This is part of a two-article series exploring the critical relationship between our weight and our health. This article explains why we gain weight and the second looks at the negative consequences to our health from being overweight.

More than 60% of the US adult population is overweight. Being overweight significantly increases risk for a variety health issues and diseases and results in increased health care costs for those affected.

So, why do we gain weight? The answer is quite simple and probably not a surprise to you. It starts with our food – we eat too much, we eat the wrong proportions, we eat food that is bad for us, and we eat poor quality food. Let me explain what I mean by too much, wrong proportions, bad for us, and poor quality.

First, our portions have become crazy! Everything is “supersized.” We eat too much and too often, ingesting substantial amounts of excess calories. Between meals and snacks, we are feeding our bodies without giving it time to rest. Eating less frequently is the basis for the intermittent fasting programs for weight loss of which I have written previously.

Second, we eat the wrong proportions. The typical diet contains way too many carbohydrates and sugars. These cause increases in blood sugar and ultimately insulin levels leading to fat accumulation. In addition, the typical diet does not contain the amounts of nutrient-full and healthy fats and proteins that we need.

Third, we eat food that is bad for us. Our diets contain way too much sugar and trans-fats. There are many disagreements about what constitutes a healthy diet, but there is no disagreement that sugar and trans-fats are unhealthy.

Fourth, the food we eat is of poor quality. The typical diet contains many highly processed foods. These foods are made to taste good while having little nutritional value. In addition, much of the soil has been depleted resulting in vegetables of significantly lower vitamin and mineral content than in the past.

Some foods are known for causing a higher incidence of reactions such as allergies or sensitivities. The best known is gluten. However, dairy, eggs, soy, and corn are also very common. Reactions to food causes cellular fluid retention or “false fat” and creates cravings for these foods. The reaction is an inflammatory response, inflammation brings water to the location. Take away the inflammation and the water goes away. I have seen many clients drop 5-15 pounds in a few days just due to food sensitivities!

While food is the main driver for weight gain there are other contributing factors: chronic stress, insulin resistance, hormone imbalances, hypothyroidism, neurotransmitter imbalances, lack of sleep, or overall toxic burden.

 After food, chronic stress is the next major factor. I have had several clients who eat a very clean diet but can not loose weight to a major stress in their life. The reason is that when we are stressed it raises our cortisol level. High cortisol promotes fat storage and increases the likelihood of insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance blocks fat burning and keeps higher level of insulin in the blood. These two factors tend to go hand in hand. Those with high insulin levels will have elevated cortisol and those with elevated cortisol will have high insulin causing fat to be stored and weight gain.

Excess cortisol lowers the steroid hormone DHEA. One of DHEA’s many functions is fat burning. Other steroid hormone imbalances also cause us to gain weight. Imbalances of estrogen and progesterone in women promote fat storing. Low testosterone in men and women reduces the ability to burn fat and build muscle. High estrogen in men promotes fat storage. High progesterone in women promotes insulin resistance.

Low thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) will promote weight gain as muscle building and metabolism are slowed leading to conditions of general low energy and fatigue. Neurotransmitter imbalances can cause cravings and inappropriate eating behaviors.

I have written previously of how important sleep is to our overall health. Lack of sleep, particularly over a long period of time will increase cortisol, create sugar cravings, lower thyroid function, lower energy, and increase appetite.

An overall toxic burden will disrupt the pH balance in the gut, blood, and tissues. This can slow the metabolic rate, disrupt the absorption of essential minerals and disrupt hormone receptor sites creating hormone imbalances.

Most weight loss programs measure the pounds lost and are successful in the short-term.  However, that is only part of the picture.  Soon after the program is completed the weight begins to come back on.  The reason is that the underlying behaviors and lifestyle have not changed.  With the metabolism slowed from dieting and a return to prior habits, the pounds quickly come back on.

The best program for long term health and vitality will be one that addresses your individual needs.  It may take some time to get the body back on track.  The body has built-in healing mechanisms and with proper nutrition and healthy behaviors the body will heal.  As the body heals you will lose fat and weight.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator.  He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs.  His office is in Coeur d’Alene, ID.  To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call (208 771-6570 or go to