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7 Surprising Reasons You're Gaining Weight

Unintentional weight gain is no laughing matter, and the underlying cause of it may surprise you. Fortunately, there are generally ways to combat unwanted weight gain, regardless of the cause.

If you feel like you’re doing everything right, from eating healthy to exercising regularly, and still gaining weight you’re not alone. The real reason you’re packing on extra pounds might surprise you. Fortunately, there are generally ways to combat unwanted weight gain -- regardless of the cause.

Hormonal Imbalance

Hormone imbalance is often a culprit of unintentional, and uninvited, weight gain. MedlinePlus notes that certain hormone-related health conditions, such as hypothyroidism, Cushing syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, and menopause all affect hormone balance and can cause weight gain. If you have hypothyroidism, taking a prescription pill once daily is often a quick fix. If you think hormonal imbalance is causing your weight gain, see an endocrinologist who can check your levels and go over treatment options with you.

Muscle Gains

If you’ve just started a new workout program, your weight gain may simply be from muscle gains, especially if you’re lifting weights regularly. Regardless of whether you’re trying to gain, lose, or maintain your weight, muscle mass gains are usually a good thing. Muscle boosts your metabolism and helps tone up problem areas. However, if you start working out in hopes of losing weight, focus mainly on cardiovascular exercise like jogging, biking, walking uphill, or using an elliptical machine.

Effects from Medications

Medications may also be the culprit for unwelcome weight gain. For example, antidepressants, psychotropic medications (such as medicines that combat bipolar disorder), diabetes, arthritis, blood pressure, heart failure, and anti-anxiety medications may all cause you to gain weight. If you’ve recently started a new medication and notice a higher number on the scale, check the side effects list on the medication label. Chat with your doctor to see if there are alternative treatments you can try instead.

Water Retention

When your body holds excess water, you’ll start to notice a weight gain. Water retention can be due to medications you’re taking, hormone fluctuations, or an underlying health condition. For example, women sometimes hold excess water weight right before or during menstruation. Water retention can also be a sign of something more serious -- such as heart failure, kidney disease, or lymphedema.

Sleep Deprivation

You might be surprised to hear that getting too little sleep can cause weight gain. A 2008 study published in the journal Sleep found that getting less than seven hours of sleep nightly is associated with packing on pounds. Interestingly, researchers who conducted this study found that sleeping more than 8 hours each night is also associated with weight gain. These scientists suggest that getting seven to eight hours of sleep nightly is ideal if you want to maintain a healthy weight.

Smoking Cessation

If you’ve recently stopped smoking, you might start to notice a higher number on the scale. Weight gain is fairly common among smokers when they first quit. The good news is that there are steps you can take to overcome weight gain associated with smoking cessation. The American Heart Association suggests getting lots of physical activity, staying busy, drinking plenty of water, and eating lots of fruits and veggies to avoid weight gain when you quit smoking.

You’re Eating More Thank You Think

You may think you’re not eating very much, but if you’re gaining weight you might be taking in more calories than you think. To know for sure, keep a food diary and record everything you eat in a day -- or use a calorie-counting app. If you’re eating more than your recommended daily calorie allotment, the following strategies can help you reduce your intake:

  • Drink water before meals
  • Cut out sugary drinks
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables
  • Boost your protein intake (egg whites, lean poultry, seafood, very lean red meat, tofu, low-fat dairy foods, legumes, nuts and seeds)

Staying at a healthy weight is a must to keep your chronic disease risks low. If you’re gaining weight unintentionally, talk with your doctor about possible causes and ways to get your weight back on track.

An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as and

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