21 November 2013

5 reasons you could be gaining weight

Are you frustrated that you are gaining weight instead of losing it? There are many factors that could trigger weight gain. Learn more here.

Are you frustrated that you are gaining weight instead of losing it? The incidence of overweight and obesity is especially high among women in South Africa. According to Health24's DietDoc (registered dietician Dr Ingrid van Heerden), there are many factors that could trigger weight gain.

Here are five possible reasons:


Pregnancy is unfortunately one of the times in a woman’s life when she is vulnerable to weight gain. It is important to understand that some weight must be gained if your baby is not going to be an underweight infant or premature. According to the Guidelines recommended by the Insitute of Medicine in the USA, women need to gain the following amounts of weight over the nine months of pregnancy to achieve "a favourable outcome at term" (Mahan et al, 2011):

  • Normal weight and BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 at start of pregnancy - 11,4 to 16kg
  • Underweight and BMI of less than 18.5 at start of pregnancy - 13 to 18kg
  • Overweight and BMI of 25 to 29.9 at start of pregnancy - 7 to 11,4kg
  • Obesity and BMI exceeding 30 at start of pregnancy  - No recommendations available yet

Many factors can contribute to excessive weight gain during pregnancy and an inability to lose weight after giving birth. These include the belief that it is necessary to "eat for two" during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The energy requirements of pregnant women only increase on average by 1300kJ per day as of the second trimester (4thmonth and after). 

During lactation, breastfeeding mothers can increase their energy intake by another 840kJ per day. Probably the most important thing to keep in mind during pregnancy and breastfeeding is that mothers should strive to improve the quality of their diets, rather than the quantity. 

Low birthweight

Ironically children who are born with a low birthweight tend to be more vulnerable to gaining weight (and developing a range of degenerative diseases) in adulthood. This phenomenon was first described by Barker and has become know as the Barker Hypothesis (Barker & Osmond, 1986). It is also the reason why it is important that mothers gain sufficient (but not excessive) weight during their pregnancies and then breastfeed their babies for as long as possible.

Women who are undernourished during pregnancy give birth to low birthweight babies, who will tend to gain weight as they grown up (perhaps in an attempt to counteract starvation within the uterus) and are often obese by the time they reach their teens.

Lack of exercise

I have often pointed out that a lack of exercise at any time of a person’s life will tend to trigger weight gain. Children and teenagers should be as active as possible to prevent childhood and adolescent obesity which generally worsens in adulthood.

Adults should try and regain their physicality. The modern world is designed to save us exertion and time, and ends up dooming us to ever increasing obesity. Every gadget from lawn mowers to iPods, makes us less and less active. Ironically we now need to think of schemes to increase our physical activity to counteract the "benefits" of modern engineering and technology.

Let’s try to climb the steps instead of using lifts and escalators. Try walking to the shops or to work. Take up a sport such as cycling. It is not necessary to join an expensive gym unless you are one of those people who has to be forced to exercise or constantly require motivation and support.

You can do your own workouts in front of the TV, or buy a skipping rope to skip whenever you get a chance, or if you live in a safe area, go for walks or runs. Take the whole family and the dog along for company (and to set an example for your children and to ingrain a habit in them that will improve their lives for years to come).

Changes in routines, environment and/or habits

I often hear complaints that individuals who have had to make drastic changes to their routines (working night shifts, going to university or college), environment (moving to a new job or a new town or even a new country), habits (quitting smoking), or status (getting married), have gained weight which they subsequently struggle to lose.

It may help if we keep in mind when we make pronounced changes to our lives that this could have consequences for our body weight and to plan ahead on how we can avoid weight gain.

Marriage and weight gain

Let’s take a look at marriage as a factor of change that can trigger weight gain. So many women complain that when they marry the "love of their life", they start piling on the kilos. It stands to reason when two people with highly divergent characteristics start living together that this could influence weight gain, particularly of the female partner.

Potential factors:

  • Different energy needs (men have a higher Basic Metabolic Rate which generally permits them to ingest more kJ and they use up more energy when they exercise because they generally have a higher percentage of muscle tissue in their bodies)
  • Tastes (you love salads, he loves starch and meat)
  • Physical activities (he runs 10km a day, you do pilates)
  • Nervous systems (women have a higher incidence of depression which may lead to increased body weight; men on the other hand tend to be restless and constantly on the go)
  • Pharmacological intake (many women use hormonal contraception or treatment to fall pregnant which can cause weight gain)
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding (a woman’s domain, which is fraught with potential to gain weight)

We could go on and on, but we need to remember that each individual marriage has trigger factors that influence who will gain and who will lose weight. Unfortunately many of these factors are skewed in the female direction.

What can we do?

It is evident that in the modern world we are surrounded by an endless variety of factors that can contribute to weight gain and obesity. As a first step in our attempt to change the obesity epidemic in South Africa, it may be an idea if we all sit down and make a list of factors in our own lives that can influence our body weight and then attempt to pinpoint solutions for each one of these factors.

- (November 2012) 

(Pic of woman holding measuring tape from Shutterstock)

(References: Barker DJ, Osmond C (1986). Infant mortality, childhood nutrition, and ischaemic heart disease in England and Wales; Mahan LK et al, 2011. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. 13th Edition. Elsevier Saunders, USA)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc


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