Six causes of unwanted weight gain and how you can beat the bulge

Dr Lau Pik Onn / 11 Feb, 2021

What is a healthy weight?What is a healthy weight?

Maintaining a healthy weight not only makes you look and feel good, but helps prevents serious medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

The body mass index (BMI) is a weight to height ratio most commonly used to classify if you are overweight or obese.

Below are the BMI categories for Asians:

Blood Pressure BMI Health risks
Underweight < 18.5 Risk of nutritional deficiency and osteoporosis
Healthy 18.5 – 22.9 Low risk
Overweight 23.0 – 27.4 Moderate risk
Obese ≥ 27.5 High risk


Obesity occurs when energy intake (through food consumption) exceeds energy expenditure. When this happens excessive amounts of fat begin to accumulate, leading to obesity.

What are the causes of obesity and unwanted weight gain?What are the causes of obesity and unwanted weight gain?

Weight gain can occur through:

  • Unhealthy diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Aging, especially with hormonal changes
  • Genetics
  • Medications like steroids
  • Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism

Why do women gain weight and belly fat in middle age?Why do women gain weight and belly fat in middle age?

Hormonal imbalance

One of the main causes of middle age weight gain in women is hormonal imbalance.

Menopausal women often experience weight gain, especially around the abdomen, changing their body shape from ‘pear’ to ‘apple’ shaped. This is due to declining oestrogen levels, which affects the fat distribution. Greater fat around the abdomen (waist circumference) is also linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Lower metabolic rate

As we age, the body’s metabolic rate slows down and we burn less energy, leading to weight gain.

Less muscle mass

The body’s muscle mass starts to shrink from the age of 30, leading to weight gain. This is because muscle burns more energy and keeps your body lean.

Reduced physical activity

This leads to further decline in the metabolic rate.


At middle age and with highly stressful jobs, our stress hormone cortisol sends messages to our brain to store up fuel to fight stress and we end up eating more. The excess energy is then stored as abdominal or belly fat, thus increasing our waist circumference.

How to lose weight?How to lose weight?

Losing five to 10 percent of one’s individual weight can assist in reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Adopt a positive attitude

Setting realistic and achievable goals, with the help of your physician or dietitian, can make a big difference. It’s important to identify causes of your weight gain or reasons for your unsuccessful weight loss.

Improve your diet

  • Have regular meals and a balanced diet.
  • Reduce fat and sugar in your diet
  • Limit your snacks, particularly deep fried, oily or sweet foods.
  • Eat more fibre
  • Try eating more lean protein and good fats (like essential fatty acids) to improve the hormonal balance if you are menopausal, as it can stimulate the body’s metabolism. Essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6 are found in oily fish, wheat germ and seeds such as flaxseeds and nuts.
  • Eat enough quality proteins to support muscle regeneration.
  • Control intake of high sugar food or refined carbohydrates.

Exercise regularly

Start with low impact exercises (30 minutes of walking three to five times a week) and build gradually by increasing the duration and distance. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week and twice weekly strength training to prevent declining metabolic rates.

Prescription weight loss medicine

Prescription medication is generally only recommended if weight loss targets have not been achieved using other methods. You will have to consult your physician to exclude any medical causes before starting on medication.

Weight loss surgery

Surgical intervention may be necessary for some patients who are severely obese with a BMI >32.5 and have other risk factors.

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