My patients frequently ask me what their ideal weight is. The answer isn’t an actual number but a range that can help define healthy parameters. That’s why the BMI was introduced. As opposed to previous methods that only looked at height and weight, the BMI also takes into account the % body fat as compared to the height of an individual. This is a better way to determine healthy proportions, and acts as a guide for patients and providers in setting realistic goals. In most cases the BMI has already taken into account a persons build. But in some extreme situations where an individual has significant musculature, it may not always tell the complete story since muscle weighs more than fat. A much larger muscle mass will weigh in higher than others that are the same height. Their increased BMI is clearly the result of a regular fitness routine. The same is true for those at the extreme ends for height. But for the majority of us, the BMI range is a realistic target.
Whether you use a scale or not, we all have days where we feel heavier, more bloated, or a general feeling that our pants are a little more snug -all for no apparent reason. People normally experience weight fluctuations throughout the course of a day. That change can be as large as four or five pounds, mainly due to fluids and salts. (some weight-loss forums claim weight fluctuation of up to 10 pounds, but if you’re experiencing that you should seek help from a healthcare provider.) Most of us weigh the least amount in the morning, after we void, and the most at the end of the day, especially if we eat a big, late dinner.
Since we generally can’t eat enough in a day or two to actually gain five pounds of fat if you notice a dramatic increase on the scale, chances are it’s due to other issues:
- Water weight:
This is the most common cause. Eating, drinking, urinating, having a bowel movement, and exercise can all impact your body’s water composition, and therefore weight. True weight gain or loss takes time.
In the summer, body weight can go up by several pounds due to increased body water. This is accomplished through fluid-conserving hormones such as aldosterone, which allows the kidney to retain more fluid and reduces the amount of salt in sweat, a measure that also aids in water retention. The increase and stabilization of total body water can only be accomplished by continuing to exercise in hot weather and will not occur in people who spend most of their time indoors in air-conditioned environments,” explains John Castellani, a researcher in the Thermal & Mountain Medicine Division of the U.S. Army’s Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. Water levels can make a person’s weight fluctuate by as much as 2 to 4 pounds in a single day.
One culprit is high sodium foods, which cause water retention, that can add up quickly depending on if your body retains water more easily than others. Even if you don’t think your diet consists of foods often deemed as salty or high sodium, even things like cold cuts, soups, cottage cheese, and salad dressing contain a relatively high level of the recommended daily value (RDV) of sodium, as determined by the U.S. Health and Human services Dietary Guidelines.
While some exercise can cause the body to lose a significant amount of water weight by way of perspiration (which should be restored by re-hydrating), other exercises like intense weight lifting and strength training can cause water retention. How? When you exercise your muscles, micro tears form the body in turn retains water for the process of repairing the muscle. As the repair is completed, the muscle grows larger and strength increases.
While counter intuitive, drinking water can actually reduce water weight. Dehydration can make the body hold on to extra water to make up for lack of incoming water.
Changes in hormones due to menstrual cycles (which may also cause water retention), menopause, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, among other health concerns that can cause hormonal imbalance can all be culprits of weight changes. And men aren’t immune to these changes. Both sexes share the same hormones, but men have more DHEA ( the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone, produced in the adrenal gland) and testosterone, accounting for their greater lean muscle mass. As men age, imbalances develop with dropping hormones, a decline made worse by high stress levels. That’s when metabolism takes a nosedive and “six pack abs” can slide into a “spare tire” around the middle. If you think a flux in hormones may be the cause of unexpected weight gain (or loss), speak to your provider.
If you are on a medication to treat conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, mood disorders, seizures or migraines you may notice an increase of up to several pounds per month, according to the Obesity Action Coalition’s medical experts. “Some people may gain a few pounds throughout the course of a year, while other people can gain 10, 20 or more pounds in just a few months.” But, it is important that if weight gain becomes a concern, speak to your provider about what other options may be available- don’t ever stop taking a medication without consulting your provider. In some situations the weight gain is a known side effect, but in other situations it may be a sign that another option is better suited for your body.
- Lack of sleep:
As I’ve mentioned in a few past posts, sleep impacts weight gain in a variety of ways. I’ve reviewed how two hormones help to regulate hunger—ghrelin and leptin. Both have been shown to be affected by sleep. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin decreases it. When the body is sleep deprived, the level of ghrelin spikes, while the level of leptin falls, leading to an increase in hunger. And, newer studies found evidence that sleep deprivation (less than five hours of sleep per night) produces higher peaks of a lipid in our bloodstream known as an endocannabinoid, that may make eating more pleasurable- cue memories of late night snacking!
Feeling chronically stressed keeps your body in a fight-or-flight mode and creates a surge of adrenaline, along with an increase in the hormone cortisol, which is supposed to help you build energy reserves and store fat. Evolutionary, this was meant as a way to guarantee that the body was preserved after situations that may have drained energy and fat stores- like intense physical exertion like hunting or life-threatening situations. Now, the sources of stress are different- work, family stress, financial hardship, and other situations. And since food sources aren’t limited for most people the cycle can sometimes become that stress increases cortisol, people may default to stress-eating, and hand in hand, the perfect storm for weight gain is in place. Read here for some tips on how to avoid stress eating.
Food allergies, acid reflux, lactose intolerance and other digestive disorders could be bloating culprits. It is often thought only unhealthy, processed foods cause bloating, but some healthy foods like beans and lentils, can also cause bloating. This is because, in addition to being high in protein, healthy carbs, and fiber, beans and lentils also contain sugars called alph and a-galactosides, which belong to a group of carbs called FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols) are short-chain carbohydrates that escape digestion and are then fermented by gut bacteria in the colon. Gas is a byproduct of this process. Since eating legumes is beneficial to your health, don’t skip them- just reach for those that are more easily digestible like pinto or black beans. One tip is also to soak them before cooking to reduce the uncomfortable side effects.
It takes hard work to shed each and every pound. Regaining even an ounce through other, unneeded mechanisms is frustrating. if you’re concerned any of these issues may be impacting your weight don’t hesitate to discuss them with your provider.