Watching your weight, but still piling on the pounds?A widening waistline is often the result of overeating or not getting sufficient exercise. But if you’re getting pudgier despite a sensible amount of eating and working out, it’s time to consider these less obvious causes.
1. Eating out all the time means higher intake of trans fatWith Singaporeans working some of the longest hours in the world, it’s no wonder that many of us resort to eating out once or twice a day. In households where both parents work, it’s harder for families to make time for grocery shopping and cooking. This means more takeout food with a higher salt and fat content than if you had whipped up the meal yourself.You have no control over the type of fat used in commercial cooking, either. Until the Ministry of Health implements a ban on partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in all foods sold in Singapore in June 2021, your commercially-prepared food could contain PHOs. That’s a major source of artificial trans fats.Artificial trans fat is not only fattening, but it also amplifies your risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes while providing zero nutritional value.
2. Eating on the go and not sleeping enough can cause weight gainThis is for the workaholics! Are you constantly pressed for time to finish your meals and sleeping a mere four to six hours a night? Irregular sleeping hours and always eating on the go are some of the unseen drivers of weight gain.Studies show that people who speed eat are likelier to eat more. When you gorge on your meal too quickly, your brain doesn’t have enough time to process hormonal responses from your stomach announcing that you’re full. That’s one way your portions become a lot larger than they need to be. In fact, speed eaters are twice as likely to be obese!Research also shows that not having enough shut-eye spells all kinds of trouble for your weight. Insufficient sleep can short-circuit the hormones that regulate appetite, giving rise to hunger pangs throughout the day. Sleep-deprived people also make unhealthier food choices, since fatigue can impair the part of your brain in charge of decision-making. In one study, people who clocked more than eight hours of sleep every night were rewarded with less body fat.
3. Don’t underestimate the impact of stressBeing stressed out and being denied sleep can have a negative effect on your psychological well-being. But that’s not all.A combination of high chronic stress and sleep deprivation can cause your cortisol, or fight-or-flight hormones, to spike. Part of cortisol’s purpose is to replenish your energy after you’ve fought or fled from your perceived threat. This causes your appetite for carbohydrate-rich foods to grow. That’s how the term “stress eating” came about! Of course, it doesn’t help that we’ve become much less physically active than our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors.One knock-on effect of heightened cortisol levels is weight gain. Specifically, weight gain in the midsection of your body.But more seriously, persistently high cortisol levels can lead to a hormonal defect called leptin resistance.
4. Leptin resistance and weight gainBeating the bulge is not as straightforward if you are resistant to leptin, which is often referred to as the satiety hormone. Being resistant to leptin means your body is less responsive to pleasure signals from your gut, which again makes you more prone to overeating.Here’s how it works. Leptin signals to your brain that you have enough fat stored in your body, which is like a red light to pause eating and start metabolising your fat reserves instead. It is produced by fat cells – the more body fat you have, the more leptin is sent to your brain to limit food intake. However, in obese people, the hypothalamic cells in their brains may not recognise the signal.Eating processed foods that are high in sugar can cause your fat cells to overwhelm your hypothalamus with leptin. Over time, the body can become desensitised to leptin (just like how people become resistant to insulin). This results in excessive levels of hunger.How do you know if you have leptin resistance? If you are constantly craving for food, are overweight by more than 7kg and have a significant percentage of belly fat, chances are that you have some extent of leptin resistance.
5. Other less obvious reasons for weight gainMedical reasons are a possible cause of sudden and unexpected weight gain. Do any of the following apply?
- Dehydration: You might find it harder to lose weight if you’re chronically dehydrated. We rely on water for many functions on the cellular level. Water enables the proteins that are responsible for virtually all chemical reactions in your body. Without enough of it, your body compensates by slowing down your metabolism. This not only causes weight gain but poor digestive function as well.
- Medications: Does your weight gain coincide with usage of certain medications like oral contraceptives, antidepressants and steroids? Some of these drugs may impair your energy levels, making it harder for you to stay physically active. Others may result in your appetite going haywire. Water retention is a common side effect as well.