Weight Gain
Weight Gain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Weight gain is an increase in body weight due to changes in fat, muscle, or fluids. Weight gain can be normal or abnormal depending on the cause and the amount. Some possible causes are eating more calories than burning, medications, fluid retention, medical conditions, genetics, stress, lack of sleep, and age. To gain weight, you need to eat more calories and protein. You must consume less calories and exercise to reduce weight. Consult with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about weight gain.

In this blog post, we will explore some of the most common causes, symptoms, and treatment options for weight gain.

What is weight gain?

Weight gain is the result of an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. Energy intake is the amount of calories you consume from food and drinks. Energy expenditure is the amount of calories you burn from your basal metabolic rate (BMR), physical activity, and thermic effect of food (TEF).

BMR is the amount of calories your body needs to maintain its vital functions at rest. BMR depends on factors such as age, sex, height, weight, body composition, and thyroid function.

Physical activity is the amount of calories you burn from any movement or exercise. Physical activity depends on factors such as frequency, intensity, duration, and type of activity.

TEF is the amount of calories you burn from digesting and absorbing food. TEF depends on factors such as the quantity and quality of food.

If your energy intake is equal to your energy expenditure, your weight will remain stable. If your energy intake is more than your energy expenditure, you will gain weight. If your energy intake is less than your energy expenditure, you will lose weight.

Weight gain can be intentional or unintentional. Intentional weight gain is when you deliberately increase your calorie intake to achieve a higher body weight for health or aesthetic reasons. Unintentional weight gain is when you increase your body weight without meaning to or without knowing the reason.

What are the symptoms of weight gain?

The main symptom of weight gain is an increase in body weight that can be measured by a scale or a tape measure. 

Other symptoms may include:

•  Changes in body shape or size

•  Changes in clothing size or fit

•  Difficulty breathing or moving

•  Swelling or bloating in the abdomen, legs, or face

•  Stretch marks or cellulite on the skin

•  Fatigue or low energy

•  Mood changes or depression

The severity and duration of weight gain may vary depending on the cause and the individual. Some weight gain may be temporary or reversible while some may be chronic or permanent.

What causes weight gain?

There are many possible causes of weight gain that can be classified into four categories: dietary factors,

lifestyle factors, medical factors, and genetic factors. 

Dietary factors:

Dietary factors are related to what you eat and drink. Some dietary factors that can cause weight gain are:

•  Eating more calories than you need

•  Eating large portions or frequent snacks

•  Eating high-fat, high-sugar, or processed foods

•  Drinking high-calorie beverages such as soda, juice, alcohol, or coffee with cream and sugar

•  Skipping meals or fasting

•  Binge eating or emotional eating

Lifestyle factors:

Lifestyle factors are related to how you live and behave. Some lifestyle factors that can cause weight gain are:

•  Being physically inactive or sedentary

•  Having a low BMR due to aging, muscle loss, or hormonal changes

•  Having a stressful, chaotic, or irregular schedule

•  Having poor sleep quality or quantity 

•  Smoking cessation Medical factors are related to any health condition or medication that affects your metabolism, appetite, or fluid balance. Some medical factors that can cause weight gain are:

•  Hormonal disorders such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or menopause 

•  Metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, or metabolic syndrome

•  Fluid retention due to heart failure, kidney disease, liver disease, or pregnancy

•  Inflammation due to infection, allergy, or autoimmune disease

•  Medications such as steroids, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihistamines, antidiabetics, or birth control pills Genetic factors are related to your inherited traits that affect your body composition, metabolism, or appetite. Some genetic factors that can cause weight gain are:

•  Family history of obesity or overweight

•  Genetic syndromes such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Bardet-Biedl syndrome, or Alström syndrome

•  Genetic mutations such as MC4R mutation, FTO gene variant, or leptin deficiency

How are weight gain diagnosed?

The diagnosis of weight gain is based on measuring your body weight and calculating your body mass index (BMI). BMI is a ratio of your weight to your height that indicates if you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese.

BMI = Weight (kg) / Height (m)^2

A normal BMI range is between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m^2.

A BMI below 18.5 kg/m^2 indicates underweight.

A BMI between 25 and 29.9 kg/m^2 indicates overweight.

A BMI of 30 kg/m^2 or above indicates obesity.

BMI is a useful tool to screen for weight problems but it has some limitations. It does not account for factors such as muscle mass, bone density, body fat distribution, or ethnic differences. Therefore, it may not accurately reflect your health risk or body composition. Other methods that can help diagnose weight gain are:

•  Waist circumference: This measures the distance around your waist at the level of your navel. A high waist circumference indicates excess abdominal fat that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. A healthy waist circumference is less than 40 inches (102 cm) for men and less than 35 inches (88 cm) for women.

•  Body fat percentage: This measures the proportion of fat in your total body mass. A high body fat percentage indicates excess adipose tissue that increases the risk of chronic diseases and mortality. A healthy body fat percentage ranges from 10% to 20% for men and from 18% to 28% for women.

•  Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA): This uses a device that sends a small electric current through your body to measure its resistance. The resistance depends on the amount of water in your body tissues which reflects the amount of fat and lean mass. BIA can estimate your body fat percentage and other parameters such as total body water and basal metabolic rate.

•  Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA): This uses a machine that emits low-dose X-rays to scan your whole body and measure its composition. DXA can provide accurate measurements of your bone mineral density, lean mass, fat mass, and body fat percentage. Depending on the suspected cause of weight gain, your healthcare provider may also order some tests to check for any underlying medical condition or medication side effects.

These tests may include:

Blood tests: These are tests that measure levels of blood cells, electrolytes, enzymes, hormones, or other substances that may indicate infection, disease, or organ function.

Urine tests: These are tests that measure levels of chemicals or microorganisms in urine that may indicate infection, disease, or kidney function.

X-rays: These are images that use radiation to show the structure and condition of bones and organs.

Ultrasound: These are images that use sound waves to show the structure and function of organs and blood vessels. 

Computed tomography (CT) scan: These are images that use X-rays and computer technology to show detailed views of organs and tissues.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: These are images that use magnets and radio waves to show detailed views of organs and tissues.

How are weight gain treated?

The treatment of weight gain depends on the cause and severity of the condition. The main goal of treatment is to achieve a healthy body weight that reduces the risk of complications and improves the quality of life.

The main components of treatment are:

Dietary changes: These involve modifying what you eat and drink to reduce your calorie intake and improve your nutrient intake.

Some dietary changes include: Eating smaller portions or fewer snacks Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats Eating less processed foods, added sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats Drinking more water and less sugary drinks, alcohol, or coffee with cream and sugar Following a specific diet plan such as Mediterranean diet, DASH diet, low-carb diet, or intermittent fasting 

Lifestyle changes: These involve modifying how you live and behave to increase your calorie expenditure and improve your physical and mental health. Some lifestyle changes include: Being more physically active or exercising regularly. Having a regular sleep schedule and getting enough sleep. Managing stress levels and coping with emotions in healthy ways. Quitting smoking or reducing alcohol consumption.