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Weight gain

Why do we gain weight? It might seem a very simple question, but the answer is not as easy and straight forward as we are thinking. It is not only because we eat more than we actually burn during the day, there are many factors contributing to it. Therefore, if you are not pregnant, but you are gaining weight, here you can find some explanation. 

Many people struggle to keep their weight in check as they get older. Especially menopausal women. Now, new research at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has uncovered some of the reason why this happens: lipid (fat) turnover that happen in the fat tissue decreases during ageing and makes it easier to gain weight, even if we don’t eat more or exercise less than before. So, if instead we are eating more, this might be the reason. But usually there is more than one factor contributing to weight gain. Lipid turnover in the fat tissue, is defined as the rate at which lipid (or fat) in the fat cells is removed and stored. The study just performed, demonstrated that those who didn’t compensate for that by eating less calories, gained weight by an average of 20 percent. The researchers also examined lipid turnover in 41 women who underwent bariatric surgery (a surgery called also gastric bypass, which can help losing weight) and how the lipid turnover rate affected their ability to keep the weight off four to seven years after surgery. The result clearly showed that only those who had a low rate before the surgery managed to increase their lipid turnover and maintain their weight loss. The researchers believe these people may have had more room to increase their lipid turnover than those who already had a high-level pre-surgery.

Prior studies as well, have shown that one way to speed up the lipid turnover in the fat tissue is to exercise more. This new research supports that notion and further indicates that the long-term result derived from weight-loss surgery would improve if combined with increased and regular physical activity.

Talking instead about excess abdominal fat, or belly fat, (in fact in menopause women get “thick in the middle”) which is a source of vexation in middle age, but the good news is that by understanding its cause and by taking steps to control your weight, you can essentially prevent your waistline from spreading too much. In fact, many studies demonstrate that one of the primary causes of middle-age weight gain is due to hormonal imbalance. Is this telling you anything? Of course, menopause. Many women experience weight gain already during perimenopause – which is, just to remember, the period before entering menopause – due to declining progesterone levels and relative preservation of oestrogen levels. This hormonal rollercoaster, does not help our metabolism, as mood swings can lead us to eat more, (let’s face that fact everyone!) and fatigue which can prevent you from exercise. (click here for 5 ways to fight fatigue!)

But, to summarise which are then the main causes of the weight gain?

  • Lower metabolic rate​

The body’s metabolic rate naturally slows down as we age, in both men and women. By burning less calorie it means you are gaining more kilos. You can boost your metabolism with regular exercise and adjusting your diet accordingly to your “new” needs. 

  • Less muscle mass​​

The body’s muscle mass starts to shrink from the age of 30, leading to weight gain. Muscles burn more calories than fat and keep your body lean, therefore, is pivotal to try to maintain the muscle mass doing regular exercise. 

  • Weight gain in menopause

For women, the hormonal imbalance continues into menopause with oestrogen levels dropping drastically. The body responds by retaining fat so that it can draw some oestrogen from fat cells. The result? More belly fat! For men, it is the fall in testosterone levels that causes weight gain around the midriff. Moreover, there are also the downside effect of the hormonal imbalance caused by the menopause which does not help.

  • Sedentary lifestyle

Many men and women tend to have a more sedentary lifestyle (a lifestyle with little to no physical activity) in their middle age. This further slows down the already declining metabolic rate

  • Stress

​​A lot of stress nowadays comes from high-pressure jobs, which means the body tends to be under stress all the time. Meanwhile the stress hormone cortisol sends messages to the brain to store up fuel to fight stress, and for this reason, you may end up eating more. The excess calories are of course stored as belly fat.

What can we do to counteract the weight gain?

  • Eat a healthier diet – more lean protein, good fats

Try to eat more lean protein and good fats for example polyunsaturated fats (essential fatty acids) and monounsaturated fats helps to improve the hormonal balance and stimulate the body’s metabolism. The essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 are found in food like oily fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel), wheat germ and seeds such as flaxseeds and nuts. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive and sesame oils.

Eating enough quality proteins, such as those found in meat, eggs, tofu, beans, pulses and fish, supports muscle regeneration.

  • Control your blood sugar levels with complex carbohydrates

Insulin resistance is another common reason why people put on fat, especially in the waistline, in middle age.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body’s metabolism. However, bad eating habits (as overeating of refined carbohydrates for instance) and excess weight can cause the body’s insulin to become less effective. This condition, which is called insulin resistance, leads in turn to excess glucose in the body, which is stored as fat.

The solution is adopting a healthier diet rich in complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes and vegetables that will keep your blood sugar levels in check.

  • Get back on track with exercise

Experts recommend to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intense walking four to five times a week and twice-weekly strength training to arrest declining metabolic rates and keep muscle mass.

Ten minutes of toning exercises three times a day, plus a weekly aerobic exercise session can also help you lose belly fat.

Excess body fat poses serious health consequences. Many diseases like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems are all correlated to being overweight.

The amount of lean muscle mass we have is the primary determinant of our metabolic rate. Said in other words, the more muscle mass we have, the more calories we will burn. Our muscle mass naturally starts to decline around age of 30, and that process, called sarcopenia, accelerates around the age of 40. Unless something is done to actively protect and build up that lean muscle mass, our bodies will require fewer calories, our metabolisms will slow, and the lost muscle will be then replaced by fat.

To try counteracting muscle mass loss, you can exercise with weights at least twice per week, building up in both weight and intensity as you progress. Then it is important to eat a diet rich in lean protein sources, including protein smoothies. The last bit of advice is to get plenty of sleep. Amongst other health benefits, this gives the body time to repair and rebuild the muscles. (Here’s some tips to get a better night’s sleep)

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