Why It’s Easier to Gain Weight Than Lose It

Sometimes, the number your scale spits back at you when you step on it doesn’t make sense. You put a lot of effort into your diet yesterday. You even exercised. How did you GAIN weight?

If weight loss were simple, we’d all be skinny. The truth is, some people are more susceptible to weight gain or weight loss — at a biological level — than others. You might be giving up your favorite foods and see no change. But maybe it isn’t actually, completely, your fault.

Why does weight come off so slowly, but appear so suddenly? Is weight loss all about food — or is there more going on beneath the skin?

Why is it so easy to gain weight?


Scale | Vadimguzhva/iStock/Getty Images

Put simply, it seems like weight gain happens overnight because weight can fluctuate drastically — every day. It also might feel as though weight gain is “easier” than weight loss because gaining weight requires no effort or lifestyle change. Weight loss does. In fact, you might eat in such a way that encourages you to eat more — even when you’re trying to eat less.

Our social environment also makes a difference. Think about the way food is displayed, marketed, and made available in the United States. Restaurant portions are massive because owners know they’ll sell. Supermarkets package unhealthy foods in bright, attractive packaging because it’s more likely to end up in shopping carts.

Each of these things and more encourage¬†overeating¬†and consuming non-nutritious foods. But that’s not the only reason it feels like Oreo cookies are magnetically attracted to your mouth. Frequently consuming added sugars, for example, activates the brain’s “reward system.” It learns that Oreo cookies make you feel good, and you may start to crave them when stressed or upset because of this.

Weight gain is a complex biological process that happens for a number of reasons — many beyond just eating too much or the wrong foods.

Why is losing weight so hard?

If you struggle with weight gain, what and how much you eat and how/how often you exercise can contribute to the issue. But those are only two of a handful of possible reasons you can’t lose weight — no matter how hard you try.

Some health conditions and medications also cause unwanted weight gain. Stress and sleep problems can also send the number on the scale in the “wrong” direction. Genetics also play a role.

Consider, too, that people who are medically classified as overweight or obese cannot burn calories or exercise as easily as someone who would not benefit from losing weight for health reasons. Additionally, research suggests that obese patients specifically face a greater barrier to entry when beginning weight loss programs than others do; it’s harder for them to “stick with it.”

In a nutshell, it’s biologically harder for some people to lose weight than others.


How to lose weight and keep it off easier

Weight loss diet

Weight loss diet | DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

First, go into any lifestyle change such as weight loss knowing it won’t be easy, fast, or simple to maintain once it’s over. Losing weight isn’t just about eating less food or working out more. Even if it were, these changes are not as easy to make as some might believe.

Mental and emotional health matter. If you don’t adopt healthy ways to deal with stress or other negative emotions that might tempt you to eat, drink, smoke, or engage in any behavior that isn’t good for you, a diet or exercise regimen won’t make a difference.

Only once you can adequately cope with life’s daily stressors — especially if they negatively influence your behavior — can you make changes to your diet or physical activity. Adopting habits such as drinking more water and setting a “sleep schedule” can be emotionally as well as physically draining. You have to be prepared for that.

For people with food addictions, for example, a trained professional doesn’t start out by telling them what they “can” and “can’t” eat. They begin by helping people develop healthy coping mechanisms that can replace overeating.

To make weight loss easier to start and maintain, choose just one thing — drinking fewer sugary beverages; eating more fiber; exercising once a week — and just focus on that. Many people “fail” at weight loss because they try to make too many big changes at once. Start small. Start with one focus. It takes time. But it can change your life.