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Surprising Causes of Weight Gain

Why people have difficulty losing weight

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Updated June 26, 2014

Reasons you can't lose weight
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It's true that we gain weight when we eat more than we can burn off. But this conventional diet wisdom does not always hold true. Weight gain can also be caused by health conditions such as hypothyroidism, food sensitivity, Cushing's syndrome, organ disease, prescription drug use, anxiety, blood sugar imbalance, and essential fatty acid deficiency.

Hypothyroidism

Thyroid hormone deficiency can decrease metabolism of food, causing appetite loss and modest weight gain. Weight gain is from fat accumulation and fluid retention caused by protein deposits in the body.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism can include fatigue, lethargy, swelling of the face or around the eyes, dry, coarse skin, decreased sweating, poor memory, slow speech and hoarse voice, weakness, intolerance to cold and headache.

Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency

Essential fatty acids, such as in flaxseed oil, are good fats that are needed by the body to make hormones and maintain the body's metabolic rate. A deficiency may cause cravings, particularly for fatty foods.

The first signs of deficiency are often dandruff, dry hair and dry, scaly skin. Deficiency is also associated with arthritis, eczema, heart disease, diabetes and premenstrual syndrome.

Food Sensitivity

Reactions to foods are not always immediate. They can occur many hours later as bloating and swelling in the hands, feet, ankles, abdomen, chin and around the eyes. Much of the weight gained is fluid retention caused by inflammation and the release of certain hormones. In addition, there is fermentation of foods, particularly carbohydrates, in the intestines which can result in a swollen distended belly and gas production.

Symptoms of food sensitivity can include headache, indigestion or heartburn, fatigue, depression, joint pain or arthritis, canker sores, chronic respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, sinus congestion or bronchitis and chronic bowel problems such as diarrhea or constipation.

Cushing's Syndrome

Cushing's Syndrome is a disorder caused by an excess of the hormone cortisol. Fat accumulates in the face, abdomen and upper back, often producing a characteristic rounded "moon" face and "buffalo hump". The arms and legs usually remain slender.

Other symptoms of Cushing's Syndrome include muscle wasting and weakness, thin skin, poor wound healing, easy bruising, purple "stretch marks" on the abdomen, menstrual irregularities, high blood pressure, glucose intolerance and hair loss in women.

Prescription Drugs

Hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives containing estrogen can cause fluid retention and increased appetite. Other drugs that can cause weight gain are steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants and diabetic medications.

Kidney, Heart or Liver Disease

Disease in these organs can cause fluid retention, which appears as general puffiness all over the body, especially the eyes and ankles.

Emotional Eating

Many people respond to stress or depression by eating excessively. Sources of stress may not always be apparent, but may still affect eating habits and cause weight gain.

Blood Sugar Imbalance

Eating simple, refined carbohydrates can cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. For example, eating chocolate increases the amount of sugar in the blood. The hormone insulin is released which causes sugar to be stored away and blood sugar levels to be lowered, which can trigger cravings for more sweets in order to stabilize blood sugar balance.

Conclusion

Weight gain can also be caused by organ enlargement, such as from an ovarian cyst, and obstruction of lymph fluid.

The above conditions must be diagnosed by a qualified health care practitioner, especially since serious disease may not always be accompanied by overt symptoms.

Sources

Bouchier IAD, Ellis H, Fleming PR, eds. French's Index of Differential Diagnosis. 13th edition. Woburn, MA. Butterworth Heinemann, 1996.

Ott C. Surprising obstacles to weight loss. Natural Health. October 1999.

Seller RH. Differential Diagnosis of Common Complaints. 4th edition. Philadelphia, PA. W.B. Saunders Company, 2000.

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