Weight loss isn’t always as simple as changing your diet and exercising regularly. Although these things are important, some people find it hard to lose weight with diet and exercise alone. When this happens, there’s often an underlying health issue or chronic condition that influences how your body uses and stores excess weight.
We tend to think of weight loss as simply a matter of burning more calories than we take in, but this view is an oversimplification of the many metabolic processes that occur throughout the body. Conditions such as hormone imbalances, chronic inflammation, stress, and even sleep deprivation can all influence how well these processes function, often making it hard to lose weight. If you’re struggling with weight loss, take a look at the following seven health conditions that may be a factor.
Chronic stress causes your body to release higher amounts of cortisol, a stress fight-or-flight hormone that influences many other bodily processes. High cortisol levels can lead to lowered immunity, high blood pressure, and increased belly fat. High cortisol can also trigger other hormonal imbalances and affect your hunger hormones in ways that can lead to emotional eating, overeating, and poor nutrition choices.
2. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS affects roughly one in five women and is caused by hormonal imbalances that interfere with insulin levels, as well as the reproductive hormones estrogen and testosterone. Women who suffer from PCOS will often gain weight due to fluctuations in blood sugar levels — particularly in the abdominal region. PCOS may be managed by practicing healthy lifestyle habits, including good nutrition and regular exercise. Avoiding sugar, dairy, refined carbohydrates, and other inflammatory foods can also help.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate normal bodily processes, and that keep cells functioning at optimal levels. An underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism, can slow down your metabolism and trigger fatigue, making you more susceptible to weight gain. Hypothyroidism is often caused by inflammation of the thyroid, which itself may be caused by poor nutrition, low physical activity, and lack of quality sleep.
Chronic inflammation can damage your body on a cellular level and interfere with bodily processes that regulate your weight and immunity. Inflammation can be caused by various factors including environmental pollution, smoking, certain medications, and processed foods high in sugar, preservatives, and other chemicals. Inflammation can often be reduced by practicing healthy stress management techniques, getting plenty of sleep, and improving your diet.
5. Cushing’s disease
Cushing’s disease is often caused by having high cortisol levels in the body for an extended period of time. Though extremely rare, Cushing’s disease is known to trigger weight gain at the back of the neck and around the abdominal region. Abnormal fatty deposits such as these may indicate Cushing’s disease, which can often be treated by reducing stress levels and eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods.
Lack of sleep interferes with healthy hormone levels, leading to problems with metabolism and hunger. Evidence suggests that those who suffer from insomnia tend to face a higher number of problems related low energy and weight gain. If you suspect lack of sleep may be interfering with your weight-loss efforts, make lifestyle changes as needed to get more sleep, such as reducing your caffeine intake, going to bed earlier, or upgrading to a more comfortable bed.
7. Medication use
Weight gain, increased appetite, and water retention are just some common side effects produced by many prescription medications. Some prescription drugs can indirectly lead to weight gain, such as beta-blockers, which reduce blood pressure and may slow the metabolism. If you’re using any medications that may be making it hard to lose weight, talk to your doctor about alternate treatments for your condition that won’t interfere with your waistline.
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