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7 Warning Signs You’re About to Gain Weight

Prevent the pounds before they grab you by the waist

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Gaining weight means one of two things: working hard to lose the pounds or shelling out money for new clothes. But what if you could see that weight gain approaching in advance and take steps to fend it off before it collects around your midsection? Here are seven indicators that weight gain may be in your near future and some simple steps to preempt the pounds.

1. You’re on a diet

You may lose some weight in the short term, but research shows that dieters often end up heavier than their baseline weights. In a review of 29 weight-loss studies, dieters regained more than half the weight they had shed within two years. After five years, they had regained about 80 percent.

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We are at the mercy of a tightly controlled system designed to keep the body at its current weight, says Caroline M. Apovian, M.D., codirector of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “When you try to lose weight [by dieting], your body’s going to fight you,” she notes. As soon as calories drop, your body makes less leptin, the hormone that tells your brain you’re full, and more ghrelin, a hormone that signals that you’re hungry. Plus, your body tries to hold on to its fat stores by lowering your metabolic rate, burning fewer calories.

Prevent the pounds: To shed weight for good, don’t simply restrict calories. Instead, make sure the calories you eat count. Apovian advises sticking with whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, and avoiding processed foods and added sugars.

2. You’re down in the dumps

Mood disorders may lead to weight gain — and vice versa, says David Arterburn, M.D., a senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.

“Some people use eating as a coping mechanism for sadness, because certain foods, like refined sugars, can have an opiate like effect on the brain,” Arterburn adds. Certain antidepressants may also promote weight gain, such as sertraline (Zoloft) and mirtazapine (Remeron).

Prevent the pounds: “Getting more active can both help treat depression and help prevent weight gain,” Arterburn says. But you may also need counseling or a new medication. For instance, the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin) can be a part of treatment for obesity.

3. That laundry basket seems heavier

As we age, we lose muscle mass — from 3 to 8 percent a decade starting at around age 30. That increases the risk of weight gain.

“Muscle is much more metabolically active than fat,” says David Creel, a psychologist and registered dietitian in the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at Cleveland Clinic. “If you maintain more muscle, you’ll burn more calories at rest.”


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Prevent the pounds: Pick up some weights or stretchy bands. Not only does greater muscle power help you slim down, it also bolsters your bones and reduces disease risks. Just be sure to get adequate protein to support muscle maintenance — about 25 grams at each meal for the average woman and about 30 grams for the average man. “As you get older, your cells don’t take up protein and make muscle with it as well as they do in younger people,” Apovian explains. (For a guide to using protein to manage your weight, check out the AARP bestseller The Whole Body Reset.)

4. You drink diet soda

In a nine-year study of older adults, those who drank at least one diet soda a day had triple the increase in waist size, compared with people who didn’t drink diet sodas, says Sharon Fowler, an epidemiologist with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, who conducted the research.

“It’s a dose response,” Fowler adds. “The more you drink, the more weight you put on.”

Prevent the pounds: Swap that chemical stew for unsweetened iced tea or sparkling water.

5. You started a new medication

Weight-related trouble can come from some surprising medications, says Lawrence J. Cheskin, M.D., professor and chair of nutrition at George Mason University and coauthor of Weight Loss for Life: The Proven Plan for Success.

Research shows that people taking some nonsedating antihistamines long term, including fexofenadine (Allegra) and desloratadine (Clarinex), had significantly higher weights and larger waistlines than those not on this regimen. The reasons haven’t been pinned down, but blocking the production of histamine, which plays a part in the brain’s appetite suppression, may make you feel hungrier.

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Older beta-blockers, such as atenolol (Tenormin) and metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL), have also been shown to trigger weight gain, while newer ones, like carvedilol (Coreg), usually don’t.

Prevent the pounds: If you notice a weight increase after starting a new medication, talk to your doctor about substituting another drug.

6. You’re using cardio to manage your weight

Swimming, running, walking and cycling offer many perks, from sounder sleep to a lower risk for cancer and diabetes. But they’re not a cure-all for weight issues, Cheskin notes.

Prevent the pounds: Remember, you need strong muscles to rev your metabolism and optimize calorie burning. Cardio alone won’t be enough. Coupling cardio with strength training is a better bet for long-term weight management.

But you also have to address the quantity of food you eat. Cheskin recommends keeping a food diary to help find the right balance. Self-monitoring your food intake is one of the most common strategies of “successful losers” — people in a national registry who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for more than a year.

7. You wake up tired

Sleep deprivation lowers the satiation hormone leptin and raises the hunger hormone ghrelin. Plus, research shows that when you’re hurting for sleep, you’re more likely to reach for fat-laden, sugary foods.

And trying to catch up on sleep during the weekend just isn’t going to cut it. In a 2019 study in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers measured the duration and variability of sleep in a group of older adults, along with their weight and waist measurements, for a year. “The consistency of a person’s sleep schedule and getting more than six hours of sleep a night were two key factors in their ability to lose weight,” says board-certified sleep specialist Michael Breus, author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep.

Prevent the pounds: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends; abstain from caffeine after 2 p.m. and avoid alcohol for three hours before bedtime; and get 15 minutes of sunlight every morning to keep your circadian rhythms functioning well.

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