About 60 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, largely due to unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles.
Some people, however, are more prone to weight gain than others. Do any of these three risk factors make you more likely to gain weight? And if so, what should you do about it?
1. Staying Up Too Late At Night
Are you a night owl? If so, you could be in for some surprising consequences if you don’t start taking better care of your body.
According to a recent study from Northwestern Medicine, people who go to bed at later hours tend to sleep late in the mornings and consequently eat more calories in the evening, twice as much fast food during the day, and about half the amount of fruits and vegetables as their “early to bed” peers.
As a consequence, they consume 248 more calories every day and weigh more than people who maintain earlier sleep schedules. Night owls also have a higher body mass index than do normal sleepers.
And of course, all of that translates into rapid weight gain.
“The extra daily calories can mean a significant amount of weight gain—two pounds per month—if they are not balanced by more physical activity,” lead author Kelly Glazer Baron said in a statement.
Though researchers said they weren’t aware of exactly why late sleepers consumed extra calories, but that getting poor sleep does have a direct effect on weight gain because it causes the body to produce more of the hormone cortisol.
This stress hormone is responsible for triggering cravings and also packs on any additional weight around the abdomen, which leads to a rapid appearance of weight gain and some serious health side effects if you’re not careful.
2. Extreme, Obsessive Dieting
You likely already know that most dieters tend to gain back a good portion of the weight they’ve lost, but did you know that the process of dieting itself is likely to lead to weight gain?
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “dieting-induced weight gain” is a contributing factor to the growing global obesity epidemic.
“Dieting is biologically akin to compound interest, but in a negative context,” explains registered dietician Evelyn Tribole. “If you put your money in a compound-interest savings account, you will accelerate your earnings…In a similar way, dieting amplifies the amount of weight gains, compared to a non-dieting person with similar genes and body.”
This was proven in a recent study involving 2,000 sets of twins from Finland. One twin set out on just one intentional weight loss program, while the other maintained a normal lifestyle. The dieting twins were two to three times more likely to become overweight as compared to their non-dieting twin.
This is because extreme dieting causes your body to initiate the same biological process as it does when you’re starving. Your body shifts into survival mode to preserve what food it does receive, slowing down the metabolism and storing calories as fat.
And even though the initial few weeks of any fad diet can promote weight loss, weight gain is a sure rebound as the body adjusts to the new, lesser level of food and metabolism slows even further.
3. Taking Certain Medications
It has long been an accepted fact that certain medications include weight gain as a side effect. The most common are birth control pills given to women, which increase the levels of hormones responsible for breaking down muscle tissue and worsening body composition.
These effects were shown in a 2009 study from Texas A&M University. Researchers found that women who take the Pill have about 60 percent lean muscle mass than their peers who use alternate forms of birth control. Women on the Pill also have lower levels of muscle-building hormones. All of this leads to increased weight gain.
“If you’re already overweight, that could make it harder to lose extra pounds, because the more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn,” explains study author Steven E. Riechman.
According to Lawrence Cheskin, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight management Center, drugs that treat depression are another prime factor in weight gain. Estimates indicate that about 25 percent of people taking drugs like Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft experience weight gain to the tune of 10 pounds or more.
“This is a phenomenon that I first noticed years ago when Prozac first came on the market,” Dr. Norman Sussman with the NYU School of Medicine told WebMD. “It didn’t initially show up in the clinical trials because most of them were eight to 12 weeks in length, and the weight gain generally occurs with longer use. But it’s definitely one of the side effects of this and other antidepressant medications.”
Other medications linked to weight gain include atypical antipsychotics, which treat conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychological conditions. Children and adolescents are particularly susceptible to weight gain with these medications.
How to Counteract Weight Gain
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a victim when it comes to weight gain. If you’re a chronic dieter, stop now and start investigating more healthful alternatives for losing weight naturally and over a specific amount of time.
If you tend to be a night owl, take steps to improve your sleep. Start by removing any sources of light from your bedroom and using your bed only for sleep. Pay special attention to blue lights as they have been shown to decrease sleep quality. Also make sure you have a medium-firm pillow that provides plenty of neck support.
Finally, if you’re on prescription medication that you think may be causing you to gain weight, speak to your doctor. He or she may be able to give you some tips on preventing weight gain or prescribe an alternative medication that isn’t linked so dramatically with weight gain.