It's not uncommon for your weight to fluctuate every now and again, in fact, in most cases, it's perfectly healthy. You should pay less attention to the exact number on the scale and pay closer attention to how you feel. Are your clothes fitting dramatically different all of the sudden? Have your energy levels take a sharp decrease? Are you unable to complete workouts that you were flying through a month ago? While a little weight gain (or loss) isn't usually the sign of a serious problem, it's better to be safe and investigate the issue if your answer to any of the above questions is "yes". Ahead, a doctor, nutritionist, chef, and an energy healer share the most common causes of sudden weight gain, plus recommended solutions—just keep in mind that a visit to the doctor is the only way to receive a 100 percent accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Inflammation is one of those buzzy wellness terms you’ve probably been reading about lately. That’s because inflammation can have a massive impact on your health. There are two ways the body can become inflamed. Chronic inflammation is when the body holds onto excess foreign substances, like toxins or fat cells. Respectively, acute inflammation is your body going into rescue and repair mode, and is most likely the result of sudden injury or trauma. In turn, the body produces a surge of immune responses, like white blood cells. This surge results in visible swelling; it’s your body’s way of saying pay attention and help me, please.
A 2019 study links chronic inflammation with obesity, indicating that metabolic changes can trigger inflammation, and the more the body is inflamed, the harder it is to drop excess weight. Although you might not consider eating junk food trauma, your body just might, especially if you’re not used to consuming lots of indulgent foods. Catherine McCord, founder of Weelicious and author of the bestselling Smoothie Project, goes on to explain that over-indulging will cause sugar highs, sending the body into a state of shock. “Let’s say you were indulging over the holidays and had a piece of cake every day,” says McCord. “You might have a little bit of weight gain, which is to be expected.” However, inflammation can account for further weight gain. “Spikes in sugar consumption can trigger inflammation, especially if you’re not used to eating (processed or refined) sugar.”
When using Turmeric, a powerful anti-inflammatory, McCord suggests adding a crack of black pepper and a fat to make sure the body absorbs it properly.
The solution: McCord suggests getting fresh vegetables and fruits into your diet by starting each day with a smoothie. You don’t have to go on a smoothie-only diet to reap the benefits smoothies have to offer. Adding a smoothie to your breakfast, McCord contends, can have many benefits. “When you start your day with natural flavors in your body, you make better choices when it comes to other meals.” One of her favorite detox smoothies includes pineapple, spinach, apple and coconut water. You can also add superfoods like powdered cacao, maca, turmeric, or flax.
Emotional Eating and Drinking
“All adults are emotional eaters,” says McCord. “Kids eat because a signal goes off in their brains saying they’re hungry, and they stop eating when they’re full.” However, adults can eat when they experience happiness and sadness. “Holidays trigger a lot of those emotions and people end up over-indulging. You probably end up drinking more than you’re used to or eating stuff you're not accustomed to. As a result, your body may be in shock.” Not only is it totally pleasurable to eat, drink, and be merry, it’s part of experiencing life. Just make sure you're giving your body the nourishment it needs.
The solution: McCord suggests adding a gut supplement to your diet whenever you eat or drink emotionally. “To make sure your gut is healthy, take in yogurt and kefir to help your gut lining and make you feel good.” Plus, be sure to hydrate after you go hard on the booze to help bring you back to a balanced state.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be contributing to unexpected weight gain, says Dr. Steven Gundry MD, one of the world’s top heart surgeons and a pioneer in nutrition, who has spent the last 16 years studying the microbiome “Having spent my surgical training years at Michigan, and treating thousands of patients from Oregon and Washington, I’ve experienced what the lack of exposure to sunlight in the winter can do to one’s psyche,” Gundry says. “When depressed or anxious, even animals are observed to seek sugars and carbohydrates which will ramp up serotonin production (the feel good hormone) temporarily," explains Gundry, who helps patients use diet and nutrition as a key form of treatment. "But when that 'hit' wears off, we seek another 'hit' and another. Soon, there’s three to five pounds on the scale.”
The solution: Light therapy may offer an antidote to SAD, but be sure to chat with your doctor about what type of light box to invest in, and how to use it. The Mayo Clinic warns that sometimes light therapy can trigger a manic episode, so it’s crucial to use only when recommended by a doctor and with that doctor's supervision.
Like emotional eating and drinking, social eating is another cause of random weight gain. Gundry explains a so-called domino effect. “Happy hour or more dinners out with friends really packs on the pounds. Even my most resolute patients find that one drink leads to two or more, and one friend ordering dessert leads to more friends ordering dessert, which means you’ll partake or sample what’s being passed around. Plus, the appetizers at happy hour are deep fried Lectin bombs, which are [essentially] guaranteed to deposit fat."
The solution: Try choosing a booze-free bar for social gatherings, which are popping up all over the country in-step with wellness enthusiasts who want to party without suffering a next-day hangover. Opt for conscious culinary experiences when socializing with like minded pals.
Negative Feedback Loop
“Relationship issues, job stress, and easy food availability can explain unexpected weight gain,” says Gundry. “While these three sound unrelated, they actually intertwine. Stress in a relationship or job is usually ‘treated’ with sugar and/or alcohol in my experience.” Gundry points out work environments are often loaded with 'feel-good' snacks that many people take advantage of, even unconsciously. In relationships, Gundry says there tends to be one partner who is making less healthy choices.
The solution: Breaking the negative feedback loop requires awareness and mindfulness. Once you see how certain behaviors are enmeshed, you can make more conscious choices, whether that means bringing your own healthy snacks to the office, or getting to the bottom of your relationship dynamics.
“One of the top reasons people gain weight ‘randomly’ is when they do not get enough sleep,” says Serena Poon a leading chef, nutritionist and reiki master to the Hollywood elite. Poon, founder of the Culinary Alchemy method, which combines integrative and functional nutrition along with healing energy, goes on to point out that lack of sleep has been clinically linked to weight gain.
“It seems harmless enough to occasionally shave off a few hours of sleep a few extra nights of the week, especially if you have a demanding schedule, an important project deadline or a travel itinerary that is throwing your sleep off. But insufficient sleep can affect our hunger-regulating hormones such as ghrelin, which tells us when it’s time to eat, and leptin, which tells us when we are full. Not getting enough sleep can also spike our cortisol levels, a stress hormone that can cause inflammation.”
The solution: Poon suggests tracking your sleep patterns and to “experiment with giving yourself a full night’s sleep (seven to eight hours) for a week and see if it makes a difference.”
“Another very common reason I see people gain weight without a seemingly obvious reason is due to hormones,” says Poon. “Your gut and your hormones rule your life, so you want to be mindful and take care of these two departments in your body.” Imbalanced hormones can be the result of a lack of sleep, stress, an undiagnosed condition such as PCOS or thyroid issues, or a side effect from a new medication like birth control.
The solution: Poon recommends asking your health practitioner to run a simple blood test that measures hormone levels. “The solution may be as easy as adjusting your diet and adding in supplements to support your adrenal system.”
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Campbell PD, Miller AM, Woesner ME. Bright light therapy: Seasonal Affective Disorder and beyond. The Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine : EJBM. 2017;32.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic. Mayoclinic.org. Published 2017.
Roop J. Hormone imbalance - A cause for concern in women. Research Journal of Life Sciences, Bioinformatics, Pharmaceutical and Chemical Sciences. Published online 2018. doi:10.26479/2018.0402.18