You’ve kicked the soda habit, tossed the junk food and you’re making regular appearances at your local gym. But the number on the scale just won’t budge—or worse, it keeps creeping up. What gives?
Bariatric surgeon Thomas Brown, MD, of Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, shares some unexpected factors that could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
If you take medication for a mood disorder, seizures, migraines or diabetes, they could be interfering with your ability to lose weight and keep it off. “About 60 percent of my [obese patients] are on antidepressants,” says Dr. Brown, “and that’s one of the most common [medications] that leads to weight gain.” Some allergy medications and beta-blockers for cardiac issues can also interfere with weight loss.
It’s important to remember, though, that you should never abruptly stop taking something you’ve been prescribed by a doctor. Instead, speak with your doctor about your prescriptions and the possible side effects. He or she can usually offer alternatives that won’t work against your weight loss.
Certain medical conditions
Some medical conditions can also cause you to hold on to or gain weight, despite your best efforts. For example, a sluggish thyroid can slow your metabolism. Polycystic ovarian syndrome interferes with insulin levels in a way that can make it hard to lose weight. Cushing’s syndrome ups your body’s production of cortisol, causing weight gain around the midsection. Insulin resistance affects your body’s ability to use insulin properly, increasing glucose levels and making you more susceptible to weight gain. If you think a medical condition could be to blame for your weight woes, schedule an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation.
The same changes responsible for menopause symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings and night sweats could also be to blame for lackluster weight loss. “Hormonal fluctuations do contribute to weight gain,” says Brown. “There’s no doubt about it.” Studies have shown that changes in hormone levels cause the body to store more fat cells in the abdomen, leading to that unwanted belly fat. Metabolism also slows during menopause, causing some women to gain around 10 pounds on average.
Luckily, you don’t have to resort to drastic measures to combat the middle-age spread. To help encourage weight loss after menopause and keep your metabolism up, do something physically active for around 20 minutes every day, and try cutting back on sugar, processed snacks and junk food.
It’s great if you have supportive friends that motivate you in your weight loss goals. But if you have the kind that would prefer you join them for a beer after work rather than hit the gym, they could be derailing your plans, says Brown.
Researchers from Harvard found that if a friend becomes obese, than your chance of becoming obese goes up by 57 percent (if it’s a close friend, your risk increases 171 percent!) Why? Researchers seem to think it has to do with social norms: being overweight is more acceptable if your friends are overweight. To stay on track, surround yourself with people who encourage healthy habits.
The impact stress can have on your weight is twofold, according to Brown. Stress not only ups your cortisol levels, leading to an increase in appetite, he says, but it can also lead to emotional eating, often causing us to reach for high-fat, carb-heavy comfort foods like pizza, sweets and chips.
Stress can also keep you up at night, and several studies have shown strong links between weight gain, obesity and lack of sleep. Exercise is a great way to keep both your stress and weight in check. Try calming yoga moves, a short walk on your lunch break or some stress-busting cardio kickboxing.
If you’re not happy with the number on the scale, take stock of any habits that may be working against you—like skipping breakfast, not getting enough sleep or losing track of what you’re eating and drinking throughout the day—and then adjust accordingly. “It’s about recognizing all of those little things,” says Brown. And remember: real, lasting weight loss isn’t about temporary diets and dropping pounds fast. It’s about investing in your health for the long haul, and being proud of the small changes you’re making to better yourself.
“Nothing motivates patients like success,” he says. So celebrate everyone, even if they’re small, or slow going.