Do you feel like no matter how hard you try, you can’t stop gaining weight and start losing it? You’ve done your research, are doing your best to eat what you’ve been told are healthier foods, and have increased the amount of movement you get each day. Maybe you’re even going the extra mile by trying various supplements or medications, but you’re still not seeing any progress? You are not alone.

However difficult, if you are overweight or obese, it is important to address the following health risks. Obesity is linked to many serious medical conditions including heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, and metabolic syndrome. Another serious consequence that can result from obesity is type 2 diabetes. This is because excess fatty tissue makes it more difficult for the body to use insulin properly, leading to high blood sugar levels. Diabetes can lead to severe complications like heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and certain types of cancer. Living with obesity can even negatively impact your mental health and has even been correlated to various mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

When your health and happiness are at stake, the pressure is on. This is why it is incredibly frustrating when you feel like you’ve taken all the right steps to work toward your goals, but the scale is not moving in the direction you’d like it to. Even worse is when you seek help from conventional medicine providers and they simply advise you to “eat better” and “workout more” without getting into specifics. They’ll also likely push you toward pharmaceuticals that merely treat symptoms.

In functional medicine, we deep dive into your big picture and review all the factors that are contributing to your overall health. This allows us to discover and truly address the root cause behind why you are struggling with resistant or refractory weight gain. Good functional medicine practitioners also provide you support throughout your entire journey and teach you along the way, so you’ll never feel lost or confused about what to do next on your path to optimal wellness. After implementing strategies related to nutrition, movement, sleep, stress, and detoxification, if there is still room for improvement we can discuss solutions such as peptide therapy. Don’t be discouraged, there is always hope! Let’s start by exploring some possible root causes.

Possible Root Causes of “Unexplained” Weight Gain

Need for Increased Cardiovascular Fitness

It’s important to make sure you’re getting plenty of movement on a daily basis. Sitting for hours can stop your body from producing lipase, a fat-inhibiting enzyme. Even just standing up and stretching once an hour can boost your metabolism. However, while old tricks like working at a standing desk, parking at the far end of lots, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator are great starting points, when you’re dealing with stubborn weight gain you need to go above and beyond. Set time aside in your routine specifically for cardiovascular fitness. Switch up your workouts on a regular basis and increase time spent or intensity level when you start to feel like what you’re doing is too easy, you’re bored, or you hit a plateau in your weight loss. The human body acclimates to routine so sometimes we have to shake things up to wake things up. Don’t be discouraged; there are a multitude of health benefits that come from exercising regularly, not just weight loss. Bear in mind, to see significant results quickly, you will likely have to address your diet in conjunction with increasing your daily movement.

Hormone Imbalances

If your hormones are out of whack, this can cause weight gain or slow weight loss. There are multiple variations of this issue. One possibility is that your cortisol levels may be too high. Cortisol is also known as your stress hormone and this imbalance can affect all aspects of your life, making you feel extremely fatigued and even anxious. (The last thing you want when trying to get out more and increase activity.) Similarly, you could be suffering from estrogen dominance, which occurs when your estrogen levels are too high relative to progesterone. This can prevent your liver from properly eliminating estrogen through your bowels, which can cause weight gain directly as well as other debilitating symptoms.

Last but not least, it’s also worth looking into thyroid dysfunction, an extremely overlooked cause of weight gain. The thyroid is the gland in your neck that produces the hormones essential for regulating metabolic function and energy levels in your body. These hormones play a crucial role in regulating your weight, and so much more. Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid is either underactive and doesn’t produce enough hormones and hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid is overactive and produces an excess of hormones. Most thyroid disease is autoimmune in nature, which means your body’s immune system is mistakenly attacking your thyroid gland. This results in inflammation and damage, either causing Hashimoto’s, the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism, or Grave’s Disease, the autoimmune form of hyperthyroidism.

All of these hormone imbalances affect each individual differently, so your best course of action is to work with a practitioner who will look into your unique situation. The first step is comprehensive testing. Conventional medicine practitioners may tell you that running these are unnecessary, but this argument is often based on reasoning like their lack of time or ability to interpret the results. Sometimes they simply don’t order a test because they say insurance won’t cover it. There are functional medicine practitioners out there who will do everything in their power to find and treat the root cause of your condition. Despite what the conventional world says, it is possible to naturally put your condition into remission, restore energy levels, decrease the need for medication, and reach your optimal weight!

Chronic Inflammation

Another category of underlying issues that can make weight gain easier and weight loss harder is inflammation. This is because it can make you more prone to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Some forms of inflammation start in the gut microbiome, like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) for example. This is when you have an overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestine, which can interfere with nutrient absorption, leading to nutrient deficiencies and the complications that go with it, including weight gain, chronic fatigue, and even the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s, just to name a few. Another example is Candida overgrowth. Although Candida is a form of yeast that resides in everyone’s body and often doesn’t cause any issues, it is an opportunistic organism and if your immune system gets weak or suppressed, Candida takes that opportunity to flourish. This can lead to a wide array of symptoms like fatigue, digestive upset, and even sugar cravings. You may even have intestinal parasites from eating undercooked foods, drinking unclean water, handling animals, or traveling that may be creating nutrient deficiencies and affecting your weight.

Inflammation can also stem from chronic infections like Epstein–Barr virus, also referred to as EBV and the “kissing disease.” The symptoms look a lot like a common cold so it often goes undiagnosed and can lay dormant for years. If it reignites, especially in adulthood, it can lead to larger problems. Also, Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses can cause inflammation. These ailments come with a slew of nasty symptoms like fatigue, migratory muscle and joint pain, headaches, neck pain, and sleep issues.

Alternatively, you could be experiencing a toxic overload. Too much exposure to mold or heavy metals like mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium can not only cause inflammation but wreak havoc on our bodies in general. Yet again, you could be afflicted with weight-loss prohibiting symptoms like weakness, fatigue, aches, mood disorders, and toxin exposure could even be causing some of the previously mentioned hormone imbalances.

Low Fuel (Mitochondrial Dysfunction)

If you are lacking the nutrients necessary to give your body sufficient energy, this can also lead to weight gain. There is a theory that your body may tell you to keep eating until all your nutrient needs are met; when eating less-healthy foods, you may be taking in a lot of calories without actually meeting those nutrient needs. Studies have shown that obese people are often deficient in nutrients like iron, B complex vitamins, and vitamin D. These deficiencies may not always be a direct cause of weight gain, but they can lead to issues like anemia that come with symptoms such as exhaustion and weakness – yet another barrier to increasing physical activity. In general, it is proven that nutrient deficiencies slow energy production inside the body’s cells. An ailment with similar symptoms to nutrient deficiencies is mitochondrial dysfunction. The mitochondria are the “energy factory” of the body and dysfunction occurs when they fail to produce enough of said energy for proper bodily function. Considering mitochondria produce 90% of the energy we need, dysfunction can result in dramatic symptoms. These are often treated with supplements, such as B complex vitamins.

It is extremely frustrating to have no answers for unwanted weight gain and no energy to take the steps necessary to address the issue. However, even in desperation, you do not have to resort to yoyo diets with intense restrictions, dangerous stimulants, or drastic surgical interventions. Despite the popularity of these options in our modern society, the reason they don’t work is because they don’t address the root cause of your weight gain. Fortunately there are other long-term solutions available, and GrassRoots Functional Medicine can provide you with them! I will be following up with another blog that outlines some of these, including the incredible innovation that is peptide therapy, but don’t feel like you have to wait to start the healing process. As we’ve mentioned, we’ll begin with an exploration of your lifestyle and get to the root cause of your weight gain. Your first move should be to check out our Adaptation Programs. If we seem like the right fit for you, go ahead and schedule a free discovery call during which we will learn more about each other and address any questions. We can work together to achieve your optimal weight and overall wellness.

About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.