The Four Causes of Weight Gain

You’ve probably heard the weight loss mantra a thousand times: it’s all about “calories in versus calories out”.

It’s just not that simple. There are many reasons you may not be able to lose weight and keep it off, but most weight loss programs want you to believe that you’re just not trying hard enough.

One of the things we try to do differently at Mullen Health is to help you discover the real reason behind your weight, and why you might be having difficulty achieving a weight that’s healthy for you.

The reasons vary for every person, but they generally fall into four categories, which I want to explain for you today.


Poor Diet – Excess Carbohydrates

The reason many diets work to begin with is they are often ‘low carb’ – Paleo is an example, so too is CSIRO Total Wellbeing diet and the anti-Candida diet.

As a culture, our diets have become overloaded with carbohydrates. It all started in the late 80s when it was recommended to reduce animal proteins and increase complex carbohydrates in our diets to reduce the risk of heart disease. We all know how that turned out!

The problem with excess carbohydrates – particularly those coming from cereals and grains – is that it leads to excess blood sugar, which is then stored as fat. All carbs, however, aren’t bad. The ideal carbohydrates for human consumption are vegetables and 2-3 pieces of fruit per day (with the exception being white potatoes and bananas).

A good resource for understanding the potential increase in blood sugar levels from different foods is the Glycaemic Index. This is an index measuring how quickly and how high blood sugar levels rise after eating certain foods compared straight glucose (blood sugar). For example, 2 slices of wholewheat bread can increase your blood sugar more than 2 tablespoons of pure sugar (William Davis, MD – Author of Wheat Belly). 

One good way to ensure you’re eating for weight loss is to choose low GI carbohydrates (with a value of 55 or less) as they are more slowly digested and metabolised, and cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose, and therefore insulin levels. Some good examples include: quinoa, brown rice, legumes, rolled oats, most non-starchy vegetables and fruits like cherries, apples, pears, kiwi, orange, strawberries and more.


Hormonal Imbalance

There are several ways your hormones could be causing you to gain or hold on to excess weight. Finding out your specific underlying cause is paramount to successful weight management.

Some of the possible reasons can include:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Long-term stress (leading to elevated cortisol)
  • Oestrogen dominance
  • Serotonin imbalance (depression and anxiety)
  • Leptin resistance (the hormone that tells your brain when you are full)

Probably the most common of these hormonal imbalances is insulin resistance, which can actually lead to or worsen other conditions on this list. When you eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose (blood sugar), which is absorbed into the blood stream. This sends a message to the pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone that allows glucose to enter the cells via activation of insulin receptors. There, it can be burnt for fuel to provide energy. As we were discussing earlier, excess carbohydrates that cannot be burnt for fuel are turned into bad fats, which over time, damage your insulin receptors. This results in elevated insulin, as the pancreas works harder to get glucose into your cells. Excess insulin increases inflammation and fatty liver, stops your body from burning fat, and can even promote cancers like breast cancer and prostate cancer. It also is the pre-cursor to type 2 Diabetes.


Chronic Inflammation

Normal inflammation is a healthy part of our body’s immune response, designed to trigger healing for injuries and fight infections. However, if the inflammatory response does not turn off once it’s no longer required, it can cause all sorts of problems. This is known as chronic inflammation.

If you are trying to lose weight and have some inflammation in your body, this could actually be slowing down your fat burning! In fact, inflammation predisposes the body to store fat, and when your body is inflamed, chemicals are released that stimulate the secretion of a hormone called leptin from fat cells. Leptin, in normal amounts, is responsible for helping regulate appetite and energy production. However, high levels of this hormone are a problem because they further increase inflammation; interfering with the entry of glucose into the cells and with the body's insulin response. This may, in turn, lead to insulin resistance and more fat storage. When you have an increase in fat storage, this will then heighten the inflammatory response and so the vicious cycle continues.

Causes of chronic inflammation can include:

  • Toxins
  • Processed foods
  • Food allergies/intolerances
  • Dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut)
  • Leaky gut
  • Liver stress
  • Chronic infections
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Acidic pH
  • Sedentary lifestyle


Nutritional Deficiency

A lot of my clients ask why it’s necessary to take nutritional supplements when they eat a healthy diet. Unfortunately, everyone’s version of ‘healthy’ is not always in-sync with what their body needs.

The levels of nutrients our bodies need has also grown over time in my opinion – excessive processing of food, toxins in our environment, additives and preservatives, and our general stress levels all take their toll on our body’s nutrient reserves.

The following nutrient deficiencies commonly contribute to fat gain:

Healthy Gut Flora:

Naturopaths believe that the root of all health starts with the gut, particularly finding the right balance of bacteria. An imbalance of the wrong type of bacteria can have a significant impact on your weight by triggering inflammation (eg. Leaky Gut), contributing to insulin resistance, and may even contribute to sugar cravings. For example, microbes that thrive on sugar can signal your brain to eat more sweet foods.

Fish Oil:

Not just hype, a good quality high-grade fish oil helps to burn fat, reduces inflammation in your body, and helps to reduce insulin resistance.

Magnesium Deficiency:

This mineral is used by every organ in your body, so it’s no surprise that most people are deficient! Researchers have found people who consume higher levels of magnesium tend to have lower blood sugar and insulin levels, which is important for weight loss. 

If you have any more questions, you can call us to book a FREE 15 minute chat with one of our Naturopaths to see how we can help you. Call now on (02) 4961 4075.

Yours in health

Peter Mullen


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