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I have been the recipient of this type of judgment. I knew those conclusions were wrong. I exercised constantly. I ran a marathon, multiple half marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks. I raced in numerous triathlons. I ate less than 1500 calories per day for years and went on several 14-day juice fasts. I did everything that I could to lose weight.
However, whatever weight that I lost came back with a vengeance. Not only did I experience society’s judgment, my inner critic roared even louder than the most hurtful outward insults.
When I found out that I had blood sugar issues, I actually felt relieved. I wasn’t overweight from lack of will, I was sick. Weight gain was my symptom; it wasn’t a monument to my lack of worth.
I wanted to write this article for others who may be struggling against a society that demands airbrushed perfection while trying to work with a body intent on sabotaging you at every turn.
Yes, many times we gain weight because we don’t exercise and eat too much sugar. I get that. But, this isn’t the only reason. Not by a long shot!
Here are ten reasons why weight gain may be a symptom rather than a lack of resolve. While this isn’t meant to be an all-encompassing list, it may give people struggling with weight permission to stop self-blaming and start searching for answers.
1) Emotional Trauma
One out of every in five US women has been sexually assaulted. If this trauma occurred during a time when she was thin, she may see weight gain as a shield against future violence.
Whether right or wrong, she connects a thin body as a contributing factor to the rape or assault and uses fat to no longer stand out as a sexual target.
People also use food to treat emotional disorders. A recent study on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) showed women are more likely to be overweight with PTSD than women without the condition. This is thought to be due to the higher levels of stress hormones produced.
Even if you haven’t suffered trauma, simply having chronic stress in your life can cause significant weight gain. It’s best not to judge others until you’ve walked in their shoes.
2) Mental Disorders
Mental illnesses can cause weight gain. A 2008 study revealed that 35% of people with bi-polar are obese. This is the highest percentage of any psychiatric illness.
Depression also has weight gain as a symptom. If you are chronically depressed, lack of motivation is one of your primary symptoms. Since it takes motivation to exercise or eat healthy, weight gain is the natural course when you stop fighting.
3) Metabolic Issues
There are several metabolic issues that can cause weight gain. One of the most common is insulin resistance. Left untreated, it can lead to diabetes. If your cells are resistant to insulin, then it’s difficult to keep weight off.
When sugar can’t move into cells to be utilized, your body converts it to fat. The outcome of this is energy-starved cells and exhaustion. It’s like having a bank full of money, and your ATM card is broken.
Another secondary factor to insulin resistance is PCOS, which also contributes to weight gain and infertility.
4) Hormonal Imbalances
Just getting older can lead to hormones going down and scale numbers going up. Menopause can also increase your chances of becoming overweight.
5) Nutritional Deficiencies
If you are low in certain nutrients, your brain gives the signal to eat to try to get the missing nutrient. You could also just feel run-down, which would trigger you to turn to sugary foods to compensate for the lack of energy. Several nutrients that could contribute to weight gain if they are low are vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium or iron.
6) Prescription Side Effects
Many different prescriptions cause unintentional weight gain. If you are taking any of these medications, your weight gain probably isn’t your fault.
Even antibiotics are shown to pack on the pounds. In fact, antibiotics are widely utilized in the meat industry to not only prevent infection, but because of the welcomed weight gain.
The beef industry also recognizes higher weight gains for the same calories simply by putting hormone implants into their animals to promote feed efficiency. Antibiotics and hormones have similar effects on people.
7) Cardiovascular Issues
While the link between obesity and cardiovascular issues is universally accepted, sometimes weight gain is a symptom that your heart isn’t functioning properly. If fluid is building up in your body because of congestive heart failure, you may see this warning sign reflected as extra pounds on the scale.
8) Digestive Issues
While many digestive issues are associated with weight loss, a few give the opposite symptom. If you have a slow gut, you may confuse bloating from food allergies or constipation as fat. Patients with inflammatory digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome may also struggle with water retention and bloating.
9) Sleep Issues
The link between insomnia and weight gain has been well documented. It is thought that the increase in the stress hormone cortisol is the main culprit.
10) Sugar Addiction
Some people are more prone to becoming physically addicted to sugar. Sugar shows up on brain scans as stimulating the exact regions of the brain that light up with cocaine addiction. Sugar is thought to be just as addictive as this drug in certain people.
Food companies actually count on this to keep you coming back to their product and padding their profit. In fact, a recent documentary, Fed Up, explores sugar addiction in relation to corporate profits in depth.
A recent study also showed people who had a genetic mutation to the hormone ghrelin, which controls hunger, consumed more sugar than those without the mutation.
So, it’s not so simple…
My point is that weight gain is more complex than calories consumed and energy burned. It’s time to stop stereotyping overweight people as lazy or gluttons. It’s easy for us to assume that the people with six-pack abs are more dedicated than those lacking the cherished Olympian physique. However, it often isn’t the case.
If your weight gain is caused by illness, willpower can only take you so far. We wouldn’t expect someone with a broken leg to finish a 5K race. Could they hop and drag themselves to the finish line? Maybe. Many people with these health issues overcome obesity every day. I did!
Should they have to do so without help, and worse, be shamed for their lack of speed or failures? Absolutely not!
If you struggle with unexplained weight gain, please don’t suffer in shame any longer. Seek a qualified doctor to help you find the answers necessary to change your life!