D., MPA, HNB/BC
Certified Wellness Coach
Board Certified Holistic Nurse

Rebecca Cohen is an adjunct professor with Kaplan University’s School of Health Science and teaches the course Models for Health and Wellness. She has a background in the fields of complementary and alternative medicine, education, and health care quality improvement and leadership. Dr. Cohen is trained in Quantum Touch, Reiki Level II, and the biofeedback, stress reduction technique of HeartMath. 

Dr. Cohen was raised in a medical family and has worked in acute care and long term care. She served as a consultant to mental health agencies, attorneys, and the National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute. She worked as a Long Term Care Surveyor in the Illinois Department of Public Health. Dr. Cohen’s primary focus is preventive health, and she has developed health education programs for special target groups, corporations, elementary schools, and the community.  She has published more than 30 articles and chapters in nursing text books and currently works as the editor of the American Holistic Nurses Association newsletter.

Kaplan Higher Education Corporation is a division of Kaplan, Inc., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company.

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