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6 reasons why you might be experiencing sudden weight gain

And, learn ways to manage your weight.

Sudden Unexpected Weight Gain: Causes, Symptoms & Solutions | Juniper

Your weight can fluctuate from time to time. In fact, periods of weight gain and periods of weight loss are both perfectly normal.

Sometimes, unintentional weight gain can happen in more significant amounts without you understanding why. Rapid weight gain can have impacts on your physical and mental health so it's important to get to the bottom of what's causing you to gain weight.

There are plenty of reasons why you can be experiencing unintentional weight gain from certain medications you might be taking to not getting enough sleep and even changes to your hormone levels.

If you've noticed weight gain and you're not exactly sure what's causing you to gain weight, we're diving into 6 common reasons that can cause unexplained weight gain, the symptoms associated with rapid weight gain and what you can do to get on top of your health and well-being.

What are the symptoms associated with sudden weight gain?

The symptoms associated with sudden weight gain look a little different for everyone and depends on the reason behind the rapid weight gain. But, some signs and symptoms you might start to notice include:

  • Changes in your mood
  • Hormone changes
  • Changes in your usual sleep patterns
  • Increased appetite

If you experience any of these other symptoms associated with rapid weight gain, you should speak to your healthcare professional including [1]:

  • Excessive weight gain without knowing the reason why
  • Hair loss
  • Constipation
  • Feeling cold more often than you're used to
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen feet
  • Changes in your vision
  • Uncontrollable hunger alongside palpitations, tremors, and sweating

What causes sudden belly weight gain?

Sudden belly weight gain is generally a consequence of getting older. This is especially true for women even if they're not intentionally gaining weight, like eating more than usual or not getting enough physical activity.

Menopause weight gain can be explained by decreasing oestrogen levels which influences where body fat is distributed in the body.

Reduced oestrogen levels after menopause can lead to body fat being stored in the belly and around the waist instead of on your hips and thighs [2]. In fact, belly fat accounts for 5-8% of total body weight in premenopausal women and 15 to 20% in postmenopausal women [3].

A loss of muscle mass with age also slows down the rate at which the body uses calories which makes it harder to stay at a consistently healthy weight.

Plus, symptoms associated with menopause and ageing like hot flashes, poor sleep and a lower mood can make it difficult to eat healthily and follow a sustainable exercise routine, both of which can contribute to weight gain [3].

Why am I putting on weight all of a sudden?

Unintentional weight gain can be caused by a variety of reasons from imbalances of your thyroid hormone, endocrine disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), sleep deprivation and chronic stress and anxiety.

Ultimately, getting to the bottom of why you're experiencing sudden weight gain can help you get on top of the weight gain and rule out any more serious health concerns.

1. Underactive thyroid (Hypothyroidism)

The thyroid produces hormones that regulate metabolic processes in the body including growth and how much energy you expend.

An underactive thyroid (a.k.a hypothyroidism) means you're not getting enough thyroid hormone levels in the bloodstream. This can slow down your metabolism and even lead to weight gain [4].

Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder with roughly 6-10% of women being affected. In women over 65, this figure increases to one-quarter of women. Fatigue and weight gain are very common symptoms of hypothyroidism which can contribute to unexplained weight gain [4].

2. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder where an imbalance in hormone levels happens as a result of your ovaries creating high levels of hormones called androgens.

PCOS can impact a woman's menstrual cycle where irregular periods and a heavy prolonged period are common. PCOS affects 5-10% of women of childbearing age and can cause unexplained weight gain [5].

PCOS impacts the body's production and use of insulin which can cause insulin resistance. This causes your pancreas to produce more insulin to compensate and too much insulin causes weight gain and fat storage, especially in the belly [6].

3. Cushing's disease

Cushing's disease or Cushing's syndrome occurs when your body produces too much cortisol (a.k.a the stress hormone) over time. Cushing's syndrome can cause high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and bone loss.

One of the most common symptoms of Cushing's syndrome is rapid weight gain in the back of the neck, chest and abdomen, which is often accompanied by a red and round face and excessive facial hair growth [7].

Since Cushing's disease can be caused by certain medications, one treatment plan is to remove medications causing the disease or introduce medications that reduce cortisol levels. But you should always consult your clinician before switching medications.

4. Sleep deprivation

Weight and sleep are strongly correlated. Neurotransmitters in the brain called ghrelin and leptin are both hormones that are involved in appetite, where ghrelin promotes hunger and leptin makes you feel full. Sleep deprivation significantly impacts the body's ability to regulate both these neurotransmitters [8].

In fact, a study showed that those who only got 4 hours of sleep had increased levels of ghrelin and leptin compared to those who got 10 hours of sleep. For those who were sleep deprived and only got 4 hours of sleep, their feelings of fullness decreased and their appetite increased [8].

Other studies have shown that not getting enough sleep leads to metabolic dysregulation including intolerance to glucose, and insulin resistance and poor sleep can also disrupt your circadian rhythms, which all contribute to weight gain [9].

5. Mood disorder

Your mental health can have a major impact on your body, including weight gain. Having trouble sleeping, chronic stress and anxiety and depression can all lead to weight gain.

That's because chronic stress causes your body to go into fight or flight mode, which releases the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline from your adrenal glands.

When your body is full of cortisol and adrenaline, your body becomes more energised, which has an impact on your metabolism. Cortisol slows down your metabolism, so if you're chronically stressed and not necessarily eating sugary and high-fat foods it can cause weight gain and make it harder to lose weight [10].

Plus, having trouble sleeping, feeling anxious over long periods of time and experiencing depression can make you less likely to exercise and increases the chances of emotional eating.

6. Medications

Unfortunately, certain medications can cause weight gain or increase water retention which can make it appear like you're gaining weight.

Although everyone reacts differently to medications, anti-depressants and birth control pills have been known the cause weight gain. Beta-blockers (drugs that decrease high blood pressure) are also another type of medication that can cause you to gain weight.

It's important to note that if you experience unintentional weight gain while taking certain medications, you shouldn't stop taking them without talking to your clinician first. Often times there are substitutes for medications and you can find one that doesn't trigger weight gain for your specific body.

What to do if you've experienced sudden weight gain

If you've noticed a weight increase when you step on the scale or you've noticed extra weight when you look in the mirror, don't immediately beat yourself up for it. Weight fluctuates over time and it's perfectly normal to gain or lose a few pounds.

If you're noticing significant weight gain and you're not sure what to do, there are plenty of things you can do to understand why the changes are happening in your body and get to a healthy weight again.

Talk to your clinician

The first thing you should do when you've noticed unintentional weight gain is to talk to your clinician to get to the bottom of why you might be experiencing weight gain. This can help you understand what's contributing to or causing you to gain weight and rule out any serious health problems.

Your clinician might run a simple blood test or ultrasound to figure out if an underlying health issue is causing you to gain weight, like a thyroid disorder or any of the endocrine disorders like PCOS.

Switch up your lifestyle

Weight gain can be the result of a range of factors, from feeling down in the dumps to having trouble sleeping or navigating increased stress. That's why changing your lifestyle by exercising more and eating better can have positive impacts on your weight and on your mental health too.

Consistent exercise is one of the best things you can do to lose weight and finding a form of physical activity you enjoy doing can make it more likely you will stick with an exercise routine.

Plus, following a balanced and nutritious diet by eating a variety of foods from each of the 5 food groups can help with sustainable and long-term weight loss. This includes [11]:

  • Vegetables and legumes
  • Fruit
  • Whole grains
  • Lean proteins including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • Dairy including milk, cheese and yogurt.

Holistic weight loss programmes

If you're experiencing unintentional weight gain and can't find a solution, Juniper's Weight Reset Programme might be the way to help you achieve long-term and sustainable weight loss.

Juniper's Weight Reset Programme is designed by medical experts, health coaches and dietitians. Our Weight Reset Programme combines proven medication, health coaching and ongoing support to help you lose weight and keep it off. We prescribe a GLP-1 medication called Wegovy, which contains the active ingredient semaglutide.

Plus, we help you make lifestyle and habit changes to help increase your fitness levels and promote eating a balanced diet by providing you with one-on-one health tracking and weekly check-ins with your clinician to track your biometric, mental and physical health, continuously making adjustments to your programme to suit your individual needs.

Ultimately, weight fluctuates from time to time and unintentional weight gain is perfectly normal. If you're experiencing significant weight gain without knowing why the best thing you can do is talk to your clinician to get to the root cause of the issue and rule out any serious health issues causing you to gain weight.