#28: 7 Reasons for Weight Gain Other Than Calories

The calorie game is only one piece of the weight puzzle…especially for women over 40. Instead of seeing stubborn weight as a personal fault or sign of overindulgence, check out this episode to learn about 7 surprising reasons your body may be holding onto weight (and what you can do about it.)

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When your fall denim says, “we need to talk.”

Summer 2020 was without the usual picnics and barbecues. But instead, there was a fair amount of  self-soothing, driveway drinking, stress as schools reopened (or didn’t) and now…the election. 

When you put on your fall clothes for the first time, what changes did you notice about your body?

How one woman beat the odds

Leah is a client I worked with over the summer. Her story is notable. She used quarantine to her advantage, lost some very stubborn weight – and is doing a magnificent job of maintaining it.

But when Leah and I first talked, she was feeling rather hopeless. 

Until a few years ago, she was fit, energetic and active. Now in her mid-40’s, she contacted me because she was sick of feeling sluggish, foggy and simply not like herself. 

Also, she’d put on a significant amount of weight that wouldn’t budge.

It’s not like Leah was eating terribly or not exercising – she actually does workout classes almost every morning and eats real, home cooked food.

There didn’t seem to be an obvious reason for her symptoms.

(This scenario plays out again and again with women around the world – especially in our 40’s. Maybe earlier in life you could cut calories and get your weight down pretty easily? But I have news…)

The calorie game is only one piece of the weight puzzle.

And after 40? Well, there are lots of reasons why women struggle to lose weight. 

We’re going to talk about 7 of them today.

As for Leah…we worked through those reasons and today she’s down 10 lbs. Her energy is back, her mental clarity is back and most of all, she said that she feels back in control because we uncovered what was really behind her weight gain.

Here’s the thing…

Carrying excess weight is merely a symptom.

It COULD be a symptom that you’re eating 10,000 calories of McDonald’s every day.

But that’s often not the case at all.

Here are 7 reasons women can’t lose weight…and they honestly fall into 1 overarching category. We’ll talk about that at the end so that they all make sense together.

1. Lack of sleep

It’s no coincidence that by 40 many, many women are having a hard time sleeping in addition to managing their weight. 

Maybe earlier in life we were sleep-deprived because we were working or staying up late watching movies. That could still be the case. 

But when you actually go to sleep now, with a full intention of getting a solid 8 hours? It’s common to have trouble falling or staying asleep.. Of course, that makes us more likely to reach for quick hits of energy during the day and make poor choices overall. 

But did you know that just 1 or 2 nights of poor sleep can shift our gut microbiome in an unhealthy way? This has a multitude of effects but one that’s particularly interesting is this: 

The bacteria that proliferates in a body that lacks sleep are the same bacteria that extract extra calories from everything we eat.

2. Gut dysbiosis

Which brings us to this topic of gut dysbiosis. (That’s a fancy way of saying that the bacteria you’re supposed to have in your gut is out of balance.) 

It could be because you’re not sleeping enough…but it also could be due to taking rounds of antibiotics over the course of your lifetime. 

Or, maybe you’ve been bleaching and sanitizing the heck out of everything since coronavirus hit? (Who hasn’t?) Bleaching actually kills off the beneficial bacteria your body needs. 

Maybe you’ve been eating too much sugar. Or processed food.

Chronic stress alone creates a negative shift in your gut.

The reasons go on and on. But the point is that when your bacterial balance shifts to an unhealthy state, you’re likely to gain and hold onto weight.

3. Quality/Type of food

Food is obviously a part of the weight story, but not necessarily due to the number of CALORIES you eat.

Instead, think about the quality of food you’re eating. 

An obvious example is processed food. When your body is tasked with metabolizing chemical ingredients, that’s a surefire way to create inflammation and weight gain. 

But let’s say you’re eating a diet of real, whole food…

Because you are, right? Like, mostly? I hear ya.

Even real, whole foods can cause inflammation – and this is different for everyone. You may be able to eat eggs or cheese or bread without a problem…yet someone else could react strongly to those same foods.

The triggers aren’t always obvious, and neither are the symptoms. 

But as an example, women with Hashimoto’s can often eliminate just 1 or 2 things from their diet and see a HUGE difference. Remember Leah? She has a much happier thyroid now, which allows her to lose the extra  weight she’d been carrying.


4. Nutrient deficiency

Listen. Our food supply is not what it used to be. Plants, organic or not, often don’t have the same nutrient density because our soil is depleted. 

In addition, we tend to not eat a wide variety of foods. Have you ever been in a rut and realize you’ve been eating the same boxed spinach and mac-and-cheese over and over? That’s another way we become nutrient-deficient.

And even if you eat the BEST, more varied diet imaginable…if your gut is compromised you may not be absorbing everything properly.

Nutrient deficiencies are another way that the body ends up in a stressed out state. (Hint, hint…stress and weight go hand in hand.)

5. Thyroid function

This is exceedingly common. Most women don’t know their thyroid status because proper testing is rarely done. Others have been prescribed Synthroid…but that’s the extent of their knowledge.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Synthroid, or supplemental thyroid hormone, is DEFINITELY helpful and needed in many cases of hypothyroidism


It’s supplementing what your body is not producing. It is not fixing the actual problem.

For women with Hashimoto’s or autoimmune thyroiditis – with or without Synthroid – the body continues to be in a state of war with itself. In this situation, your weight is not going to budge with calorie deficits and high-intensity workouts…in fact, that type of dieting and exercise can actually contribute to the problem.

6. Lack of movement

Usually, women fall into one of two categories. 

Either we’re exercising full-out, high intensity, with lots of cardio…or we’re doing nothing at all. We’re sitting all day.

When your body is in an inflamed state, high intensity exercise can be too activating to your nervous system. (Think: HIIT classes, bootcamp trainings, etc.) This type of exercise is a form of stress on the body – and stress tells your body to hold onto weight. See? Counterproductive.

But sitting around doing nothing is also a stressor on the body. 

We become stagnant. Our lymph doesn’t move. Our blood doesn’t circulate as well. It’s a strain on the body because we are MEANT to move…not necessarily run marathons, but move in a functional way: walking, climbing, reaching, lifting heavy things, etc.

So, if you’re over-exercising, that can be working against you. 

If you’re too stagnant, that also is going to work against you.

7. Environmental toxins

This one can be a surprise.

The toxins in our environment play a role in how our bodies function and interfere with how weight is regulated. Consider toxins like lead or arsenic… this stuff is in our water, our food supply. Then think about more specific hormone-disruptors in our plastic coffee mugs and lotion we put on our skin. 

Environmental toxins change the way our bodies work and have an impact on our weight. It can be hard to measure and hard to see…but it’s happening nonetheless. 

The good news is that, to some degree, we can control our exposures. And that’s worth considering.

It’s all about accumulated stress

While there are many reasons that women have trouble releasing extra weight, there’s really just one MAIN reason.

And that’s…stress. 

Every single factor mentioned in this article – from lack of sleep to environmental toxins – act as a stressor on your system. 

Couple that with stress from your job, politics, world events and 2020 as a whole….

Your stress response system is likely in overdrive. This keeps your body in a state where it HOLDS ONTO WEIGHT. 

Regardless of the stressor, our bodies go into survival mode – aiming to keep weight packed right around our middle, around our organs. This is intended to keep us safe in case, you know, there’s a famine.

Your next step…

There is a free quiz available on my website to help you determine if you are indeed stuck in your stress response. In this article we talked about weight, but there are a load of other symptoms that appear together. Get a sense of your stress status here

And then…

How can you get more sleep? How can you shift the quality of your food and identify potential triggers for inflammation? Can you get a full thyroid panel done to see what’s going on there? Can you limit your exposures to disruptive chemicals in the environment?

Yes, you can. A little at a time. 

And, as with Leah, even just one or two of those can make a world of difference.

If you enjoyed the audio version, be sure to subscribe to the She’s Got Power podcast on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. Love what you hear? Please share with your friends and leave a review on iTunes so more women can finally overcome the health issues associated with chronic stress and burnout.