What To Do When You Suddenly Gain Weight

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You hop on the scale after several weeks and think, “That number can’t be right…” So, you brush it off and blame the scale for being wrong. The same number appears the next day and now you’re truly worried. “Why did I suddenly gain weight?

Life transitions

Young adults experience a variety of life transitions that can affect health in many ways. Transitioning from college life to the real world adds a whole new level of stress that can change our health routines. One study found that college graduates gained an average of 28 pounds for women and 21 pounds for men by the age of 55. As little as 5 extra pounds can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. We certainly don’t want that added risk!

There are a variety of reasons this weight gain can creep up on us, with the most common being decreased physical activity (hello, desk job) and a change in eating behaviors (snacking at your desk all day, every day). But, have no fear! There are several simple fixes to help fight that “Corporate 15.”

You can make a change

The first step is to prepare yourself to make some changes.

“Mind over matter” mamma always said! So, tell yourself that you CAN make changes to get your body back. Be confident in being the driver for good health and check out the actionable steps below that will help when you suddenly gain weight.

If you’ve tried everything to lose weight and still aren’t seeing results, there may be another underlying cause. Talk to your primary care physician if you feel like you suddenly gained weight due to any of the following conditions:

  • Side effects of medications
  • Insomnia, sleep apnea, or other sleeping disorders
  • Chronic stress causing an imbalance of hormones
  • Chronic dehydration or high sodium intake leading to water retention
  • Poor digestive health, imbalance of gut flora, or digestive disorders like Celiac Disease
  • Mental illnesses
  • Health conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), heart failure, kidney problems, and thyroid disorders

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Actionable Steps


Awaken your awareness

Make yourself more aware of your eating, exercise, and overall lifestyle habits. Start a food diary using an app, pictures, or paper & pencil to document meals and snacks, portion sizes, frequency of eating, and emotions related to eating. Take note of your exercise routine (if you have one). How often are you working out? What do you do for your workouts? Including other habits such as sleep routine, social patterns, daily step count, and mental health are also key to pinning down the cause of your weight gain.


Make a plan if you suddenly gain weight

Based on what you learn from your habits, establish or re-establish normal, healthy lifestyle patterns. Set goals for your nutrition, exercise, sleep, and self-care. Use the acronym S.M.A.R.T. when setting goals to make the most of your plan – goals should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and include a Timeframe. Learn how to set S.M.A.R.T. goals here.


Eat and cook at home

Dining out is one of the biggest culprits for weight gain in the U.S, so make it a goal to cook and eat more at home. Cooking for yourself allows you to be in control of your health. Commit to eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet using portion sizes that are specific to your body’s needs. Not sure what exactly your body needs? Talk with a registered dietitian to get an individualized plan.


Move more

Find movement throughout the day to increase blood flow throughout the body, boost energy levels, and burn a few extra calories. Be consistent with exercising regularly whether that’s running, yoga, or going to group fitness classes. Check out how to make your own workout routine here and get tips for joining a gym.


Stay hydrated

Chronic dehydration actually causes our body to hold onto water making it seem like we’ve gained weight. Drinking water is the best way to stay hydrated but the occasional coffee, herbal tea, or low-calorie flavored beverage isn’t going to hurt. Just try to avoid excessive high-sugar, high-calorie drinks like sodas and alcoholic beverages.

Dietitian’s Tip: Have a reusable water bottle on hand at all times as an easy reminder to sip, sip, sip all day long.


Get your Zzzs

Adjust your sleep routine to ensure you’re getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep on most nights. Poor sleep causes an imbalance of hormones, especially our hunger hormones, that can lead to more food cravings and over-eating.


Keep it on track

Stay on top of your progress by keeping track of your changing daily habits. It helps to be able to look back at how far you’ve come on this journey. It’s also okay to have a set back every now and then. Refer back to your most successful days to motivate you to get back on track.


Maintain your success

Don’t go back to your old habits once you’ve found your happy weight. These are lifelong changes to keep you in tip top shape for the long haul. Learn more about weight maintenance to keep away from the weight yo-yo. But, keep in mind, the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story. How you feel and how your clothes fit are better indicators of your daily health!

Dietitian’s Tip: Put on your favorite outfit and take note of how it fits. Try it on again every 6-8 weeks and notice if there are any changes (is it too tight or getting loose?).


What’s up doc?

Think something else is up with your weight gain? Chat with your doctor before making any major changes if you have other health conditions.

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Hi, I’m Shannon! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Culinary Coach, and Personal Trainer. After dedicating over 8 years to the corporate wellness world, I began my own nutrition practice. Chef Shannon Nutrition focuses on plant-based nutrition and culinary coaching. My passion for culinary nutrition grew when I worked as a cooking instructor for a culinary entertainment company. After several years as an instructor and event coordinator, I moved into the role of Director of Culinary Entertainment where I developed all the recipes, menus, and instructor trainings. My dietetic’s expertise helped the company expand into allergy-friendly and health conscious menus to suit all clients.
Full Bio | LinkedIn | 1:1 Coaching

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