Other Factors That Cause Weight Gain


Obesity has many parents, so to speak.  Although diet and lack of exercise are the primary causes, there are other environmental and behavioral conditions that can make us more likely to gain weight.  Julian Omidi discusses a few of these factors. 

There is no question that sedentary lifestyles and nutritionally void, calorie dense foods have contributed mightily to the obesity epidemic, but those aren’t the only factors, according to new research.  Although the following conditions might be prevalent among those who were already prone to obesity and obesity-related diseases, they are still certainly worth investigating further.[1]


Although stress and anxiety might cause some of us to lose our appetites, there are others in whom stress causes a need to eat for comfort.  And, as it turns out – overeat.

And we don’t over eat crudité platters and fresh fruit, either.  The fact is, the most comforting foods are the foods that are the highest in fat and calories – foods with the creamiest mouth feel that have been engineered to cause the pleasure receptors in our brains to activate.  We just want more and more and more to get those pleasure receptors firing.

Even though stress might make us want to eat more, it is likely that we are biologically more likely to gain weight when we feel stress.  Research shows that stress causes the release of cortisol, which changes the way we metabolize food and makes us more prone to gain abdominal fat – the most dangerous kind.

Sleep deprivation

The less we sleep, the fatter we get.  When we are sleep deprived, we not only tend to make unhealthy food choices because lack of sleep throws the hormones that control our appetites off balance.  According to a study cited by the Harvard University School of Public Health, a group of 60,000 nurses that was studied for 16 years (none of whom was obese at the start of the study) was found by the end of the study to be 15 percent more likely to be obese when they slept 5 hours or less per night.[2]

Lack of sleep also makes us vulnerable to obesity related illnesses.  When we don’t get enough sleep, we run the risk of developing high blood sugar and developing insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.


This is a factor over which many of us have very little or no control.  Studies have found that people who live in high altitude environments tend to be slimmer than those who live closer to sea level.  People who live at elevations below 1,600 feet are more than 5 times more likely to be obese than people who live at altitudes above 9,800 feet.  The reason could be that there are greater metabolic demands in high altitudes than there are in low altitudes.

Although we cannot move from our homes for the sole purpose of controlling our weight, we can do our best to manage stress and get sufficient sleep.  Yoga, regular exercise and other stress management techniques can help us maintain emotional balance and reduce the overproduction of cortisol.  Just giving ourselves 15 minutes of quiet meditation on an extremely taxing day might help to restore our psychological equilibrium!

[1] Kuster, Elizabeth: 8 sneaky things that may feed obesity 12/10/2013 CNN.com http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/10/health/upwave-sneaky-obesity/

[2] The Harvard School of Public Health: Sleep Deprivation and Obesity http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sleep/

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