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Once you turn your back on dieting and calorie restriction you will experience that most of your weight gain will happen in your abdominal area rather than in your hips or legs.

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Abdominal weight gain in body

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And even though you’ve usually gained weight in other areas than your midsection before you started dieting, it will happen that you gain weight in your belly area first. 

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There are 2 simple reasons for it:

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  1. Your Body’s Survival Mode

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Your body’s main task is to keep you healthy and alive – which is also described as our “body’s survival mode“. Everything that threatens your body in this process will automatically force your body to take actions in order to protect your health. 

In nowadays world going on a diet program in combination of excessive exercise has become a “normal“ part of almost everyone’s life. However, this hasn’t become something “normal“ to our cavemen bodies. It seems to be quite the opposite since every calorie restriction, no matter how small it is, signalizes our body that a very difficult time of starvation is coming. 

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Cavemen

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Starvation is a very serious situation that threatens our body’s survival mode tremendously and therefore our body will start preparing for it by decreasing our metabolism, dropping core body temperature, reducing hormone levels (such as estrogen and testosterone levels, leptin and thyroid hormone levels) and breaking down muscle mass (including our heart muscle which leads to a lower heart rate).

Once someone stops restricting calories, dieting and over exercising, our body will still remain in starvation-mode long after someone has started to eat sufficient calories again. This is the reason why people who come from food restriction gain weight first in their abdominal area as the body doesn’t realize starvation is over and therefore remains a slow metabolism and stores as much fat as possible in the abdominal area where all our life-sustaining organs are placed. 

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Body with organs

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Our body wants to protect primarily our life-sustaining organs due to its survival-mode and only after that, weight gain will take place in our hips, legs and other body areas.

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  1. Your Hormones 

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Another reason why abdominal weight gain is happening are our hormones.

First, I would like to mention the hormone Cortisol which is also known as the “stress hormone“. Any form of food restriction and over exercising causes stress on our body, both mentally and physically. Therefore our Cortisol level increases under the mentioned circumstances. An increased Cortisol level will also remain long after someone has stopped calorie restriction and over exercising. 

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Cortisol level in body

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An increased Cortisol level is generally known to increase body fat in the abdominal area, again because the increase in stress hormones signalize our body that our health is threatened. In return the body’s metabolism slows down by dropping body temperature and breaking down muscle mass in order to store more body fat.

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increased cortisol level in the human's body

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Second, I would like to mention the hormone Insulin. Insulin is an important hormone that signalizes our body cells to take out the sugar of our blood after we’ve eaten something and transport the sugar into cells where it’s needed (for example muscle or brain cells). 

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insulin resistance in the human body

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When someone stays on a diet for too long it can also affect their Insulin hormones which leads to a miscommunication between Insulin hormones and body cells. If this happens, sugar will remain in our blood which skyrockets our hunger feelings. This process also contributes to weight gain in the abdominal area.

insulin affects eating behavior

I also would like to mention that genetics of course also plays a role in where someone gains weight – however, there are other factors as well that contribute to weight gain in someone’s midsection. 

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You may also be interested in:

Article about bloating and digestive issues after dieting

Article about Uncontrollable hunger after dieting – Leptin Resistance 

YouTube Video about Abdominal Weight Gain

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I hope this article was helpful and if you have any further questions, you’re welcome to leave a comment or send me an e-mail to christina@waistlove.com.

All the best,

Christina Daidone

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11 Responses

  1. You said in your article that due to dieting, our hormone levels, like estrogen, testosterone, leptin etc decrease. But when we go back to our previous weight, do those hormones’ levels also normalise, or remain still decreased?
    If one is still very hungry after weight restoration, why is this? Is it because those hormones’ levels still haven’t gone back to norma and need to increase, and this can be done with more food, or is it because the body wants to store more fat as protection for future famines?

    1. Hi Louise,

      sorry for my late reply. Yes, you are right, hormonal levels increase when we stop food restriction and dieting. Especially, sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone are only produced with the help of cholesterol which means we need to eat enough fats and have enough body fat in order to have properly functioning hormones. How much body fat a person needs is very individually and goes back to our genetics. Some people need a bit more body fat and some need a bit less.

      Hormones are a very complex topic and it is not so easy to say that we just need to eat and hormones will balance out immediately. There is much more behind it. First, we need to eat enough and most importantly, enough from the right food resources. In this case I want to emphasize that I recommend avoiding low fat diets or diets that are low in cholesterol as hormones are produced primarily with the help of cholesterol. Second, we need a lot of rest, good quality and quantity of sleep and a low stress level for hormonal balance. Third, which is probably the most important factor, patience. As I’ve said, hormones are very complex and very very sensitive. It takes quite some time to regain hormonal balance. It is not something that can be achieved within a few weeks. It takes months or even a years (depending on your dieting history) to get your hormones back on track.

      To answer your question precisely, hunger after weight restoration can have several reasons, and one is that your hormones are not balanced out again. If it is a hormonal issue then for sure your hunger will go back to normal once your hormones and your body in general is healthy again. When your body is healthy again and gets enough calories and good quality of food consistently then also your hormones will remain on a healthy level. They won’t decrease unless you go on a diet again or over exercising program or have a very high stress level.

      I recommend you to listen to your body and give it what it needs, and let the pounds fall where they need to fall. Your body knows what it needs to do in order to make you healthy again. Give it trust and be patient, and eventually everything will normalize much quicker than you expect.

      All the best,
      Christina

  2. Thank you very much for the time you took to respond to my question! :))
    I was asking because This is my second time recovering from hypothalamic amenorheea and I got my period this time at a slightly higher weight. I did also some blood tests and the hormone levels are even better than at the end of my first recovery, but I still am very hungry and gaining weight very fast and my period was very light.

    1. Which hormones did you check exactly?

      With every time you relapse your weight will increase in recovery. This is because your body learns how to store fat efficiently and to decrease its metabolism. You kind of train your body in storing body fat and body weight by going back and forth between dieting and recovering.
      How long have you been in recovery now?

  3. I did check estradiol, FSH, LH, TSH and prolactin. They were all slightly higher than at the end of my last recovery. So only by looking at my blood tests, you could tell that my situation was better, but in reality it was the opposite: my period was very light and short compared to then.

    And another thing: I also checked out testosterone and it was over the superior limit. How is this possible? I also saw some signs; for example I started having more hair on my hands, which I didn’t have before.

    I have seen the proof that everytime you relapse your weight will increase on myself:))

    1. I understand. Did your doctor address the higher levels of testosterone? Higher testosterone level can be a sign for PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) but it doesn’t have to.
      Did you check your insulin, ghrelin and leptin levels as well?

      Regarding the change in your period: a healthy period is supposed to be regular, light and painless. Heavy, irregular and painful periods are a sign of hormonal imbalance.

      I see you are in recovery now for 2 months. I would recommend you to wait 1-3 months more and see if your hunger changes. 2 months could be too little time for your body to recover. I would say it takes someone at least 3 months to stabilize hunger, but it really depends on your background of dieting and food restriction. But give yourself and your body a little bit more time and try to be patient. Within 1 or 2 months your body can change a lot and if really nothing improves after this time, then you can go from there. I really don’t think you have some serious issues, but I do think you should give your body a bit more time to recover. However, I am not a doctor and therefore I am not allowed to give you medical advices. So if you feel insecure then I would recommend that you talk to your doctor in order to get everything checked properly.

      1. Thank you for your response!
        I also did an ultrasound as my doctor recommended which went good and next week I will also do a progesterone test, to see if I’m ovulating.
        If my hunger does not stabilize, I would probably also want to check out ghrelin, leptin and insulin.
        I really believe my body is doing the best it can and the only thing I can do is trust it, but sometimes it’s hard, especially when I notice I have gained weight and will gain more.

        Thank you again for your responses!!

        1. Yes, I do understand your concerns Louise. And you are right, indeed your body does everything for you to be healthy as this is our body’s main task to prevent us from being unhealthy and dying. But in a world where there’s medicine for almost every health condition, we are used to heal very quickly. But when there’s not a medication for a certain health condition we see that our body usually needs much more time to recover and heal. We think that this is not normal but in fact it is. We just forget as we are so into using artificial medicine for everything.

          If your hunger doesn’t stabilize then you you can check your hormones to see if your body needs more time or if it really needs some artificial help from medicine. You are walking into the right direction and always remember you’ve come so far, and now it is just a matter of time 🙂

          Take care
          Christina

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