As a practicing endocrinologist, my patients frequently ask why they continue to gain weight even when they’re eating healthy. There’s rarely a simple answer.
A myriad of factors can contribute to weight gain among individuals who believe they’re eating wholesome foods. It’s not just what you eat, but how much, and when. Even the amount of sleep you get each night can affect your weight.
Follow these eight tips to address some of the more common contributing factors to your weight.
1. Food Quantity Matters
We’ve all seen diets that allow you to eat as much as you want of certain foods. Celery is one food that is often placed in this all-you-can-eat category. You might eat more fruit, vegetables, or nuts because you know they’re healthy—after all, it’s hard to stop eating more than a small palm full of those healthy almonds!
Just because a food is considered “healthy,” doesn’t mean you can eat unhealthy amounts of it.
This applies to juice as well. Juice is not as healthy as consuming the whole foods within it; the fiber is removed once a fruit or vegetable is juiced, and we tend to eat more food in a smoothie than we realize. Normally, you wouldn’t eat a banana, apple, orange, cup of blueberries, cup of yogurt, and milk in one sitting. And yet, a typical smoothie contains all of those ingredients, if not more.
Liquid calories are also much easier for your body to metabolize and any excess calories can add to weight gain (potentially as fat),.
Examine the quantity of healthy food you’re consuming and the ratio of liquid versus whole foods. Try to record what you’re eating every few weeks to keep yourself honest and educated. If your schedule is too hectic, you can take pictures of what you eat during the day, and then calculate the calorie equivalents in the evenings or during the weekend.
2. Don’t Rush or Skip Meals
How and when you eat certain foods are critical to maintaining a healthy weight.
Research shows that people who skip breakfast are more often overweight than those who don’t skip this important meal.
Rushing through meals can cause you to eat more than you planned. Chew deliberately during your meal and drink water between bites to slow down your typical eating pace.
3. Keep Your Metabolism Moving
You need about an hour of exercise a day, even if you’re eating healthy. This doesn’t have to be a heart-pounding cardio workout; a simple walk is a good start.
Try to take 10,000 steps a day. Use a pedometer app on your smartphone to track your progress. On days that you don’t hit the goal, consider ending the day with a walk around the block.
Consider investing in a standing desk, which can be found online for as little as $70. It’s a worthy investment for your bottom line (figuratively and literally!). You can alternate between sitting and standing every hour or so at work. The more active muscles you have, the more you’ll increase your metabolism.
4. Seek Out Hormonal Harmony
Sometimes our body works against us, despite our best efforts. If you have a family or personal history of endocrine problems such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or you’re going through menopause (average age for women is 51), andropause (more gradual for men), or perimenopause (8 to 10 years before menopause), you may want to have your doctor check that your hormones are in balance. Hormonal imbalances can make it difficult to lose weight, and in some cases, can cause you to add on pounds.
5. Check Your Gut
Our bodies are hosts to many organisms that can both help or hurt us. The bacteria in our gut, which research has shown can have an impact on our weight, can be affected by a variety of factors such as how we were born (c-section vs. vaginal), use of antibiotics, and what we eat.
6. Get Abundant, Restful Sleep
The quality and quantity of your sleep is just as important as the kind of food you eat. You may want a doctor to assess the quality of your sleep if you wake up with a dry mouth or headache or are tired, even after a 7- to 8-hour rest.
Studies have shown those who do not feel well rested after sleep have increased cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods as well as altered hormones that can increase blood pressure, glucose, and weight.
Making sure your bedroom is a protected place for sleep (dark, quiet, no pets or snoring bed partner—ear plugs anyone?) are good first steps to take to make sure you’re getting quality sleep each night.
7. Review Your Medications
Certain medications can also increase your weight. Talk to your doctor to find out if the medications you’re taking are making it difficult to maintain a healthy weight and adjust them if possible. If it’s not possible to reduce or change them then you will have to be all the more strict with diet and exercise to help counteract their effects on your weight. Examples of medications that can contribute to weight gain are steroids (such as prednisone, hydrocortisone, cortef, and kenalog in topical, inhaled, injection, or oral forms), diabetes medications like insulin and some medications that treat depression, migraines, seizures, and high blood pressure.
8. Keep Stress Levels Low
In this fast-paced society, it’s easy to lose track of your own internal state. Pumping out cortisol and other stress hormones hour-after-hour can take a toll on your health; stress hormones can increase blood pressure, heart rate, glucose and create more visceral (around the internal organs) fat over the long-term. The work deadline you’re so stressed about can hasten your biological deadline.
Regular exercise, good quality sleep, and meditation are three great ways you can help control your stress. Try to breath slowly and mindfully throughout the day, especially when you feel your stress levels rising. Meditation can lower blood pressure, heart rate, improve immune function, reduce inflammation, and improves one’s overall health and sense of well-being. Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you for breathing life back into them, one breath at a time.
Remember, weight loss takes time, mindfulness, and patience. Start each day with a positive view towards your ultimate goal. You will get there.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
- Mourao DM, Bressan J, Campbell WW, Mattes RD. Effects of food form on appetite and energy intake in lean and obese young adults. International Journal of Obesity. 2007 Nov (11):1688-95. Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA.
- Mattes, RD, Beverages and positive energy balance: the menace is the medium, Int Journ Obes, 30, S60-S65, 2006, Department of Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA