What’s Really Making You Put on Weight?

Ever felt as if all you have to do is just look at food and you put on weight? Admittedly, there are times when the biscuit tin calls and you just can’t resist. But, if you’re piling on the pounds and you’re really not sure why, there could be a number of factors at play. Sometimes, the reasons for putting on weight aren’t as obvious as you might think.

But, if you can identify potential triggers, this can help you to work out the best ways to maintain a healthy weight.


Stress causes your body to release the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol levels are high, you’re more likely to develop abdominal fat – even, if you’re naturally quite slender. The good news is that if you can find ways to reduce your stress levels, the weight will drop off.

A new US study has shown that when a group of stressed women spent 30 minutes a day doing simple relaxation techniques (including meditation), and combined this with mindful eating for six weeks, they lost weight effortlessly and without dieting.

So, if you suspect, your weight gain is stress related, then learning to relax is vital.

Environmental Toxins

Did you know that chemical toxins may disrupt healthy bodily function and lead to weight gain? Researcher Bruce Blumberg at the University of California has even come up with the term obesogens – chemical compounds that mess up your hormones and make you fat. Chemical pollution, for example, may lead to decreased levels of leptin, the hormone that keeps hunger in check.

 To protect yourself:

  • Buy organic food and products whenever possible.
  • Avoid all processed and junk food.
  • Air your home regularly.
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products.
  • Use organic toiletries and cosmetics.
  • Reduce your exposure to EMFs (electro-magnetic fields) by limiting the time you spend in front of the TV or computer.

Food Intolerance

If certain foods make you feel fat, lethargic, tired and bloated – yet you can’t stop craving them, it might be an idea to check for food intolerance. This is when your digestive system cannot handle certain foods. Some foods may also contain ingredients (additives, histamine) that trigger a chemical sensitivity. This causes biochemical imbalances within the body and foods are not digested, broken down and eliminated properly. Typical symptoms may include weight gain, water retention, IBS type symptoms, tiredness and rashes (eg: hives) and food cravings.

If you suspect food intolerance, you need to identify and avoid foods that may be a problem for you. So, ask your GP to refer you to a dietician for tests or, consult an independent nutritionist; or, try the York Test – a DIY test (recognised by the Department of Health and British Allergy Foundation).

Not Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep can also make you put on weight. In a study, at Bristol University, it was shown that lack of sleep increases ghrelin, the ‘hunger’ hormone by 15% and decreases the appetite-suppressing hormone, leptin by 15%. So, lack of sleep makes you want to eat more and this can lead to weight gain. So, if you want to stay slim, stop burning the candle at both ends. Ideally, make sure you get at least 7-8 hours sleep a night.

If you have problems sleeping:

  • Have a warm bath before bedtime to relax you.
  • Place a few drops of calming camomile or rose essential oil on your pillow.
  • Make sure your room is the right temperature.
  • Listen to some relaxing music.
  • Consider trying an alternative therapy, e.g. homoeopathy, acupuncture, hypnotherapy.

Underactive Thyroid

If you seem to be gaining weight for no obvious reason and have noticed other symptoms, e.g. tiredness, lack of energy, feeling cold, poor concentration, menstrual problems, low mood, dry skin and hair, and feeling sluggish generally – you may have an underactive thyroid. This is a common condition that affects around 1 in 50 women (and 1 in 1000 men). Ask your GP to arrange for blood tests. If diagnosis is positive your GP will advise you on treatment options.

The standard treatment for underactive thyroid is to take daily thyroxine tablets. But, in some milder cases, it may even be possible to bring the thyroid back into balance naturally through diet, supplements and rest. But, always seek expert advice. Useful supplements may include selenium (helps convert thyroid hormones), tyrosine, and kelp, a natural source of iodine and other trace minerals including calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium.