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The Top Reasons for Weight Gain and What You Can Do About It

Are you struggling with unexpected weight gain? It can be frustrating to deal with packing on unwanted pounds, especially when you don’t know where they’re coming from. Often, the numbers on the scale creep up because of hidden habits that make you consume far more calories than necessary. Sometimes, there are underlying medical conditions that make you gain weight even when you have not changed your eating or exercise habits. In the following article, I will discuss the top reasons for weight gain, as well as solutions to help you combat the unwanted pounds.


You are probably aware of the connection between caloric intake and energy expenditure through exercise. At first glance, it seems simple enough:

  • Calories are measurements of the energy your body absorbs from food and the energy it expends through exercise and daily living.
  • Weight gain occurs when you ingest more than you need.
  • In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in.

Everybody has unique caloric requirements, depending on their metabolism and lifestyle.

While these basics are true, there are far more complexities behind the scenes. Everyone has an individual, unique biochemical makeup. Factors like environment, lifestyle changes, genetic factors, and medical conditions can wreak havoc on your metabolism. Furthermore, your metabolism changes throughout the course of your life, which naturally alters the way your body metabolizes food.

To get to the root of those pesky pounds, a good starting point is to carefully examine your eating habits. You may be surprised at what you find!


1. Hidden Calories

While a large slice of greasy pizza is obviously laden in calories, certain kinds of calories are “hidden” because they are easier to overlook. The worst offenders are spreads or toppings like butter and mayonnaise. The same goes for adding cream to your coffee – if it is more than just a splash, those calories can add up quite rapidly when you’re drinking multiple cups a day. Remember, condiment does not equal calorie-free!

Make sure to look at product packaging for the serving size and calories. It is helpful to actually measure out portions of sneaky extras like these for a few days to remind yourself how quickly calories can accumulate.

2. Drinking

lemon water

Highly caloric beverages go down oh-so-easily, but the weight gain they can cause takes much more work to lose. Sugary juices, soda, beer, and wine all carry at least a hundred calories per serving size – and multiple drinks like this add up quickly over the course of the day. Try to limit your intake of these types of drinks. Instead, opt for herbal tea or water. To add flavour to water, try adding fresh mint leaves, cucumber wedges, or fresh lemon and lime slices.

3. Distorted Portion Perception

Due to advertising and restaurant serving sizes, enormous portions have become the norm for many consumers. For example, a few handfuls of chips seems innocent enough, but it might be three times the actual serving size on the nutrition label.

To keep your consumption in check, make a habit of checking the serving sizes listed on food product labels, and use measuring cups and spoons to be as accurate as possible. Measuring food and seeing the “true” serving sizes listed on product labels can be shocking to many people, especially since excessive portions are so ingrained in our culture.

Taking back control of serving sizes is a great first step in managing your weight. Challenge yourself to eat slightly smaller portions than you normally would.

Remember, if you are truly still hungry when you are finished, you can always eat more! Eat your food slowly and mindfully. If you listen carefully to your body’s cues, you may find that you are satisfied with less.

food portions

4. Eating on the Go

Woman eating a sweet and drinking driving her car

One way people consume excess calories is by subconsciously believing that if they are not sitting down for a meal, the calories do not really count. While it may seem harmless, there are two main dangers to grazing or eating “on the go.”

First, eating while you are walking or driving prevents your brain from fully registering what you are doing. Scarfing down an enormous fast food sandwich in the car on your way to work might seem like a huge time-saver. However, it actually encourages overeating because you are not allowing your body time to send the “I’m full” message to your brain.

Another example is grazing at social events. For example, mindlessly grabbing handfuls of that sugary snack mix every time you pass the buffet at a party seems harmless enough, but it can lead to hundreds of calories consumed over the course of a night.

It is always best to sit down when you are eating, and to really savour your food. This gives your brain time to process the amount of food in front of you so that it can send the “I’m full” message before you overeat.

5. Sugar

Refined sugar is one of the most insidious additives in popular foods. The most common culprits are sugary drinks, which are linked to obesity and heart disease. Even products labeled “healthy” or “natural” are major offenders. Excessive sugar consumption alters your body’s natural biochemistry, making it extremely difficult to maintain a healthy weight.

reasons why sugar is bad


1. Lack of Sleep

If you are struggling from insomnia or simply not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, that may be contributing to your weight gain. Sleep deprivation dysregulates cortisol, a hormone that manages your appetite. This can make you feel hungry when you would normally feel satiated.  Additionally, sleep deprivation can cause fat to accumulate in your body more quickly.

2. Genetics

Have you ever noticed how some people can eat whatever they want, yet they never seem to gain weight? It is true that genetics play a crucial role in metabolism function, and different people are genetically programmed with vastly different metabolisms.

If your parents struggle with obesity or excess weight, you are more likely to struggle as well. However, you can minimize the expression of these genes by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables.

fruit and smoothies

3. Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland fails to produce adequate thyroid hormones, which are key players in stabilizing your metabolism. In addition to weight gain, an underactive thyroid can cause skin and hair problems, fatigue, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, mood disorders, and fertility issues. If you have noticed weight gain alongside these other symptoms, hypothyroidism may be the culprit.  Be sure to have your healthcare practitioner run a thyroid blood panel done that consists of all 6 of the following markers: TSH, Free T3, Free T4, Anti-thyroglobulin, Anti-thyroperoxidase, and Reverse T3.

4. Steroid Treatment

Steroids are anti-inflammatory medications often used in the treatment of arthritis and asthma. Since they have a tendency to increase appetite and alter your hormones, prolonged use can cause extra pounds to accrue.

Be mindful of what you eat while taking steroids, and consider talking to your doctor about lowering your dosage if weight gain occurs. Another option is to trade in steroids for alternative, more natural forms of treatment.

5. Depression, Anxiety, and Stress

chronic stress

Does your recent weight gain go hand-in-hand with a persistent “on edge” feeling, nervousness, sadness, or unpredictable mood swings? If so, chronic stress and/or a serious mental health condition could be contributing to your weight gain.

Overeating is a common way to self-medicate depression and anxiety, but this is a short term solution with negative long term consequences. Instead of eating to deal with troublesome moods, try constructive management techniques such as talk therapy, meditation, and exercise.

6. Aging

Aging is a normal part of life, but some people age better than others. One effect of aging is the accumulation of more fat, especially around the belly. This can be contributed to a couple of factors. First, many people tend to become more sedentary as they age, which reduces the number of calories they burn regularly. Another factor is that aging causes loss of muscle mass – a phenomenon known as sarcopenia.

To combat sarcopenia, make sure to incorporate moderate exercise into your lifestyle, especially some form of strength training. If you want to avoid lifting weights, yoga is also excellent for toning muscles.

7. Diabetes

Insulin, which many people take to treat their diabetes, is highly effective at regulating blood sugar levels. However, weight gain is a frequent side effect of insulin therapy. Some patients with diabetes have a tendency to eat more often to keep their blood sugar in check, but unrestricted snacking inevitably leads to excess weight. If you have diabetes and also struggle with unwanted weight, know that there are simple, very doable ways to reverse its effects. These include dietary changes, like avoiding refined sugar, as well as lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.

8. Food Addiction

Food addiction is just as serious as drug addiction! Sugary, processed junk foods trigger the same reward centers in your brain as powerful drugs like cocaine and nicotine, which can lead to dependency and withdrawal symptoms. Individuals who are predisposed to addiction may become hooked on the dopamine released by these processed foods and struggle with cravings and binge eating.

woman sitting by scale

The shame from overeating can lead to even more eating as a way to cope, resulting in a vicious cycle. If you think you have a food addiction, try to slowly eliminate refined sugar and junk foods from your diet. Weaning yourself will free you from the intense cravings. If you find that you are unable to do this successfully on your own, I recommend enlisting the help of a therapist. There is no shame in getting help; the addictive properties of refined, sugary foods are powerful!


1. Drink Green Tea

The Chinese have been drinking Green Tea for over 4,000 years, and for good reason! This herbal beverage contains a compound called epigallocatechin gallate, which has been shown to accelerate weight loss and improve metabolism.

2. Prebiotics and Probiotics

A balanced gut microbiome is so, so important. An unhealthy gut can cause excess weight gain and even obesity. One way to help out your gut is by eating foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics. These have been shown to to reduce body mass index and fat mass in patients with obesity. Prebiotics and probiotics are also healthy preventative measures for anyone wishing to prevent weight gain before it gets out of control.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

3. Interval and Strength-Training

The most effective form of exercise for weight loss is mixing in fast-paced intervals with your cardio workout. This burns more calories than going at the same steady speed for the entire duration of your workout. For example, instead of running at the same pace the whole time, alternate intervals of 30-60 second sprints with 1-2 minutes of jogging.

You should also incorporate strength training into your weekly exercise routine, since building muscle mass leads to burning more calories – even as you sleep!

4. Whatever You Do, Don’t Diet

While you should absolutely make every effort to eat whole, nutrient-rich foods, restricting unhealthy foods altogether is a terrible idea. Banning your favourite vices completely will only cause you to think about them more, which may lead to bingeing. You will be taking in much less calories in the long-run by eating junk food in moderation, as opposed to periods of rigid restriction punctuated by out-of-control binges.


Trying to keep those extra pounds off can seem like a losing battle, but it doesn’t have to be. For best results, I recommend a detailed functional medicine analysis followed up with a customized program tailored to your unique biochemical requirements. At The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine, I can work with you to find the root cause of your unwanted weight gain and find the most effective solutions.

Please don’t hesitate to schedule a  Complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session with me, which can take place over the phone or at the clinic. It gives you an opportunity to learn more about the services I offer, with no strings attached.

Please schedule an appointment today! Your best health awaits you.

Dr. John Dempster BSc., ND, FAAFM

The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine