8 surprising reasons you're gaining weight

The reasons for weight gain aren't always obvious.
Published 7 February, 2020

8 hidden causes of weight gain

Weight gain occurs when you regularly eat more calories than you use through normal bodily functions and physical activity.

But weight isn't always as simple as calories in, calories out, and the lifestyle habits causing your weight gain aren't always obvious.

If you're eating healthily and doing enough physical activity, here's what could be standing between you and your ideal weight.

1. Being polite

Sometimes, just being nice can get our waistlines into trouble. Looking to lose weight? It's time to shake off our British stereotypes and learn to say 'no' without worrying what others may think.

That could mean declining a second helping, or understanding that it's okay to leave food on your plate. Explain to friends and family that you're on a weight loss programme, and hopefully they'll come to respect and support your decisions.

3 ways your friends could be accidentally sabotaging your weight loss

2. Your Netflix membership

How much TV, Netflix or Prime do you watch in an average week? Sofa + screen = a recipe for a sedentary lifestyle, especially when you find a bingeworthy series (You, anyone?).

In addition to inactivity, we're also more prone to snacking on energy-dense foods like crisps and chocolate when watching TV. Setting yourself a daily allowance when it comes to screen time, and making an effort to do some physical activity, could help combat screen-related weight gain.

Your 7-step digital detox plan

3. All those late nights 

Whether it's down to a new Netflix show everyone's raving about or something else - perhaps you have a busy evening schedule or have trouble sleeping - studies have consistently shown that a lack of sleep can interrupt your weight loss, and even lead to weight gain.

This may be due to increased presence of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone) and reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) when we're tired. We're more likely to reach for high-calorie snacks to keep our energy levels topped up throughout the day, and do less physical activity, both of which can lead to weight gain over time.

4. Feeling stressed

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed lately? It might be time to take a step back and try some relaxation techniques.

When it comes to your weight, stress hormones can promote an appetite for nutrient-dense comfort foods that activate brain reward systems and reduce stress responses. Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol are also linked to excess fat around the abdomen, which is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

Find out more about stress and weight

5. Feeling down

If you've had a bad day, or you've been feeling down for a while*, it's easy to turn to food as a coping mechanism.

Emotional eating can be tough to overcome, especially when it becomes a learned behaviour. If you feel down and you eat something because you think it will help, and you repeat that behaviour several times, after a while feeling down will prompt you to eat.

If you're an emotional eater, finding other forms of distraction could help, such as going for a walk or calling a friend.

*Make an appointment with your GP if you have symptoms of depression.

5 ways to take charge of emotional eating

6. Rewarding yourself after a workout

Eating the right foods after a workout can help your body recover and build muscle. But going to town on the biscuits in the cupboard as a 'treat'could render your workout ineffective and thwart your weight loss goals.

For instance, you might burn 350 calories on a 5k run then 'reward' yourself with some chocolate digestives. At 84 calories per McVitie's milk chocolate digestive, you only need to eat four before you've gained back the calories you burned during your workout.  

The key is to stop viewing food as a reward, and instead see it as fuel for the body. The better the fuel, the better your performance - so instead of thinking about what you deserve to eat, try thinking about what your body needs to work at its best.

What to eat before and after exercise

7. Buying low-fat foods

Foods labelled as low in fat aren't necessarily better for you; in fact, they could contain high levels of sugar - and therefore be high in calories - and contribute to weight gain. 

When you're out food shopping, make sure you read the labels, looking at sugar content as well as overall calories. While a food may have a reduced amount of fat, it may actually have the same amount of calories. Use the WeightWatchers® barcode scanner to compare the Points® values of a regular version of a food or meal, and its low-fat counterpart.

How to find hidden sugar

8. Eating big portions (even of healthy food)

Portion sizes have drastically increased over the last few decades: a study by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found that burgers have doubled in size since 1980. Unsurprisingly, when presented with bigger portions, we tend to eat more. 

Even overeating 'healthy' foods can lead to weight gain. All foods have a calorific value, and the only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit, where you're burning more calories than you consume. 

To reduce your portion sizes, start weighing ingredients, use this handy portion guide and/or serve your meals on smaller plates. Eating at a slower pace will also help your brain to recognise when you're full.

What are ZeroPoint foods?